April 23, 2008 Tourists won’t have to travel far after arrival to experience China’s latest superstructure. Terminal 3 of the Beijing Capital International Airport became fully operational on March 26 following a four-week trial period, becoming the largest airport terminal complex built in a single phase. The US$3.5 billion expansion commenced in March 2004.

The terminal is 986,000 square meters in size, and could absorb all five of Heathrow’s terminals with 17% left to spare. The airport, which has experienced double digit growth of passengers since 2003, currently handles 48 million passengers a year and operates around 1100 flights a day - a figure expected to rise to more than 1500 during the Olympics later this year.

The construction of Terminal 3 required 64 million cubic feet of concrete, 500,000 tons of steel, and 447 lifts, escalators and automatic passenger belts. The seven-floor structure has two floors underground, 72 food stores, a 12,600 square meter domestic retail area, a 10,600 square meter duty-free store area, and a 7,000 square meter convenience service area.

The Terminal's "dragon-like form" was designed by Foster and Partners, the company responsible for the even more massive Crystal Island, and consists of terminals T3C, T3D and T3E, which are arranged in a long, curved Y formation. An automated people mover travels between the terminals at speeds of up to 80kph, with a journey time of two minutes. The US$240 million luggage-transfer system offers a much cooler connection between terminals, shunting bags through its underground rollercoaster at speeds of up to 10 meters per second. Baggage is placed in yellow carts, which are tagged with barcodes that can track the individual progress of your luggage. The luggage system can handle 19,200 pieces of luggage per hour, and is monitored by over 200 cameras, eliminating blind spots. The streamlined process allows passengers to retrieve their luggage within 4.5 minutes of the airplane unloading.

The Terminal incorporates an indoor garden and uses natural lighting wherever possible – light angles can also be adjusted to ensure optimum lighting conditions. The ceiling is light orange in the center, and gradually changes color to provide directional clues for passengers. Together with the Ground Transportation Centre (GTC), the building encloses a floor area of approximately 1.3 million square meters, making it the first to break the one million square meter mark.

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