Beijing Capital International Airport provides the principle international gateway to the Chinese capital city. The airport code, PEK, is a reference to the city’s previous name of Peking. Beijing Capital saw several upgrades and enhancements in preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics. The airport continues to expand with additional passenger loads recorded each year. The airport currently is the busiest in Asia and ranks second in the world. It provides service to nearly 70 airlines flying a total of about 5,000 flights to about 150 destinations.
Total passenger counts for Beijing Capital exceed 70 million people each year. These passengers pass through three terminals. Terminal 3, the newest and one of the largest buildings in the world, is divided into three sub-terminals labeled C,D and E. Terminal 3E was designated as the Olympic terminal and reserved for charter flights associated with the 2008 games. It now is dedicated to international flights. Modifications to Terminal 3 now allow boarding of the Airbus 380.
Terminal 1 is one of the original structures of the airport although it has been extensively renovated. The terminal serves domestic airlines. Terminal 2 combines domestic and international operations and is connected to Terminal 1 by halls. Shuttle busses provide transportation between all three terminals running on an every 10-minute schedule during the day and every half hour overnight. The route takes about 15 minutes to complete.
Special Airport Service Ambassadors operate in all three terminals providing transportation assistance to those in need. The ambassadors are multilingual and specially trained to deal with travelers with difficulties. Other amenities for travelers include a business center and occasional promotional activities by civic-minded groups.
Baggage transfers were automated with the construction of Terminal 3 in 2008. The system processes nearly 20,000 pieces of luggage per hour with bags moving through the system at a rate of about 10 meters or 30 feet per second. Baggage can move between aircraft for passengers who are transferring to another flight in less than five minutes and be at the baggage carousels in less time for arriving passengers.
Beijing Airport Runways
Beijing Capital International Airport operates two parallel runways both exceeding 3,300 meters, or 10,500 feet, and capable of handling all sizes of aircraft. The runways include standard lighting and instrument landing systems.
Cargo handling facilities are extremely busy at Beijing Capital International Airport. With a stated cargo capacity of 1.2 million tons, the airport handled 1.5 million tons during 2010. About 20 cargo airlines operate flights from the airport to North America, Asia, and Europe.
Further expansion at Beijing Capital is difficult. Clearing space for Terminal 3 in 2008 displaced about 10,000 people. Similar future projects would likely draw political protests, which limits the possibilities of any expansion at the current airport location.
Long-term future plans include a new international airport to handle some of the flights and passenger traffic currently utilizing Beijing Capital. Any new airport is still in the planning stages although it will likely be located in the Daxing area. The stated capacity of this planned airport could be as many as 200 million passengers per year with up to nine runways. Whether the airport at Daxing will carry the entire international air traffic load or some part of it is unknown. Planned completion is slated for 2017 but that is still subject to change.
Airlines Serving Beijing Capital Airport
Being a gateway into China’s capital city, Beijing Capital Airport is connected to major destinations in the rest of the world thanks to the service of more than 60 airline companies. Naturally, Beijing Capital Airport serves as a hub for some of the largest airlines in the People’s Republic of China.
The busiest airline at Beijing Capital Airport is Air China. The flag carrier of the People’s Republic of China offers direct service to more than 50 domestic destinations. This makes Air China the most reliable link between Beijing and all other parts of the country. Air China operates flights to some of the most populous Chinese cities such as Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Hong Kong, Harbin, and Wuhan. All domestic flights operated by Air China depart from Concourse C in Terminal 3.
China’s flag carrier also offers more international destinations than any other airline operating at Beijing Capital Airport. Air China connects Beijing to Asian countries such as India, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, and Taiwan. China’s busiest airline also acts as an important gateway into Europe by offering flights to major cities including Athens, London, Milan, Madrid, Rome, and Paris. All international flights by Air China take off from Concourse E in Terminal 3.
Other major Chinese airlines serving Beijing Capital Airport include China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, and Hainan Airlines. Each of these carriers mostly offers domestic destinations with some international service to neighboring Asian countries. These large Chinese airline companies mostly operate in Terminal 2.
Beijing Capital Airport is served by some of Asia’s busiest airline companies. All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines provide service to Japan’s capital district in Tokyo. The two largest cities in South Korea, Busan and Seoul, can be reached by using Korean Air service. Thai Airways International invites passengers to Bangkok. The list of other major Asian airlines serving Beijing includes Malaysia Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Singapore Airlines, and Vietnam Airlines.
China’s capital is connected to the Middle East thanks to service offered by Emirates, EgyptAir, El Al, Pakistan International Airlines, and Qatar Airways. Russia is accessible via Aeroflot and Ural Airlines while Turkmenistan Airlines and Uzbekistan Airways provide access into central Asia.
Thanks to American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines, several major U.S. cities such as Chicago and New York City are directly linked to Beijing Capital Airport. Air Canada, a major North American airline, offers non-stop flights to Toronto and Vancouver.