■ 17:22 (UTC+08:00), 11 JUL 2016 | CHN BEIJING CBD
In Switzerland our only “really” global airport is not located in the Federal City (much the equivalent of a “real” capital in other countries), Bern, but Zürich. It is only the “real” 100% Swiss airport of a major dimension (since the airports in Geneva and Basel have connections to nearby France, but all exits at Zürich Airport lead solely to Swiss territory).
We are somewhat satisfied with our 3-runway (or two-and-a-sort-of-half runway) airport, which is in a well-forested part of suburban Zürich. We completed around a decade back the new Fingerdock E, which is where most intercontinental flights land. The inside of the airport has also been massively redone, from the toilets to the concourses and shopping areas. The inside of the Airside Centre, in fact, feels not much unlike Shanghai Pudong!
However, it is the explosive growth of Beijing’s new air hub — Daxing International Airport, as it is sometimes known — that simply wows me in full. A few days back, I took my car for a spin, dashcam and other imaging devices ready, hoping to catch a glimpse of the new airport in the making. What I saw was enough to make me faint: basically miles on end of cranes and construction sites meaning that this new airport was about to become reality — very soon!
The new airport will be ready for prime-time not by the 2022 Winter Olympics, which Beijing will share with Zhangjiakou, but already by 2019. This will mean China will have two and a half solid years to un-wrinkle and acid-test the new airport, so when the Olympians head to town again, they can expect nothing short of the quality some of us are so at-home with in Switzerland. (At times I feel China is as well-prepared as Switzerland!)
▲ Propaganda signs are your first sign that the city is ready for the new airport. “Build a new Air City to serve the new airport”.
▲ The cranes from afar. This was still on a highway in Beijing. The writing is obviously on the wall: when the Chinese want something done, they get it done. For Switzerland, I can only hope they will get the third Gubrist tunnel done in a faster time frame than it took for the A4 to be extended from Urdorf to Cham!
▲ Now closer: any previous sign of life has been flattened and from afar, all you can see is construction at breakneck speed.
▲ Nan’gezhuang: The signpost for a village that is now going to be host to the new airport, which in its first version will already sport four runways, which will easily make Heathrow burst into tears!
▲ I’m now on a different highway, and this is looking north. (I started out from the west, looking east at the new airport.) The image speaks for itself.
▲ The highway heads into Hebei and you can obviously see this is development that stops at nothing. The whole airport is likely to straddle two jurisdictions.
▲ Close to the end of the whole building madness: the highway in Hebei heads into a forested part, a sign that we’re leaving the site of the new airport being built.
I have to admit that I remain highly impressed at the sheer speed the new airport is being built. Designed by the late Zaha Hadid, it is likely to be an airport that gives London’s airports a serious run for their money. While Boris lies and quits over the Brexit crisis, and London refuses to affirm whether they want a third runway for Heathrow or not (Heathrow, by the way, looks increasingly like a British CDG than a “decent” airport), Beijing is leading the way. ■ ■ ■