British Airways is going all-in on Beijing’s massive new airport in a bid to increase its foothold in China’s fast-growing aviation market.
The UK carrier on Wednesday announced it would be the first international airline to move its Beijing base to the new Daxing airport, slated to open in September. Daxing expects to handle 100 million passengers a year by 2040.
China is set to overtake the United States as the world’s largest aviation market by the mid-2020s as consumers become wealthier, according to a forecast last year by the International Air Transport Association. The total number of air travelers in the country could jump to 1.6 billion a year by 2037, from 600 million in 2017.
China is responding to the rising demand by building hundreds of new airports. Government officials estimate China will need 450 over the next 16 years, up from 235 at present. Beijing’s Daxing airport is one of the most high-profile projects.
The new airport in China’s capital city aims to take some of the pressure off Beijing Capital International Airport, which was built with a capacity of 82 million passengers but regularly handles 100 million.
British Airways will move all operations to Daxing soon after the airport is up and running, starting with direct flights between Beijing and London’s main airport, Heathrow, from October 27.
The airline said the move will help it increase air travel between the United Kingdom and China. Its local codeshare partner, China Southern Airlines — China’s biggest state-owned carrier — is also planning to move to Daxing.
Other foreign carriers have already committed some operations to Daxing, with Finland’s Finnair and Poland’s national carrier LOT Polish Airlines both announcing new flights to the hub in recent weeks.
Chinese state-run carriers Air China and China Eastern will also operate from both Beijing airports.
Located around 31 miles south of Beijing’s city center, Daxing airport will initially have four runways and one terminal building but could be extended to include three more runways and a second terminal in the future, according to airport authorities.
Designed by the late architect Zaha Hadid and her Chinese partners, Daxing’s terminal building covers 1.4 million square meters, making it one of the largest in the world. Construction started in 2014 and cost 80 billion yuan ($11.6 billion).
The airport is targeting 72 million passengers by 2025 and 100 million by 2040.