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Beijing Opens New USD$3.6 Bln Terminal

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Beijing opened a huge new USD$3.6 billion airport terminal on Friday ahead of the expected influx of millions of visitors to this summer's Olympics, part of a multi-billion infrastructure boost for the capital.

The impressive terminal's nearly 3km (2 mile) long concourse, which is divided into three sections and connected by a shuttle train, will boost capacity at the airport to 76 million compared with the 52 million who used the airport last year.

China is busy opening new subway lines and roads as it seeks to revamp and modernize Beijing in preparation for the Games in August.

The new airport terminal is supposed to resemble a dragon, complete with triangular windows cut into the ceiling as though they were scales. It was designed by British architect Norman Foster, who also designed Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok airport.

A train will zip people downtown in just under 15 minutes and the high-tech baggage system will handle 19,800 bags per hour.

It has almost double the number of boarding gates of the old terminals and nearly 300 check-in desks. The terminal has been built to maximize the use of natural light, with walls of glass.

Whether or not it can help boost China's notoriously low service standards is still uncertain, and airport officials have admitted they have some way to go before being able to match Hong Kong, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur.

China's civil aviation regulator continues to berate airlines and airports for their poor treatment of passengers and is desperately trying to get them to raise standards ahead of the flood of visitors who will come for the Olympics.

"It's very necessary to build this new terminal. Actually, I don't think this building is big enough. It needs to be much bigger because only that will suit our vast country and this big capital," said Zhang Licheng, 38, who was about to leave for Chengdu.

"I think the service in this terminal needs to be on par with international standards," he added.

Beijing airport was ranked only 62nd in 2006 in an Airports Council International survey of passenger satisfaction levels despite being the ninth busiest in the world in terms of passengers handled.

Six airlines will use Terminal 3 initially, including Sichuan Airlines, Shandong Airlines, Qatar Airways, Qantas Airways, British Airways and El Al Israel Airlines.

More will move in from March 26, including Air China, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Air Canada and other Star Alliance members, as well as Emirates and Hong Kong's Dragonair.

The terminal also has special bridges to handle Airbus's giant double-decker A380.

(Reuters)