A Tale of Two Terminals

The contrast between the success of the new Terminal 3 at Beijing's airport and the failure of the new Terminal 5 at London's Heathrow could not be starker. But T3 is neither a success for socialism nor a success for China alone.

BEIJING – Ever since it opened recently, Terminal 5 of London’s Heathrow Airport has been plagued with failures. On the other side of the globe, Terminal 3 in Beijing, which opened for full operations just one day before Terminal 5, has been operating almost without a glitch. The media, unsurprisingly, have feasted upon the failures of T5 in London, while neglecting the successes of T3 in Beijing.

By all measures, Beijing’s T3 surpasses London’s T5. Whereas T5 can handle only 12,000 bags an hour (when it handles them at all) and 30 million passengers per year, T3 can handle 20,000 bags an hour and 50 million passengers. While T5 will mostly service British Airways, T3 will service Air China and two dozen other airlines. 

At one million square meters, T3 in Beijing is the largest terminal in the world, but was much less costly to build than T5 in London. Using the most recent exchange rates, T3 cost only $3.86 billion compared with $8.6 billion for London’s T5. Furthermore, T3 took less than four years to complete, whereas T5 took almost 20 years.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

To read this article from our archive, please log in or register now. After entering your email, you'll have access to two free articles every month. For unlimited access to Project Syndicate, subscribe now.


By proceeding, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, which describes the personal data we collect and how we use it.

Log in


Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.