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.

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