The Beijing Capital International Airport announced its annual passenger throughput hit a record of 50 million yesterday and would reach 53.31 million by year-end, enabling it to possibly become the world's eighth largest airport by passenger volume.
Li Bianzhuo, a Beijinger in his 30s working in Guangzhou, was the lucky 50-millionth passenger. He arrived yesterday morning aboard a China Southern flight from Guangzhou on a home visit.
Li was invited to act as a supervisor of the airport's services.
Last year, the airport was ninth among the top 10 world airports by passenger traffic, with a passenger transport volume of 48.65 million, according to Geneva-based Airports Council International (ACI) statistics.
"The 50-million mark is a critical point. In the days after it is reached, airport growth would be even faster than before," Professor Li Xiaojin, with the Civil Aviation University of China in Tianjin, told China Daily yesterday.
Citing the results of research on world airports' development, Li explained that airports with such passenger volumes have enough flights to attract even more passengers seeking convenience.
Yang Guoqing, vice-minister of the General Administration of Civil Aviation (CAAC), said yesterday the airport would accommodate an estimated 64 million passengers next year, when Beijing hosts the 2008 Summer Olympics.
"That will place the airport among the world's top five airports by passenger volume," Yang said.
The airport's new third terminal would open in February, making it one of the largest airports in the world. By then, the airport would be able to handle 82 million passengers annually, up from the current capacity of 35.50 million.
Yang denied worries that the airport's passenger flow might drop after 2008, saying his confidence came from two factors: The airport's important location and its push to become a major air hub in the Asia Pacific region.
It is currently the second largest airport in Asia by passenger volume, after Tokyo, with a passenger throughput of 65.81 million, last year.
But it is agreed that the airport still needs to do more to become an international aviation hub.
Sun Defu, a senior official with the Civil Aviation Administration for the North China Area, told China Daily that airport would need to at least improve the transfer service to attract more international travelers.
"The airport should rearrange the flight schedule to solve flight connection problems and help transfer passengers save time," Sun said.
Growth of China's civil aviation sector is among the fastest in the world, and 15 percent of its passenger flow comes through Beijing.
The airport first reached an annual passenger volume of 10 million in 1993 - 35 years after it opened. But the increase from 40 million to 50 million took only two years.