Leigh Miller for GlobalAtlanta
Beijing International Airport has much to learn from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport’s physical design, its discreet security measures, its efficiency and its customer service for handling the additional 1.2 million passengers expected for China’s 2008 Olympic Games, according to Mario Diaz.

Mr. Diaz, the Atlanta airport’s deputy general manager, was a host for a Oct. 29-Nov. 1 conference that brought some 30 Chinese aviation officials here to learn about airport security and operations in preparation for the Beijing Olympics. The conference was organized by CIFAL Atlanta, a United Nations affiliate that trains municipal officials on local governance issues.

“First and foremost, Beijing can learn from Atlanta’s customer service during the 1996 Olympics. We were greeting people in their own languages and making them feel comfortable,” Mr. Diaz told GlobalAtlanta in an interview during the conference.

“The art of airport security is having force without presence. Security was not in the face of the passengers,” he said of the airport’s discreet security plans during the Olympics that did not include armed soldiers.

Mr. Diaz added that Hartsfield-Jackson’s No. 1 asset is its design of facilities in terms of the relationship between the taxiways and the terminals and gates, as well as its ability to handle large numbers of passengers. Beijing is constructing a new international terminal to handle its increased traffic during the Olympics, he said.

While Beijing’s airport currently handles 43 million passengers per year, that number is expected to grow to 60 million in 2008. An additional 1.2 million are expected to arrive specifically for the Olympics in the summer of 2008, according to Lv Haifeng, assistant manager of service, quality and safety at Beijing Capital International Airport Co. Ltd., who spoke during the conference.

Hartsfield-Jackson is qualified to assist Beijing with its Olympics plans, Mr. Diaz said, because the Atlanta airport served 55 million passengers in 1996, more than Beijing’s airport 10 years later. Hartsfield-Jackson expects 86 million passengers to pass through the airport this year, and the new fifth runway raises the airport’s capacity to 120 million passengers per year, he said.

Beijing officials at the conference were interested in Atlanta airport’s efficiency in moving such large numbers of people and making services in the airport available to them, as well as Hartsfield-Jackson’s processes for managing air traffic, Mr. Diaz said.

Beijing airport officials are consulting with airports around the world to get advice on Olympics preparation, Mr. Lv said. In addition to Atlanta, they will go to Sydney, Australia, to study its 2000 Olympics preparedness plans, as well as Israel to consult with security experts.

They are also inviting security experts including the president of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. EADS N.V., to come to Beijing and offer advice on improving security for the 2008 Olympics.

During the games, the Beijing airport plans to increase its security staff to 5,000 and will employ some 800 police officers, Mr. Lv said.

“The Olympics is a great opportunity to further develop Beijing airport,” he said, adding that while the airport was the world’s 13th busiest in 2005, it is to be ninth this year and is growing at a rate of 17 percent per year. Some 60 million passengers are expected in Beijing airport in 2008, and 257 million in 2030, Mr. Lv said.

“By then, we’ll be on the same level as the Atlanta airport,” he said, adding that the airport will be introduced to some of the same challenges that Atlanta’s has. “Further development will be our main focus,” he said, noting that development of the airport will help to further develop Beijing’s overall economy.

Atlanta’s airport has also helped to develop Atlanta’s economy, Mr. Diaz said, but he warned that Hartsfield-Jackson will not remain the world’s busiest airport for long. The airline industry is developing rapidly in countries like China, India and Brazil, so new carriers and new airports will emerge, he said.

Barriers to international flights are also decreasing, and in five to 10 years, government agreements will not be necessary to implement new flights, he added. As long as airports have room to take in more carriers and flights, other airports will be able to compete with Atlanta, Mr. Diaz said.

While here, the Chinese delegation toured Hartsfield-Jackson’s facilities, had a reception at the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and a luncheon with Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin at the World Trade Center Atlanta. They also toured the Olympic Museum at the Atlanta History Center.

Visit www.cifalatlanta.org or contact Andrew Waskey, program manager at CIFAL Atlanta, for more information at (404) 962- 4837 or awaskey@cifalatlanta.org.