Constructing the future

posted on 14th June 2018

Electronic ticketing, environmental concerns, security and simply the need to keep pace with traffic growth – all these issues and many more are having an influence on infrastructure spending at airports around the world. And the recession hasn’t ended the need to keep pouring concrete.

Changes in ticketing and other technology are having a profound effect on physical airport design, says Tony Grist, principal and head of architecture at the UK-based international design practice Hassell, which specialises in airport terminals, stations and other transport infrastructure. Many airlines are eliminating entirely or drastically reducing the quantity of ticketing and check-in desks, potentially freeing up a lot of space in existing terminals and thus perhaps inspiring a radical rethink in the way that new terminals will be designed in future.

In Christchurch, New Zealand, where Hassell recently completed a new integrated terminal, “Check-in desks have gone completely,” Grist informs – passengers tag their own bags and load them directly onto conveyors. Most other airlines in Australasia, where Hassell does a lot of its work, are moving in the same direction, he confirms.

Freed from the tyranny of the fixed ticket desk, airport areas can also be made more flexible – for example, they can be switched from international to domestic or vice versa when peaks in the two types of traffic occur at different times of day. Space that has been created by the removal of check-in desks and all their paraphernalia can be put to other uses, such as retailing, although more space does now need to be allocated to security screening.

All this has tended to put more of the emphasis on the airside part of the terminal, as opposed to the landside, Grist considers: “People want to get through security first, as quickly as possible and they then ‘dwell’ on the airside rather than the landside.”

Terminal retail space is becoming more flexible, with ‘pop-up’ shops beginning to feature in many terminals alongside the more mainstream retailers, while ‘green’ considerations are also influencing the design of airports. Terminals are being placed closer to runways to reduce fuel-burning and time-consuming taxiing. More use is being made of centralised energy systems and new terminals tend to now be built from materials like recycled concrete in order to keep the carbon footprint to a minimum.

The recession hasn’t killed off the market for new terminals, he insists. Hassell has been busy in Australia and New Zealand with recently completed or ongoing projects in Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Sydney to name a few. It is also looking to enter the Chinese market where there are opportunities in the medium-sized airport sector. Turkey, the Middle East and the Baltic are also regarded as promising areas for new business.

The US: land of many runways
There haven’t been a huge number of new terminals and runways built in the US in recent times – partly because of the effects of the economic downturn but also because most of the country’s major gateways are already quite well provided for. A few, however, such as Lambert-St Louis, have been adding runways to improve all-weather reliability. As Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge, director of the Missouri gateway explains, while most airports in other parts of the world would feel they are well equipped with three runways, Lambert St Louis’ configuration of two parallel runways and a single cross-runway didn’t give quite the resilience needed for bad weather so a fourth was opened in 2007, together with a new control tower.

Much of the work at Lambert St Louis has been carried out by specialist contractors such as Millstone-Bangert, one of around half a dozen such companies in the US who tend to act as primary contractors in most of the country’s major airport projects. The airport is one of the world’s oldest and was TWA’s main hub for many years, before the iconic US carrier went bankrupt for the third and final time in the late 1990s and was swallowed up by American Airlines. Since then, says Hamm-Niebruegge, the airport has pursued a more diversified carrier policy, and is now served by 11 airlines. The largest of these, Southwest Airlines, has a 46% share of total traffic.

Denver International Airport, whose South Terminal Redevelopment Program includes a Public Transit Center which will connect to a new commuter rail line currently under construction by the Regional Transportation District and which is due to open in 2016, is also improving its airside infrastructure. After some years of squeezing out maximum use of existing gates, Denver has started construction of five new ones on Concourse C for Southwest Airlines. “We are their fastest-growing station – from 13 daily flights to three destinations in 2006 to more than 160 daily flights to nearly 60 non-stop destinations today – and today Southwest makes up 25% of the market share by seat capacity,” says Kim Day, aviation manager at the gateway.

Denver is developing its airline hub business, which is one reason why it is performing a cost-benefit analysis on a seventh runway. The nature of hub and spoke operations is that the airport must be able to handle the ‘tidal flow’ of aircraft in and out of the airport at peak times; this means that runway capacity needs to be high enough to cope with maximum demand without causing any services to fall out of the critical one-hour time slot in which all inbound and outbound connections must be made.

It is Denver’s competitive airline costs, along with this ability to move passengers in and out within the hour, that has attracted the likes of Southwest. Another reason for the seventh runway is the nearby Rockies, which create very variable wind conditions. “It’s not unusual for us to shift operations nine or ten times a day,” Day explains. “At the moment, we have four north-south runways and two east-west, so we need to increase our east-west capacity.”

Seven runways may not be quite a record in the US, though Dallas/Fort Worth International and Chicago O’Hare are already members of that particular club – but Denver’s master plan allows for an eventual dozen strips.

As might be gathered, space is not a problem at Denver International, in common with many other US gateways. When the decision was taken 20 years ago to build a completely new airport outside the city limits to replace the restricted Stapleton airport, no less than 53 square miles was earmarked for an airport that is already handling 53 million passengers a year but is capable of handling up to 100 million. Moreover, despite tightening US government finances, Federal Aviation Authority funding of up to 50% for runways and other major projects can still be made available.

The latest recession hasn’t hit Denver too hard (it went through tough times 30 years ago) and the airport’s finances remain very healthy. As a new airport, some infrastructure and equipment will be coming up for renewal, but nothing that cannot be catered for from existing budgets, the airport operator points out.

At Los Angeles International, executive director, airport development Roger Johnson says that there has been no let-up in the gateway’s US$6.5 billion expansion programme that incorporates new terminals, the renovation of existing ones and a large amount of work on the airfield. A project to reposition the south runway and insert a centreline taxiway was completed two years ago.

The airport, Johnson points out, is self-funding and there is no reliance on the city – everything is financed from revenues or the proceeds of bonds. Some of the investment is driven by introduction of new aircraft types such as the A380 and B747-8, but there is also a desire to improve the level of customer service as well as the need to maintain existing infrastructure. The airport is in the process of increasing space in its Tom Bradley terminal by 1.3 million square feet and is also planning a new midfield concourse. Other terminals, such as Terminal 6, are being completely rebuilt to take account of changes in ticketing and security requirements.

Although one of the largest US airports in terms of passenger numbers – handling 63 million people a year it is in the number three slot – Los Angeles manages to achieve this with just four runways. It is more of an origin and destination airport than some of the mainly hub airports that have gone for multiple runway solutions and in fact Los Angeles, which has had four runways since the 1970s, has no plans to add more. And, though the airport area is relatively constrained, there should be no problem increasing passenger numbers to around 79 million a year as envisaged in the airport’s master plan, Johnson argues.

For Europe, look east
Major airport infrastructure projects are on hold in much of crisis-hit Europe. In Athens, for example, an airport spokesman said: “We do not have expansion plans at the moment – how could we, in the wake of a recession that is enduring for a fifth consecutive year now? However, we do hope to see traffic numbers rising again as from early next year.”

For really big infrastructure schemes in Europe, it is necessary to look east. Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow is building a third separate runway and, according to the Russian Government, it will be completed at the end of 2015.

Also in development is the North Terminal Complex, which will see the construction of a terminal able to handle 40 million passengers a year. The project is specified in the Sheremetyevo Airport Master plan, which has a strategy looking out to 2030. The first phase of the new complex, which will see the terminal able to handle up to 10 million passengers a year, will be developed on the existing site and plans for a subway – to be built as a public-private partnership – are being drawn up to connect the South and the North sectors of the airport. This, and the new passenger terminal, are all planned for completion together with the third runway.

Istanbul is another city with big ambitions. The city has plans for a third airport to add to Ataturk and Sabiha Gökçen. The new facility, at Arnavutköy to the north of the city would, if fully realised, be among the largest in the world, with an annual capacity of 150 million passengers a year and, eventually, six runways, of which three would be built as part of the first stage of development.

A consortium led by Limak Holding which also includes Cengiz Holding, Kolin Insaat, Mapa and Kalyon Group, won the tender by nearly doubling its initial 12.7 billion euros ($16.8 billion) bid. However, Turkey’s recent history in financing and pushing through large infrastructure projects is not good – a trans-Bosphorus rail tunnel is running several years behind schedule, for example – and the 2016 opening date for the first phase of the gateway’s development is looking increasingly optimistic. But if Turkey can pull the project off, it has the potential to transform Istanbul into a major transit hub, perhaps rivalling Dubai.

In Europe, it is not necessarily lack of funds that is holding up development of airports, but public opinion and well-organised environmental and local interest groups. In still-prosperous Germany, Frankfurt International Airport recently opened its fourth runway, although virtually simultaneously it was at the same time forced to impose a ban on night flights.

The deliberations over airport expansion, and particular new runways, have reached epic proportions in Western Europe. In the UK, the Airports Commission under Sir Howard Davies has at the time of writing just started to scrutinise a range of options for runway capacity in London and South-east England. This is only the latest stage of a debate that has been dragging on for well over a decade and, many commentators say, could yet continue for another 10-20 years. The airline industry is adamant that more runway capacity is needed if London is to remain a major hub. Environmentalists and affected local residents are equally convinced that major expansion is unnecessary and the UK Government – knowing that it will be thoroughly lambasted by one faction or the other, whatever it chooses to do – has put off any decision until after the next election.

Options on the table include proposals from London Mayor Boris Johnson for a completely new airport either on the banks of the Thames Estuary or on a man-made island, and a suggested expansion of the existing Stansted Airport. Heathrow Airport – whose complete closure was suggested by the mayor – has countered with various options for a third runway which, the airport says, could be built by 2025-29.

In Munich, airport CEO Michael Kerkloh said in March that while that gateway was reaching the limits of capacity of its existing two runways, plans for a third had had to be put on hold indefinitely following a public referendum in June 2012 that rejected the idea. Meanwhile, the airport and its customers are managing to eke some growth out of the existing airport by introducing larger aircraft. The airport has also started work on a new satellite facility for Terminal Two, a groundbreaking ceremony for which was held in April. The new building will go into operation in 2015 and will enable 11 million more passengers a year to pass through the terminal, which is reaching its limit of an annual 25 million passengers.

Reaching out for opportunities
Some European airports have had to look beyond the boundaries of Europe itself and seek out opportunities further afield. French operator Aéroports de Paris (AdP) has two subsidiaries dedicated to international operations, ADPI (Aéroports de Paris Ingénierie) and ADPM Aéroports de Paris Management (ADPM), which operates 22 airports worldwide.

The aim of the two companies is to diversify AdP’s interests beyond its home region, focussing particularly on markets where there is strong growth potential in passenger traffic, revenue and earnings. The short-term goal is to take three significant equity stakes in airports preferably located in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) or BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries and whose traffic approaches or exceeds 10 million passengers a year.

In May 2012, the operator acquired 38% of TAV Airports (a Turkish company which operates 12 airports in six countries, including Istanbul Ataturk airport), giving it a significant international footprint. It is now competing for the tenders for LaGuardia Central Terminal Airport and, in Brazil, for Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte airports.

ADPI has already won a contract with the United Arab Emirates Department of Civil Aviation for the design of Terminal 3 at Dubai International Airport, as well as engineering studies and project management assistance for its two boarding satellites, the first of which has been in full operation since January 2013. The Emirates facility is in fact the world’s largest, with 528,000 square metres on 11 floors, that is exclusively dedicated to the A380.

ADPI, in partnership with Lebanese engineering consultants Dar Al Handasah, supervised and installed the operations systems described by ADPI as “the most innovative anywhere in the world”.

Earlier, in July 2012, ADPI won an international architectural competition for a new terminal at Haikou Meilan airp

ort on Hainan island in the far south of China, where the existing terminal is getting close to its annual handling capacity of 12 million passengers. ADPI used an X-shaped design to maximise the available space and to minimise transit time for passengers.

ADPM, meanwhile, brought the new terminal at Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Jordan, into operation last March. ADPM is the sole operator of the airport under a 25-year concession gained in 2007, a deal that included a build, operate and transfer contract to redevelop the existing one and build the new terminal.