July 9, 2019

In our previous series “Why Bother?” we explored why airport operators should bother to upgrade their facilities. Sure, modernization programs can be complicated and expensive, but these types of projects are necessary to accommodate growth and improve the passenger experience. Furthermore, there are operational, financial and community benefits. But how do you do tackle a modernization effort while maintaining operations at current capacity as well as minimize negative impact to the passenger experience during the project? That’s where we pick up in this series, “What it Takes.”

Buckle your seatbelts, because these projects present an interesting catch-22. In order to grow, airports must first contract. Modernization projects involve a lot of relocating of services and “do not enter” sites that previously were available to passengers. That means inherently passengers are impacted by these projects in the short term even though these projects should ultimately improve the passenger experience. The key is mitigating the short-term negative impacts to reap the longer-term passenger experience benefits. To do this, the most important determinant of success is smart phasing. You must strike the right balance between the number of phases, duration, cost and impacts to the passenger experience and operations. There should be enough phases to minimize the impact to passenger flow, which would negatively impact the experience. However, too many phases become cost prohibitive and take too much time.

The biggest challenge to effective phasing, however, is the rate of change. Processes and technology are changing faster than we can change the airport environment. Airport projects have a long lead time with many stakeholders, which create evolving design standards and requirements.

However, if we waited for all the answers we’d never get started. So, much like manufacturing, we can approach modernizations with just-in-time design, that builds flexibility into planning and even budget and time design evolution. Ticket counters and check-in space is an example of why just-in-time design is critical, as is security screening. Technology will inherently change how much real estate is required for these functions, the nature and even the location of these spaces. With regards to security, we must design to today’s screening regulations, but we know that the standards will change several times before construction even starts in a later phase. Visual displays are another example—costs for this technology is going down while resolution and other capabilities are improving. How do we put just-in-time design into action? Waiting to specify technology until the construction phase to preserve “newness” or designing detailed tenant space layouts closer to the construction period.

Ultimately, we understand the end goal for modernization projects, which is to support expansion and improve the passenger experience. Along the way many things will change even faster than we can build—there are outside influences, influencers and technology that will impact the project. So we must design in a manner that is flexible enough to adjust and accommodate while remaining focused on the overarching goal. That means specifics of the design will and should shift along the way. There needs to be a smart phasing in place, thorough planning, critical thinking and clear communication. In this series I will dig deeper into how to plan for system changes — baggage, IT and security — as well as how to effectively manage passenger flow and communication during a long-term modernization program. Stayed tuned for discussions and insights from designers from our Aviation practice as we explore “What it Takes.”