Airport Planners, Designers Meet in Denver

DENVER — Attendance topped 600 here at this year’s ACC/AAAE Airport Planning, Design, and Construction Symposium. At this forum, a mixture of airport directors and operations managers; consultants of various design, implementation, and construction disciplines; product service vendors; and government reps meet to discuss best practices and critical issues related to airport operations and development.

Between the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee-approved FAA bill, a Senate FAA bill, and President Obama’s budget, there is currently a ‘perfect storm’ brewing on the Federal financial side of things, comments former FAA associate administrator for airports Woodie Woodward of Woodward & Associates.

Says Denver International Airport’s Kim Day, “Large airports have been getting less and less money every year. From our perspective, [Federal funding] is never going to get back to where it was.

“All of us are struggling with generating non-aeronautical revenue; it’s time for us to get creative,” she adds.

Richard Smyth, JetBlue, relates that the company is finding more and more that airport operators want more control of the facilities. “We are seeing shorter-term leases,” he says.

Day agrees, stating, “Airports in general are trying to go more towards controlling their assets, and better utilization of those assets.”

eALP and IT

There is a new paradigm in play in terms of airport layout planning, explains Randy Murphy, Grafton Technologies. What’s behind the eALP (electronic airport layout plan), says Murphy, is the ability to accumulate and utilize a great amount of data. There are currently three FAA Advisory Circulars related to eALP: geodetic control; imagery; and GIS (geographic information system) data.

Apart from producing the layout plan output, eALP also creates the power to analyze the data, remarks Murphy. In comparing the old to the new, Murphy says previously the goal was to produce a document in paper form for mapping accuracy, and there was relatively few attributes attached to the data.

“With this paradigm shift, the goal is all about the data,” says Murphy. “The point is, once you have the data, you can do so much more with it using computers. Used electronically, some of the data has a much higher accuracy because it is not only used for planning purposes, but also for flight procedure design, engineering purposes, etc.”

Murphy says with this kind of layout planning, projects will take less time. “Having this data for planning will streamline the preliminary design phase and help eliminate alternatives that aren’t viable early on; it will help get projects through the approval process so that we can build them quicker,” he explains.

In relation to IT (information technology) at airports, Faith Varwig of Faith Group, LLC says IT has changed master planning by adding another discipline that owners have to pay for, and it adds significant costs to construction programs. “Of anything that gets missed in almost every capital program I’m involved in, it’s the technology dollars; it must be accounted for up front,” explains Varwig.

“[Technology] is part of the overall program, and some of the things we’ve brought to the program are the additional alternatives in planning that we didn’t have before — we can now operate our facilities differently than we were able to in the past.

“Certainly, technology allows a greater flexibility of use; common use, quicker turns at gates, passenger processing efficiencies ... all this really improves use of the facility. At the end of the day, it also supports sustainability goals by reducing operating costs and improving efficiency.”

Technology is part of an airport’s core infrastructure now, comments Varwig. “Unfortunately our industry hasn’t done a really good job on system total cost of ownership,” she says. “We stop short in many cases in our planning efforts; we really never look at the 30-year plan ... what is this going to cost me over the lifecycle of a building? And we make decisions based on capital costs only.

“From an IT perspective, that is just not the direction that the industry needs to go. It’s worth the time and money to really look at total life-cycle costs.

“One of the mistakes we make is a lack of focus on overarching airport goals — most of our IT master plans today start with the airport’s strategic plan. What are the airport’s goals and objectives for the departments, and how does IT roll into that, and support that?”

Many times technology does not get involved in a program until 30 percent design, and that’s far too late, relates Varwig. “We really need to be working with and be integrated with the architectural and civil components up front, to say, ‘Are there things we can do and offer through technology programs that would change the way we might be designing these spaces?’

“And there must be an adoption of an integrated planning approach in our industry ... not just integrated with the design team, but airport stakeholder integration as well.”

Intelligent airports

SITA’s John Powell comments, “What if you could increase your slot capacity by predicting arrival and departure times? What if you could improve on-time performance by allocating staff real-time via mobile devices so that you have the right people in the right place at the right time? What if you could improve your operational passenger flow and target retail based on actual passenger traffic flows, and not just through simulations?”

According to Powell, there are three trends coming together today that will make possible the intelligent airport setting within the next decade: mobility; self-service; and collaborative decisionmaking.

“Today, 66 percent of U.S. business travelers carry smart phones,” explains Powell. “And 70 percent of airports plan to offer mobile services by 2013. 4G and WiFi will provide permanent connectivity, and passengers will expect context-enriched applications when arriving at the airport.”

With regard to self service, Powell says 71 percent of passengers already use self-service check-in. Self bag-drop is already being used at airports outside of the U.S. “Self bag-check is coming, and so is self-boarding,” he adds.

According to Powell, the digital airport incorporates an integrated strategy that includes: a technology platform to enable process optimization; delivery of personal on context-aware services; mobility; and digitally flexible facility space and resources.

The digital airport will significantly increase terminal efficiency and utilize a shared passenger flow rather than an airline-specific passenger flow, relates Powell. “If you have the network connectivity and the infrastructure, you can flex your space based on what’s going on,” he says.

“What’s that mean for the terminal? My recommendation is to turn the terminal upside down; there’s a whole lot of wasted space upstairs in the ticketing lobby. Why not turn it upside down — put a ticket counter position per airline in the basement and take all that space upstairs and make it bag claim, meeters and greeters, retail — make it a destination experience.”