Unveiling At Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Airport Authority is spending a significant sum on a marketing push to educate the populace about the opening of its new midfield terminal on November 12. The theme: New airport; new address; new experience. In fact, it is the same airfield, but everything else about the customer experience is about to change — entry, exit, retail and concessions, even aircraft taxiing times. And a parking garage that includes a rental car level and three times the number of spaces as the existing garage, which is all too often full. Comments executive director John Kish, “I think the people who use it will have a new image of Indianapolis, and that’s really what we had hoped would happen.”

As the word midfield implies, the new terminal complex is situated remotely from the existing terminal, and thus required completely new access infrastructure, relocating the entry road from one Interstate highway to another. “It is a huge communication issue,” explains Kish. “The old airport was reached by driving on Airport Expressway, so we needed to rename the road, which we did.

“We just need to change habits; we’re spending more than half a million dollars on billboards, TV ads, and newspaper ads to tell people that we’ve moved. Take I-70 five minutes west of I-465 to exit 68 and the new Indianapolis airport.

“It’s just different. The retail opportunities are substantially different; better. We have probably twice as much space devoted to concessions. Today, rental cars are served by shuttles.”

It is the customer experience that has been central to the plan for the seven-year project. It will change customer habits, while also making the experience much more streamlined, according to Kish. He points to expanding the new parking garage as one example.

“The thing you never want to happen is happening today at the existing parking garage, which is waving people away on busy days,” he says. “When that happens, we have some very unhappy passengers. You never want to have the garage hit capacity. It is fundamentally more prudent to build now on a green field site and not be dodging operations, than it would be to build in five years.

“We tried to put the passenger convenience first and said, we’re not sure who really enjoys the shuttle bus experience. So, why don’t we just put the rental cars here where they can walk to the rental car and be on their way? The visitor to Indianapolis will remember that from the time he lands, walks off his plane, to the time he’s pulling into a parking space downtown, it can be less than half an hour.”

Kish relates that the original plan for the new garage was to make it 150 percent larger than the existing facility, and it was expected to top out within three years of the midfield opening. “That didn’t seem reasonable,” he says, “let’s just build a bigger one today. We showed the airlines the economics, that the thing would pay for itself. They agreed; so we went with the bigger parking garage and added $50 million to the budget to do so, and projected a 40 percent increase in parking revenues.”

Meanwhile, the airport board recently approved a daily fee of $16 in the new garage, a drop from the $22 paid today in the old garage. “Our studies indicate that the people leaving Indianapolis enjoy the convenience of walking to the terminal from the parking garage; we want to give more people that option,” says Kish.

While one might expect that a $1.1 billion new terminal in a city the size of Indianapolis would be extremely high profile, it hasn’t been, according to Kish, and thus the need for the educational effort. Its visibility in the community has been dwarfed locally with that of a new football stadium for the Indianapolis Colts NFL team.

Comments Kish, “The stadium has really drawn much more public discussion than the airport. One, the stadium building is a huge piece of the downtown skyline. It’s also the Colts NFL football, which is in front of everyone on Sunday. It’s also paid for with tax money, so they talk about it. The airport is none of those. It’s not on a skyline that many people see; it’s not in their face on weekends; it’s not paid for with taxpayer money.

“What public discussion there has been is positive. We’re having a series of community days to present this new facility to the public.”

New and redeveloped
The new midfield terminal is one component of a redefinition of the airport and its role here. A large maintenance base that was abandoned by United Airlines has been filled; Hawker-Beechcraft has broken ground on a $14 million expansion of its service facility; and, Federal Express is investing some $162 million for an additional 600,000-square foot sortation facility that will be able to handle 15 more wide-body aircraft. Indianapolis is already the second largest hub for FedEx.

Since 1995, the airport had been managed under a private contract with U.K.-based BAA; however, that agreement was terminated at the end of 2007 by joint agreement of the two parties, according to Kish, as BAA redirected its business model.

In 2007, Indianapolis Inter-national moved some 8.27 million passengers through its terminal. Cargo operations last year were at 1.16 million tons. The airport serves 39 non-stop destinations and averages some 180 daily departures.

The new terminal features a post-9/11 design, one that offers an open air environment and gives the passenger a sense of place, much like newer terminals in Ottawa, Vancouver, and Seattle.

Says Kish, “We think the openness is helpful to the passenger in wayfinding. We think people understand immediately where they are and can guess how long it takes to get to where they want to go. We all who are old enough remember going to the airport to see the airplanes. And you weren’t a passenger; you were just seeing airplanes. We wanted to let kids do that again, and would accept the operational challenge of managing the queues through security checkpoints.

“This is Indianapolis; we ought to be able to do that just fine. I think it’s working out that way. We made the checkpoints very large and put in a lot of natural lighting and improved wayfinding, and reduced tension. I think TSA is very excited about what the checkpoint will look like and how people will adapt to it. The proof will be in the pudding November 12th.”

The ticketing area of the terminal was designed around islands that direct baggage to an in-line screening system. While the design is very much in line with the common use concept being adopted at many airports today, particularly internationally, airlines will still have dedicated space in the lobby.

Explains Kish, “The airlines were not all that excited about the ticket island concept here; that’s perhaps how we settled on building ticket islands but we’re not doing common use equipment.

“I tell people on tours of the new facility that we have ticket islands and each side is dedicated to an airline. That gives us eight sides, but we have eleven airlines. The industry seems to be solving that problem for us. Where today airlines are sharing a side, five years from there may be only eight airlines here.

“There are more self-service kiosks in the existing terminal today than we had programmed for the opening day at midfield. We’ve arranged the ticket islands at midfield in terms of the number of self-service kiosks and the ease by which you can take a bag to the bag belt.

“We think that the ticket hall is well organized. The whole building is designed to be expandable. We think we simply will not need the expansion for the ticket hall. The space required to perform those functions does not seem to be getting larger as the number of passengers increases.”

The retail and concessions area, dubbed Civic Plaza, features some 25,000 square feet of restaurants and specialty stores, and the two concourses will have 15,000 square feet of retail space as well. The first-ever Indianapolis 500 Grill will be accompanied by a Brickyard Authentics apparel and collectible store and an Indianapolis 500 museum.

Brands are national and local, and lease agreements are a mix of ad hoc with the airport as well as partnering with industry contractors that include Areas, HDS Retail, HMS Host, Paradies, and SSP America.