The New Buzz: Sustainability

RENO, NV - Each year, airports, engineers, consultants, and government officials convene at the Airport Planning, Design & Construction Symposium, hosted jointly by the American Association of Airport Executives and the Airport Consultants Council. This year's event was notably different because of its overriding theme - sustainability, a concept which has been making its way into other segments of business as well. Put simply, the idea of sustainability actually encompasses two concepts: 1) what designs and practices are in place at airports today that are sustainable and worth sustaining; and 2) how can we better design airports of tomorrow that are more sustainable in the long term, and more cost-effective.

Talk with representatives at this year's design/build symposium in Reno and it quickly becomes clear that there is no one-fits-all catchphrase that accurately defines sustainability and its impact on various aspects of airport design and operations.

Regarding what is in place today, the greatest challenge to sustaining what exists now, it appears, is the evolving airline profitability model, which like a ripple in a river affects nearly everything else downstream.

Concerning tomorrow, it is clear that it is critical to have an understanding of LEED - the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - a Green Building Rating System' that is a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings, according to the U.S. Green Building Council (, which developed LEED and continues to contribute to its evolution. LEED standards are currently available or under development for a variety of industry segments, and people in aviation are working to establish similar, workable standards for airports.

According to the USGBC, LEED was created to:

  • define "green building" by establishing a common standard of measurement;

  • promote integrated, whole-building design practices;

  • recognize environmental leadership in the building industry;

  • stimulate green competition;

  • raise consumer awareness of green building benefits; and

  • transform the building market.

LEED provides a complete framework for assessing building performance and meeting sustainability goals, says USGBC.

In sum, LEED is about cleaner buildings that in the long term are sustainable while saving overall costs, even if the initial upfront investment is higher.

Defining the concept

AIRPORT BUSINESS asked several attendees at the Reno meeting, representing different segments, to help define sustainability.

Comments Paula Hochstetler, president of co-host Airport Consultants Council, "The term sustainability is frequently used today because we, as a nation, are contemplating to what extent various aspects of our current lifestyle are sustainable; that is, in which respects can - and should - our current lifestyle continue to be maintained and prolonged?

"Environmentalists were perhaps the first to focus on the principle of sustainability, beginning more than three decades ago. The sustainability of our environment has become linked directly to laws and regulations that protect and mitigate.

"In the context of the aviation industry, and more specifically in the context of airport development, the same principles apply. The aviation system, like the highway system, is, in many ways, a mature industry. As such, fewer new facilities are being built, and our challenges increasingly pertain to how to maintain and prolong the use of our current facilities, via renovation and expansion.

"Those who are exploring the sustainability of our current airport system are also grappling with the issue of level of service - and passenger, airport, airline, and government agency expectations. The successful airline business model of today is low-cost. This goes hand in hand with low fares. Can airport terminals continue to be designed as the 'gateway' of a community? Or, with the low fares, will all of us need to shift our expectations and become content with far simpler airport facilities?

"Said another way, will this shift in expectations and approach to airport development become necessary because the current level of service is not sustainable with the new low-cost airline business models? The bottom line is: As the new airline business model becomes commonplace, those who operate and develop airports must also contemplate how their models must change in the context of sustainability.

* * *

Meanwhile, Art Kosatka, president of TranSecure, a consulting firm for TSA and others, sees security costs and regulations potentially having an impact on sustainability.

"One angle to consider is whether too much security, or too much misguided security, will drive up the cost of some air service and airport operations, particularly at smaller airports where profitable service cannot be sustained.

"We are beginning to see it in the rewrite of the Security Construction Guidelines, where people are suggesting very expensive and very intrusive modifications; but there is a rapidly diminishing commitment from TSA, DHS, and Congress to pay for what they demand. The uncertainties of TSA's existence in the reorganization, and how long/much DHS plans to wield a heavier LEO [law enforcement officer]-oriented hand in airport operations, will tend to dampen sustainability, in my opinion."

* * *

Michael Patrick, AIA, LEED design director in architecture for the architectural firm Gensler ( understandably looks at sustainability from a design vantage point.

"As we know, one way of managing sustainability as a design-build-use community is the LEED rating system. The LEED rating system does not presently have airport design in mind, and therefore it is a special challenge to find ways to certify airport projects. A LEED system for airport design is in the works, and would be a big step forward.

"An associate recently submitted a proposal to the Green Building Council to talk about the issues that airports run into in trying to get points toward LEED certification of a project, based on the LEED rating system.

"She was also recently at a symposium on airport sustainability, at which energy efficiency was a big topic.

"Airports are a unique occupancy type - everyone is moving all the time. Airport occupants are largely transient, not individuals working in an office environment. Some sustainability ideas that work well in offices don't apply to most airport space.

"For example, in office buildings, individual temperature and humidity controls allow thermostats to be set higher in the summer because people can tolerate warmer ambient summer interior temperatures if they can specifically control their own environment. In airports, the majority of people are not in an office, so this strategy cannot be used, and energy savings cannot be gained.

"Also, airport operations are tied to an enormous list of highly regulated equipment. The performance criteria of everything from aircraft to CTX machines are based on speed and safety (and are often regulated), and other client-service and profitability measures. It is often not possible to specify or select a more energy-efficient product because, for example, the available explosives detection equipment is highly restrictive and no substitutes are possible. PC air for jet bridges is another example of high-energy consumption equipment for which there is not a feasible alternative."

* * *

Finally, Vesta Rea-Gaubert, president of Vesta Rea & Associates L.L.C, a marketing and air service development firm, suggests that what we have is not sustainable and expectations may need to change.

"The way we obtain sustainability in aviation is stop building monuments that the public could care less about. In particular, creative and expensive airport terminals, consolidated rent-a-car facilities, jazzy gateways, elaborate parking garages, green spaces that reflect manicured city parks, and on and on. While it's all nice to look at, it is all expensive. Airlines can't afford such extravagant facilities and neither can the taxpayers. It's time to minimize and look at simplicity in design.

"The public is not interested in having the "feeling of flight" when they enter a terminal. Why would they? They are getting to experience the real thing as soon as they get through a security system that gives all of us massive heartburn. Train stations don't have the feeling of a railroad, and when was the last time a bus station looked like the lobby of an elegant hotel?

"The average person entering an airport terminal is not interested in art displays, bronze statues, live music, or five-star restaurants. Just get us to the gate, on a plane that departs on time and arrives on time. Nothing real complicated.

"As Roddy Boggus, managing principal for PGA&L architects, half-heartedly suggested in a recent article, 'A Terminal should be a Box.' I totally agree. They are nothing but holding pens for people going from point 'A' to point 'B.' Provide us a restroom, a little fast food, a good newsstand, and we are ready to fly."