Robust Growth: ATL prepares for the future with investments in technology, infrastructure

ROBUST GROWTH By Jodi Richards, Associate Editor ATL prepares for the future with investments in technology, infrastructure Lance Lyttle (left) and Ben DeCosta ATLANTA - Recently renamed, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta...

The new East International Terminal (EIT), expected to cost some $980 million, will add ten additional gates to the airport and more than one million square feet, according to program element manager Jeff Moak.

Kap Malik, lead project designer, explains that the focus of the building is to create an international gateway to Atlanta. "We want people to be attached to the city as soon as they arrive," he says.

The concessions area is modeled around a marketplace concept, of which the gates wrap around. The design team is incorporating local art, food, and music (complete with a performance stage) into the space.

Says Malik, "We're designing a building that is contextual and that is indigenous. We're designing [the terminal] through materials, through food, through music, and also through colors. Atlanta is known [for] the red clay. We're transforming that into a sandstone wall that runs through the building and becomes the spine. The idea is that Atlanta is a very grounded community. It's grounded and it grew out of the clay, and it got finer and finer as it rose. So as the building gets higher, it gets very refined and becomes metal and glass."

Moak adds that the entire facility will be common use to allow maximum flexibility.

Airport officials speculate that the construction of the EIT will spur growth in the surrounding area, through hotel and other commercial development. "There's 90 acres of assembled land out here that we helped Clayton County to assemble," DeCosta says. "It's formerly noise land and I have given the county development authority an option on that land for development compatible with the expansion of the airport. The airport is the best economic generator of the region, at $18.8 billion annually. And these investments in this capital program will cause even more job generation and more positive economic impact."

ATL is also heavy into improving its technology, namely wireless. "The mission of the airport is to be the world's best airport by exceeding customer expectations," DeCosta says. "So we're continually trying to figure out what customers want and desire and to give it to them. And we think that customers want to be connected to the Internet."

The OC 192 wireless infrastructure, which is on par with major service providers, will not only support voice and data for travelers, but the airport and tenants as well. "The airlines are using wireless technology in order to serve customers," DeCosta says. "We think a wireless environment will allow us to be more efficient, more effective for the future - both in serving the traveling public, and in providing a foundation for the users of the airport and the people who do business to operate effectively."

According to Lance Lyttle, CIO, the three main driving forces behind the wireless project are the passengers, tenants, and the employees of the airport. "Based on that," he says, "we decided that the best thing was for us to have a centrally managed wireless infrastructure throughout the entire airport. However, in order for that to happen, there are certain infrastructure needs to be put in place." The main one is the fiber backbone of the system, which is currently being installed.

The airport has adopted a neutral host business model for the wireless system. Meaning, it will own and operate the infrastructure and allow service providers to provide service to their subscribers.
"For example," Lyttle says, "com-panies such as T-Mobile or Boingo would come in and have an agreement with the airport in order to provide services within the airport. They have their subscribers, and when their subscribers get to the airport, they will log onto our infrastructure and they'll be patched right into [their provider]." The airport will also provide pay-for-use service to travelers who do not have existing accounts with a wireless data provider and don't wish to subscribe.

East International Terminal
The East International Terminal is expected to be complete October 2007, at a cost of $982 million

Lyttle says the airport examined other possible business models in which a third party would manage the wireless infrastructure, or in which there would be one sole service provider. "We decided that would not be in the best interest of us and all the rest of the service providers," he says.

"We don't want to put all our eggs in one basket, unless we own the basket," DeCosta adds.

DeCosta and Lyttle are confident that this business model will work for the airport, and also be a revenue generator. "We think [the infrastructure] will actually save us money in terms of how we operate," DeCosta says. "So there's cost avoidance. And then the tenants will actually pay us to be on the backbone, and we have ways of forcing them on. And then passengers. Having a broadband wireless system will enable us to take advantage of things we can only imagine and envision."

As an example, DeCosta says one day retailers may have the ability to sell products instantly to customers through their advertisements. "You take your PDA out, point it at the ad, download the information, and if you're enabled with your credit card, you could communicate wirelessly and order it and have it shipped home."

Ultimately, all wireless communications, voice and data, will be supported by this infrastructure. Currently, wireless voice service providers pay only for tower rental within the airport. Says DeCosta, "What we want is a piece of the traffic."

An interesting customer service aspect is that travelers with a wireless enabled device within the airport will have access to the airport's website for free, allowing them to quickly find out where the restaurants, nearest bathrooms, etc. are located within the airport.

The airport has budgeted some $10 million for the installation of the fiber backbone, which will support the wireless system as well as other systems including parking revenue control, security access control, and FIDS. Lyttle expects to see a return on that investment within five years.

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