Choose the Right Tool for the Job

BIM Applications for Airport Design, Construction and Management

Team members must be equally conversant and proficient in the use of the BIM tools. This is as true for the consultants who may be retained by the airport as it is in-house airport personnel who are assigned as part of the delivery team. Airport management needs to consider both their own technology infrastructure and in-house skill sets, if they decide to undertake a project in BIM and subsequently use it as a facilities management tool or for maintenance of existing condition documentation. Airport leadership must be invested in progressing their projects into the next generation through conscious contracting, open communications with the their team of consultants, contractors and facility managers.

Facilities Management

BIM can also help manage a facility during its entire life cycle. As a combined three-dimensional model and expandable database, there is very little information that cannot be added to a BIM model. If clients begin with that end in mind, the model progresses very specifically at each phase of the project.

This tool can be used to detail how the owner/operator, airlines and other tenants will occupy and use spaces — a real value to those who manage the commercial real estate aspects of an airport. If product and asset information is incorporated into the model, airport facilities personnel can develop programs for preventative maintenance that use personnel more efficiently and prevent any interruptions to service that might occur due to equipment failure or malfunction-- something that is critical in a 24/7 operational environment.

The air-handling units for a mechanical system may only require limited information for plan coordination early in conceptual design for rough space planning. During construction document preparation, those units can be modeled to include capacity data, connections, maintenance access and even manufacturer selection and associated specification links.

When the model will be used for facilities management, those same units can have information for installed make, model and serial number, O&M manuals and other information necessary for regular preventative maintenance.

BIM can also assist the owner/operator in reducing specific operating costs and to complete cost/benefit analyses to evaluate investment in improvements or new systems. To this extent, those who will eventually maintain the airport and its assets necessarily become collaborative team members with important input into the overall scope of the application of this technology and the use of BIM tools during design and construction. This is another valid reason for beginning with the end in mind.

The integration of new design technologies influences the successful outcome of any airport project. If the hurdles of understanding how to use the tool effectively can be overcome, the value can be maximized through education, clear goals, defined uses and skilled, collaborative use. As a tool, it is not an end unto itself; rather it is a means to an end and it can certainly be the “right tool for the job.”


Virginia McAllister RA, NCIDQ, LEED AP, NCARB

As the principal/owner of Iron Horse Architects, McAllister’s 25 years of diverse experience in development, design and construction have given her a breadth of experience in the practice of architecture for aviation and transportation facilities.

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