A New Look in the Big Easy

Feb. 13, 2019
A new terminal in New Orleans is set to create an efficient and enjoyable gateway to the community.

In May, the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) is set to get its biggest upgrade since it first opened.

MSY’s new terminal will finally open to the public, promising to transform the entire passenger experience at the fast growing airport.

Kevin Dolliole, director of aviation, New Orleans Aviation Board, said the old terminal’s layout made it physically impossible to relocate more concessions to the sterile side of the security checkpoints and the layout created a lot of inefficiencies with moving traffic.

“There are a number of things that you can correct that you can never correct with the old facility to improve the operations and efficiencies with operations,” he said.

Dolliole said the challenges with the old terminal weren’t just inside the facility, but the problems started in terms of access to the airport and the curbside drop off area.

“It starts from the outside in,” he said. “There are times on busy days we can find ourselves in pretty much gridlock.”

Parking facilities are routinely full at MSY and the facilities at the old terminal have been unable to meet demands at times, Dolliole said.

Replacing a string of expansions

Jordan Taylor, market sector leader for aviation for Leo A Daly, said the new terminal was necessary in New Orleans due to obsolesces of the old facility. It was originally constructed in 1957, completed in 1959, then several additions were added onto the original building until the late 1990’s.

It created a conglomerate of expansions which fell short for current and future needs.

“At the end of the day, what we were trying to do is improve circulation for cars, people baggage and planes,” he said. “And we’re trying to make a much better experience for the passengers as we looked at the old terminal and moved to the new terminal.”

The old terminal has three security checkpoints for each concourse at the airport. Not only did it create confusion for passengers looking for their gates, but most of the airports concessions were located on the landside of the checkpoints. The lack of interconnected concourses also limited options for travelers looking to purchase concession items.

“What we as planners know is people aren’t comfortable spending time at a shop until they’re at their gate and they know what’s going to happen,” Taylor said. “So they were losing a lot of revenue because of that.”

Dolliole said the three smaller security checkpoints to access the airside areas created congestion and a cumbersome process to move through.

The congestion also hit the airfield as well, with only a single lane taxiway between Concourse A and B.

“If someone’s pushing back and someone is trying to come into the area, they have to sit and wait,” Dolliole said.

When travelers enter the terminal from the landside, they will head to one central security checkpoint after ticketing. Taylor said it’s properly sized to meet traveler demands at the airport and can be expanded with future passenger growth.

Passengers then enter the big hall after clearing security, where they can find their concourse.

“It’s a very clear circulation — you go through security screening, then you’re in the hall. Then your decision is left or right for Concourse A or B,” Taylor said. “That’s a fairly simple decision you have to make and it’s after you’ve already gone through that high stress point of the passenger process, which is security screening.”

Dolliole said passengers will also see an upgrade in restroom facilities and capacity.

“It’s a number of things like that, the self-check kiosks, located throughout the facility, convenience in the parking garage connection … it’s just different things being built in that overall are going to make for a much better experience here,” he said.

The old New Orleans terminal didn’t meet the needs of current international aircraft. Taylor said Startup airlines like Ryanair and Condor can avoid intermediate hubs with current fleets, but the old New Orleans facility’s federal inspection services areas were undersized.

“Customs and Border Patrol has changed how it processes people,” he said. “It used to be you’d go through immigration, take your bag and go to customs. Now they have a bag-first operation and you get that bag first, then go to immigration, then to customs and process that way.

“Plus, in order to speed up that operation, they now use automated passport control in a lot of places.”

Built for today and tomorrow

Taylor said they looked at several options for the New Orleans terminal upgrades: build to the west of the current facility; renovate the existing terminal; and building to the north of the current facility. A new building was seen as the best option given the original facility and the additions were at the end of their lifespan and it wasn’t a more cost effective option.

“Generally, these buildings have a lifespan of about 50 years, but, the systems within those buildings, like the HVAC, is about 20 to 30 years,” he said. “A lot of those systems were at the end of their useful life. So when you’re looking at a renovation, you’re looking at revamping that whole guts of the terminal.”

Taylor said the best site option for the new terminal was across the airfield from the old facility because the western site had a lot of existing facilities on it, creating a lot of obstacles to work around.

“You not only had to relocate a lot of the facilities and find sites for them, but you also had to make sure operationally you were not impacting something negatively while you were building the new terminal,” he said. “The north site really didn’t have a lot of those issues. It was a pretty clean site so that saved us a lot of time in the construction process.

“We estimate about 12 to 18 months were pulled off the schedule by doing this and that’s a lot of money.”

The north area already had ample access to the runways at New Orleans, so Taylor said they only had to build some apron area, create little modification to the taxiway system to tie them into the existing system.

The northern position also moves the terminal closer to I-10, the main corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Taylor said there’s a planned interchange closer to the airport which will allow for easier access to the freeway from the airport.

Additional curb space is available at the new terminal to accommodate more drop off space.

The new terminal allows for more flexibility at the gates to provide access for various aircraft. It also creates a new common use terminal, so it’s quicker to get new airlines into service with just a software update.

Dolliole said the new terminal includes an inline baggage system. The old terminal had screening systems located behind the ticketing counters in the lobby, which not only took up space, but was inefficient.

“It’s a number of different things we will be able to do that are being built into the new facility in order to create a bunch of more efficiencies to help the travel experience,” he said.

Prepared to move

Dolliole said New Orleans utilized Operational Readiness and Transition (ORAT) planning to ready for the move across the airfield. Like other airports where new terminals came online, he said the switch will happen overnight.

Despite the quick move, Dolliole said it takes nearly two years of planning to execute the overnight changeover. All of the tenants, airline and airport staff need to be coordinated, so New Orleans hired Chrysalis Global Aviation to work through the ORAT process.

“The last flights will operate into this facility one night and be relocated to the new terminal overnight and the next day of operation will start in the new terminal,” he said.

Dolliole said the consultants will try to get everyone essentially moved with the last few weeks of operations. Vendors will have supplies on hand to cover themselves for two or three weeks to meet demands while all their other inventory will be pushed to the new terminal beforehand.

“Once the final cutover is made, the final items come over,” he said. “And items that need to be disposed or still need to come over, there will be a lot more activity on this side once we’ve abandoned the facility.

Chrysalis is also involved with training efforts for staff on teaching them how the new technology works in the new facility.

Technology leads design

Andrew Graham, senior architect for Leo A. Daly was the building information manager (BIM) managed each consultant for one model 30 models for the project

Utilizing the digital modeling for the project allowed designers to not only save money on the project but deliver it on schedule. Utilizing the digital models, designers were able to look at ways to lessen the amount of steel used on the project and create a more efficient overall design of the terminal.

“On the early time of the design and construction, we were able to optimize many of the systems and we were able to do this with the parametric characteristics of the model,” Graham said. “We were able to reduce the cost of the building at the very beginning.

Taylor said the initial design for the new terminal was always set up to expand the building in the future. The initial 30 gates could be expanded to 40 in two different phases. Syska Hennessy positioned chillers and set up piping to the planned expansions to make it easier to perform.

However, demand came from the airlines and airports to add an additional six gates to the initial building when it opens.

Designers were also able to add the additional six gates at the end of the initial modeling without causing delays to the design schedule, Graham said. The 3D model allowed designers to look at the design without having to go back to initial designs to test the gates to find the effective and cost efficient way to add the gates.

“Without the digital model, this would have been a major undertaking and taken much longer,” he said. “We were able to meet the client’s schedule because of this.”

Taylor said the climate in New Orleans creates challenges with water runoff in the design of the building. The area is very sensitive to hurricane events so designers were tasked with creating an open facility with lots of daylight that’s still robust enough to protect people from hurricane force winds.

“Normally when you have big roofs like that a lot of it is internally drained but this is drained to the perimeter, “Taylor said. “We don’t have a lot of equipment or things on that roof so it’s a fairly clean roof that still responds to the rainfalls.”

Graham said designers used the BIM model to normalize the sloping of the roof. They then analyzed the rainfall in the area and designed a gutter system along with the overhangs at the curtain walls for the entire perimeter of the airport.

“We went from something that was basically a slice out of a sphere and that way we were able to use the geometries of that within our model so we could actually get calculations and carry it forward,” he said.

Designers also needed to hide a lot of the systems like the baggage handling system within the headhouse, which is designed a large open environment. Graham said they coordinate with consultants to utilize the hidden spaces.

“We’ve come up with something that’s very open, but in order to make that happen, there was a lot of strategic working in the behind the scenes area,” he said.

The building includes a 55-foot glass curtain wall, which needed to be robust enough to take on severe weather. Taylor said they also included radiant heated floor slabs within the terminal to reduce energy usage. They also used a stratified air approach so only the bottom 10 feet of the terminal are climate controlled.

“In ticketing, I know we got a 12 percent energy savings on the cooling load by taking that approach,” he said.