Airports' Top 10: Environment, security, technology lead ACC president's list of challenges

March 8, 2004

Airports’ Top 10

Environment, security, technology lead ACC president’s list of challenges

By Paula Hochstetler, President, Airport Consultants Council

Recently Paula Hochstetler, ACC president, offered her insights into the top ten challenges facing airports, consultants, and the industry as a whole. Her remarks were addressed to an Airport Services and Security Seminar hosted by the Unisys International Management Center in France. Following are edited comments from that presentation. — Editor

To get a true handle on the future of a particular airport, carefully consider those factors that will influence its potential. Let me offer one Top 10 list.

1. Environmental. While noise exposure levels have been greatly reduced by quieter aircraft engines, communities demand lower and lower noise levels. Consider Tokyo’s Narita Airport. It has been plagued by noise-related complaints since its construction began 25 years ago. Designed as a three-runway facility, intense local opposition prevented the opening of even the second runway until last year and the third runway will never likely be built. The outcome? Tokyo is now planning to build a separate airport to provide the additional capacity needed.
Environmental contamination is something virtually every airport faces. And, environmental solutions can result in new problems. (While improved engine technology has resulted in reduced noise and carbon monoxide emissions, they have also resulted in increased nitrous oxide emissions, a precursor of ozone.)

2. Security. Enhancements being implemented worldwide seem endless — baggage and passenger screening systems, retinal scans, explosives detection canines, and computerized passenger risk assessment systems, to mention a few. We will have to evolve our approach to security as terrorists attempt to defeat our countermeasures.

3. New Technology. By far the most entertaining topic to talk about, it has awesome potential to change our current paradigms. Self-serve check-in kiosks are already revolutionizing airline ticket lobbies.

Passengers are pressuring airports for WiFi communication links. This will lead to personal, local, and wide area devices being used for the vast majority of aviation and non-aviation enterprises.

I’ve heard about technology that may enable aircraft to be electrically powered while taxiing. This concept could save hundreds of millions in jet fuel burn alone. And then there are the advances in biometric and object tagging technology.

4. Airline Business Practices. We must anticipate airline changes that will impact airports, such as mainline versus low-cost carriers; and hub versus point-to-point structures. For example, London’s Stanstead, one of England’s fastest growing low-cost carrier airports, is committing £800 million over the next decade to provide 25 percent more terminal space and aircraft stands to accommodate 25 million passengers annually.
Hubs are big investments with high operational costs and low-cost carriers are often perceived as degrading hub efficiency. However, we must recognize the need for two-tier infrastructure and acknowledge that low-cost carriers are here to stay.

5. Regulations. There is an escalating proliferation of local, state, federal, and international regulations that are a direct result of the increasing complexity of our industry.

The density of land use and the existence of terrorist threats add to the multitude of new laws worldwide and the increasing burdens being created for airports.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has approved a series of 40 air cargo security recommendations. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has adopted a global, harmonized blueprint for the integration of biometric identification information into passports and other machine-readable travel documents.

6. Airport Configuration. If the distance between runways is insufficient, then simultaneous instrument or IFR approaches are impossible. The former Stapleton Airport in Denver is a perfect example. The airport had sufficient gate positions, but was land-locked and could not further separate its runways. The ultimate outcome: a new airport.

The configuration of a terminal building also influences the expansion capabilities of an airport. Many architects believe that, if there is room, the best terminal design to accommodate future growth is a remote linear satellite configuration. So, the cost and feasibility of expanding terminals can be very related to its current configuration.

7. The Airport Site. The density of buildings and infrastructure in and around airport sites will continue to increase. Low revenue generating airport tenants will increasingly be displaced by higher revenue generating businesses. In some cases, general aviation may be displaced.

8. Politics. In the U.S., politically charged security related legislation has put airports in a state of flux. Trying to conform to political directives and mandates in the absence of adequate protocols, performance standards, and funding will continue to create stress for some time.

9. Airport Ownership & Operating Models. One fundamental question: ‘Who will airports of the future belong to?’ The airports, the airlines, or the federal agencies? Some believe that U.S. airports need to become more like the E.U. model and be run as for-profit businesses, with more common-use facilities and more non-aviation-related revenue.

Essentially, airlines and airports are in the process of reinventing themselves and developing business plans that are flexible enough to make 180-degree shifts.

10. Local, World Economies. The economic downturns during the past decade, first in Japan, and more recently in the U.S., South America, and Europe, demonstrate the profound affects that economic circumstances can have on air travel.

Many airports had major capital improvement programs underway before this economic downturn so gravely impacted the industry. Now, these airports are lobbying for more financial flexibility and further economic deregulation.