Peer Perspective: Managers meet to learn from each other and offer advice on Ottawa's new facilities

Sept. 8, 2003

By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director

Peer Perspective
Managers meet to learn from each other and offer advice on Ottawa's new facilities

OTTAWA - In the room are some 25-30 managers from airports in the U.S., Canada, even Norway. They're here at the invitation of the Ottawa International Airport Authority, which is in the final stages of building a new terminal/parking facility, adjacent to the existing structures. Ottawa is looking for input, to review steps it has taken to date, and to get advice on how best to proceed with the opening in October. The attendees, meanwhile, are here to give their input but also to discuss issues ongoing at their airports. Welcome to a Peer Review Group session, under the capable leadership of facilitator Bill Fife, vice president with DMJM+Harris.

Peer review group participants get a first-hand look at Ottawa’s new terminal,scheduled to open in October.

Fife has been in the airport field some 39 years and is the former head of aviation for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. He has been conducting peer review sessions since the mid-90s, and receives no compensation for his services. "I find this to be a very productive investment," he explains. "I'll come away with 20 new ideas to help me with the 50-plus airports I'm working with today in the U.S. and Canada. It allows me to be a better consultant."

Central to the success of such sessions, he says, is active participation by newcomers and those who attend on a recurring basis. "There is the sense of almost team-building," says Fife. "Folks who don't participate the first day are active participants on the second day."

For a typical peer review group meeting, the mission is to share problems and best practices among the group, with the host airport generally taking up part of the agenda with its own hit list. The host airport takes care of daytime meals and usually a dinner, but attendees cover the rest of their costs.

Another version of such sessions, explains Fife, is what he calls a mini-peer review, in which an airport has a very specific agenda (such as building a new terminal or runway) and it is seeking input from people who have exactly that experience. In this case, says Fife, he and the airport will create a list of people to specifically invite and all costs, including travel, are picked up by the host airport.

He explains that officials from Ottawa had previously held a mini-peer review when they were first looking at building a new terminal.

This meeting in July served as a follow-up to review what they had done and to get input from a broader audience on how to proceed as opening day approached. Says Fife, "They wanted to pick the brains of people who had opened stuff. I think it was very successful."

Ottawa's Best Practices
Fife says that peer reviews and an emphasis on benchmarking throughout the construction process have helped Ottawa officials construct a leading edge terminal/parking facility. "They've done a marvelous job; you could hear it from the other participants," he says.

David Caulfeild, who has directed Ottawa's $300 million (CAN) expansion, points out some of the best practices the airport authority has learned along the way:

  • The airport created an A&E (architectural & engineering) document up front and required the successful team to provide a detailed benchmarking document. Design was done in parallel with architecture, says Caulfeild.

  • Biggest challenge: getting tenants to work around the airport team's schedule. "We should have been tougher on them," he says.

  • Having an independent construction manager worked well for Ottawa. "It was a fixed fee in terms of they were working with a number that we gave them," says Caulfeild. PCL, the construction manager, reviewed all bids and was given a "broad mandate" and not forced to take the low bidder. The emphasis was on value, not cost.

    Caulfeild estimates that hiring a construction manager probably saved a year in the construction process. "You've got to buy some trust; you've got to buy some partnering," he says.

  • Prior to the opening, Ottawa has begun "community consultation" in which groups are asked to evaluate the facilities before its public debut. For example, disability groups are testing what's in place to see if there are unforeseen problem areas.
How To Participate All airports are invited to participate in the peer review sessions, says Fife. "It does not cost anything but time, energy, and travel expenses," he explains. Fife leads several sessions each year, and serves as coordinator and advisor prior to the meeting. He reports that as a result of the Ottawa meeting, another fives sessions are being scheduled and host airports identified. He recommends participating before hosting. He adds that a recent review of the top 40 U.S. airports reveals that some 40 percent have hosted a peer review in the past five years. For information on how to participate or host a session, contact Fife at (212) 973-2975 or william.fife

Group Feedback - Security

Peer review group session facilitator Bill Fife shares some of the top security concerns he's heard at recent sessions ...

  • Explosives detection system (EDS) to baggage handling system software problems have been experienced by many airports. An EDS is not just a baggage conveyor installation. Software bugs have to be anticipated and dealt with.
  • Different bar codes caused problems for a number of airports, a result of differences between airlines' and non-standard bag tags. Problems also were experienced when staff was not adequately trained and bags were not placed properly on the conveyor.
  • Bird droppings caused problems at a number of facilities; areas around the EDS equipment had to be climatically controlled.
  • Connections for bomb carts to access the area outside of baggage rooms, as well as provisions for future EDS equipment replacement, were not considered by some designers.
  • It's important to have input from airlines, airport staff, and TSA - a point stressed by all of the airports. Communicate early and often.
  • Emergency Power has to be provided. Connections to separate circuits on emergency power are needed, as are procedures for testing of emergency power so that EDS equipment doesn't need to be reprogrammed each time the emergency power system is tested.
  • The EDS installation has to be looked at in terms of the market at the individual airport. Provisions have to be made for oversized luggage, strollers, car seats, etc.

Coming in October:
Ottawa's Leading Edge Terminal

Ottawa Int’l — the old (above) and the new, featuring an open-air environment and DEW boardingbridges

OTTAWA - This is truly a unique terminal, even when one sees it three months prior to opening (walls still being built, etc.). Check in at the front counter, look beyond the clerk to the view of the aircraft on the ramp. Have a soda in retail while watching your sister get on her plane through the open-air environment to the gates below. Marvel at how it's all lighted - from lights that beam upwards from the baggage claim down under. It is a fitting terminal for the Canadian capital.

You almost think they've thought of everything. Take the restrooms. They are constructed with a dividing wall and open access so that one side can be closed off for maintenance while the other side remains open. There are shelves built in above the urinals - every businessman's dream. There is a full-grown crawl space behind the restroom essentials so when plumbing stalls, maintenance walks behind the wall to fix it. They looked at the details.

Once the new terminal, which sits right next to the old facility, opens in October, the existing terminal will be kept on life support for at least a year at a cost of $1.5 million per year. Ottawa's airport management thinks it's a good idea to have a contingency.

Estimated cost of the new terminal and parking facilities is $300 million (CAN), which officials say is in line with original estimates. There is no Airport Improvement Program in Canada, so the Ottawa Interna-tional Airport Authority had to borrow the money, financed through a $15/passenger Airport Improvement Fee (aka passenger facility charge) that is collected by the airlines. The airport estimates that some 1,500 local jobs were created as a result of the project, which is intended to accommodate passenger forecasts through 2010 (current enplanements: 1.6 million, 92 percent of which is O&D).

Any terminal constructed today has the ability to be IT-savvy, and Ottawa will be wired as such. Yet, comments Keith Glover of I.T. Systems, the local IT analyst taking the lead here, "We want to be leading edge, not bleeding edge." It's integrated, with three systems into a common backbone, he says.
- J.F.I.