By Sandra Arnoult
Anyone who frequents an airport doesn’t need to be told they are usually a work in progress. Airports, their airline and tenant partners, and their terminal designers and architects are constantly on the hunt for new and better ways ways to serve customers and streamline the passenger processing experience.
A tall order, indeed, as any and all of these changes must be carried out at the same time thousands of passengers and employees use these busy terminals. Nonetheless, airports have shown they are up to that and more as they continue to pursue better, more creative ways of conducting business.
“To play on the world stage and continue to accelerate the growth we are experiencing, it’s critical that we work with agencies and business partners to ensure our processes are competitive on a worldwide scale,” said Howard Eng, President and CEO of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority. Toronto Pearson, which served 47 million passengers in 2017, estimates that by the mid-2030s, the airport may serve as many as 85 million passengers.
Eng has a straightforward approach to customer satisfaction: Remove factors that make the experience stressful and provide the help and information they need to enable them to enjoy the airport amenities.
As with all airports, safety and security are top priorities. Eng said the airport is working with the Canadian Air Transport Security Agency (CATSA) to roll out the latest CATSA Plus technology.
“These modern new security screening lines feature parallel divest stations, a bin tracking system, continuous X-ray belts, remote X-ray image review, motorized and improved repack areas,” Eng explained. “These improvements can as much as double passenger throughput, enhance security and contribute to a more relaxed passenger experience through this critical process.”
Over the past five years, Pearson’s redevelopment program spanned two terminals. New restaurants were integrated into gate lounges, branches of well-known Toronto brands have been added and outdated waiting and concessions spaces have been “reconceived” to make them more passenger friendly, he pointed out.
“We know the airport is never the final destination,” Eng said. “We need to connect people on the ground with the same success we’ve had at connecting them in the air.”
A proposed Regional Transit and Passenger Processing Centre would serve to connect passengers to a variety of ground transportation options. GTAA announced it is working with Metrolinx, the agency that oversees public transit, to study ways to integrate the airport with existing transit operations. This would include connections with local high speed rail, Toronto light rail transit (LRT) and various local bus services.
Toronto Pearson is on the right path, Eng believes, supported by their recent recognition by the Airport Service Quality program as the best large airport (over 40 million passengers) in North America. “Passenger feedback tells us that people like the feeling they get when they’re at the airport,” he said. “We’re hearing that passengers understand that the temporary pain of construction has led to a real benefit in the ambiance in areas where redevelopment has taken place.”
MAKING THE CONNECTION AT LAX
Los Angeles International Airport is on the threshold of a multi-billion dollar Landside Access Modernization Program (LAMP) that will include upgraded and expanded facilities, a new automated people mover (APM) and the construction of three terminal cores with staircases, escalators, elevators and walkways.
“LAX has been researching ways to improve access to and from the terminals for many years. We looked at the evolution of transportation and travel and how it continues to affect the airport and its neighbors,” said Mark Waier, Director of Communications for LAMP. “We have visited numerous airports to learn about the various systems in use and looked closely at our imprint and what was possible in our available space.”
Project components include a consolidated rental car facility, public parking and the Metro regional rail system as well as planned roadway improvements at multiple locations.
On the new APM, guests will be carried to and from the terminals every two minutes, with a total ride time end-to-end of 10 minutes, Waier pointed out. At peak times, it can take a car 30-45 minutes to drive through the terminal loop area. The APM will be capable of handling up to 87.7 million passengers per year.
“Mitigation of traffic is a key component of the LAMP project and a key focus of LAX as we move through our modernization efforts,” said Waier. “We work closely with the contractors and builders on a daily basis to ensure coordination of construction efforts and create targeted messages to communicate the scope of work and its impacts.”
In April, the Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) Board of Commissioners approved a $4.9 billion, 30-year contract with LINX, an integrated team able to provide design, engineering, construction, maintenance and operating systems for the APM.
Key to the project is the ability to keep everyone informed, including airport workers, police and security personnel as well as passengers, Waier said. “As guests arrive at LAX they will find clear signage to help them get to where they need to be quickly and efficiently.”
In 2017, LAX served more than 84.6 million passengers, a 4.6 percent increase over the previous year. It is the fourth busiest airport in the world, second in the United States. LAX offers 737 daily nonstop flights to 100 cities in the U.S. and 1,386 weekly nonstop flights to 88 cities in 44 countries on 73 commercial air carriers.
IMPROVING THE PATHWAY
Memphis International Airport is in the midst of a renaissance of sorts with an ambitious modernization project of its Terminal B, which will feature moving sidewalks, wider corridors, larger boarding areas, higher ceilings and natural lighting. The project will also include a children’s play area, a stage for live music in the rotunda area, additional lounge areas with charging stations and more retail and restaurant options. All four baggage carousels at the airport will be replaced.
While the work is being done, two of the carousels at a time will remain open. The airport was able to shift traffic to gates in terminals A and C to accommodate the renovation work.
“Having gates available on A and C enabled us to close B for construction rather than keep part of it operational while it’s actively under construction,” said MEM President and CEO Scott Brockman. “We estimate that will save a year in construction time.”
Five years ago, Delta Airlines shut down its hub operation at MEM, dropping about three dozen flights and 230 airline jobs. MEM is just 370 miles east of Delta’s main hub in Atlanta.
“Our modernization project reflects our airport’s reinvention from hub operations to origin and destination,” said Brockman. “It’s been nearly five years since Delta removed the hub, and we have already transitioned to nearly 100 percent O&D passenger traffic. We need an airport that, from an operations standpoint, serves the O&D base.” <
BUILDING FLEXIBILITY INTO YOUR FUTURE
Any airport improvement project faces high hurdles. There’s the multi-million dollar cost, the requisite regulatory approval process and the ability to balance the needs of the passengers, the airport and the airlines all at the same time. That’s the challenge that airports face as they seek a pathfinder, a master planning organization – a wizard of sorts – who can bring all the elements of design, technology, construction and IT planning together.
For more than 50 years, Arup has partnered with airports and airlines to help with their projects – from the planning process and design through engineering to the operations phase. “We come from different places but are all seeking similar objectives – creating an experience that makes customers want to come back and use that airport over and over,” said Regine Weston, Airport Planning Leader at Arup. “One size doesn’t fit all in a single airport. It is important to understand that airports consist of different kinds of passengers. You have to think of it as various market segments.” Passengers have different needs and expectations, said Weston. “Some of it is demographics and some of it is econometrics.
Arup worked with JetBlue to map out the carrier’s Terminal 5 project at New York’s JFK International Airport. They needed to accommodate the existing passenger base but be flexible enough to accommodate future growth.
The initial Terminal 5 opened in 2008, but since that time Arup continued to work with JetBlue and the airport to upgrade the space. The design successfully melded the old with the new to accommodate international existing flights and JetBlue partners. A new U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspection facility, 40 automated passport control kiosks along with 10 Global Entry kiosks were added, as well.
Arup also worked with Toronto Pearson International Airport to provide master planning for a $4.4 billion airport development project. It provided consultation for engineering services for a new Terminal 1, which consolidated two older and dated existing terminals. Arup continues to work with the airport on planning for future expansion.
“There’s no question that there’s a healthy tension between airports and airlines around some issues,” said Weston. “Those tend to be about money. But customer experience is something they all stand behind.”
FINDING THE RIGHT FIT
There’s good news and bad news for airports. The strength of the global economy has bolstered an increase in the demand for more air travel. The challenge for airports is to find a way to keep up with that growth.
“In many cases, this growth is happening far more rapidly than facilities can be expanded, when there is room and the financial resources to do so,” said Jim Jarvis, a Senior Vice President at Ricondo, an aviation consulting firm that provides airport master planning, as well as airfield and airspace analyses.
Extensive reconstruction or redevelopment is not always feasible in terms of time and money, so it may be more effective to consider the augmentation of existing systems and less extensive physical improvements.
Ricondo uses micro simulation modeling to test how potential changes or modifications in one area could impact flow and congestion in another area.
“Micro simulation modeling is, however, only a tool and cannot supplant effective planning,” said Doug Trezise, PE, a Senior Vice President at Ricondo. There must be a “holistic approach to planning” that recognizes the interconnection of the airport to planes to terminals to curbs and roads.
He admitted that it can be a challenge to reach consensus given the different interests of the various stakeholders in an airport. Early agreement on constraint and goals and relying on data and analysis to drive decision-making are key to the planning process, said Trezise.
The road to reconciliation is not always easy. Currently, Ricondo is working on a terminal and landside project that is not balanced with airfield capacity.
“To make matters worse, the airport is landlocked with no ability to expand,” said Jarvis, who is familiar with the project. He explained that everything must fit within the existing footprint and supporting landside facilities. “In this case we are developing capacity enhancement alternatives that rely solely on operations, technological and demand management solutions.”
This may mean repurposing certain facilities such as parking garages to serve as auxiliary terminal hubs, developing strategies to influence passenger arrivals and departures from the airport and reallocating underutilized space to another use that is space constrained.
“There is no silver bullet, rather a series of programmatic and small capacity and efficiency improvements that will culminate in improved airport operations and customer service,” said Jarvis. “The reward for a project like this is satisfaction of being engaged by a client willing to work collaboratively between departments to develop solutions. It takes strong leadership and willingness to compromise to find the best solution – not just the solution that best meets the objective of a single operating unit.”