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Few industries are as vulnerable to forces outside their control

as aviation. For airport designers, that means staying flexible and trying to think 20 years ahead…

If you have The

one certainty in modern airport design is that nothing is fixed. The typical modern airport is a vast, open hangar where all boundaries and partitions are movable, very far from the older warrens of low-ceiling spaces linked by long corridors. Being able to redeploy space at short notice is vitally important for airport operators when they are vying to attract a customer base that can quite literally fly away, leaving bricks-and-mortar assets standing empty.

Low-cost carriers have revolutionised the aviation market, bringing a massive influx of passengers, but also overturning established models for refuelling, parking and servicing aircraft that add cost to their bottom line. “That has presented a technical challenge for airports, as the demands of full-service carriers and low- cost carriers are very different, not to mention charter holiday providers and private jets,” says


a flexible airport, you can move the

Graeme Power-Hosking, senior technical director at WSP Genivar. “Building dedicated facilities means putting all your eggs in one basket, so airport design is now evolving to provide the flexibility to cope with all of those demands.”

Alliances and mergers can also present airport operators with a major headache. Heathrow’s soon-to-be-completed Terminal 2 was supposed to be a new £2.5bn home for the airlines of the Star Alliance, with BMI as its largest occupier. But then BMI was acquired by British Airways’ parent company in April 2012, sparking a major reshuffle across the airport. It’s much harder to move airlines between terminals – if there’s just one large terminal, they can just be shifted over.

notional line between airside and landside much more easily

Flexibility also means new technologies or security procedures can be accommodated with minimum disruption or cost. When airport security ramped up dramatically after 9/11, airports suddenly had to find significant amounts of extra space for new screening equipment. Meanwhile, the EU ban on fluids in hand luggage in 2006 sent many landside retailers out of business overnight, and increased demand for space airside. “If you have a flexible airport, you can move the notional line between airside and landside much more easily,” says Power-Hosking.

In the future, the widespread adoption of technologies such as self check-in kiosks, biometrics or pre-screening for “known travellers” could shrink landside space demands, he adds. “That’s why we spend a lot of time thinking about what’s five, 10, 20 years ahead. Airport clients want to work with designers who understand their needs not just now but can think beyond that as well.”


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