Airport Design Faces the Pressures of a Changing Industry

Event: Airports of the Future: Emerging Issues in Airport Planning, Design & Construction
Location: Center for Architecture, 04.09.10
Speakers: William A. Fife, PE — Principal, The Fife Group
Organizers: AIANY Transportation and Infrastructure Committee


Saarinen’s TWA Terminal has suffered the pressures of a changing airline industry.

Jessica Sheridan

Attendees expecting tips on how to design airport terminals at the “Airports of the Future” presentation by airport planning expert William Fife, PE, may have been surprised to learn instead about the larger trends shaping the aviation industry. Fife made it clear, in fact, that to build an effective airport, architects and engineers must first understand the industry and all its complexities.

Thanks to 9/11, said Fife, “there is a new normal, and that new normal is always changing.” The terrorist attacks affected passenger volume, airlines’ finances, and airport security requirements — but that’s only for starters.

He stated the number of passengers is expected to double by 2025, from 750 million to 1.5 billion (despite the delays and other hassles of air travel). And the new planes built to accommodate these people will force changes in airport planning. For instance, when Boeing’s next-generation Dreamliner becomes available, it will carry half as many passengers as today’s long-range aircraft, necessitating twice as many terminal gates for the same number of passengers.

Also increasing in importance are environmental factors: planning for alternative-fuel support vehicles; constructing energy-efficient facilities to save on operating costs; building enough lead time in construction schedules to secure environmental permits (“It takes twice as long as you’d expect,” Fife cautioned); and accommodating the concerns of nearby residents who worry about noise issues.

But security needs are paramount, and the devices and screening procedures are always changing. Fife recalled the lessons learned from a peer review conducted with the Charles de Gaulle airport authority in Paris: “What we’re having in the future is a large ‘baggage box’ with security stuff in it, surrounded by retail. On the outside you have some places for planes to park, and on the other side places for cars to park. So you have to make it big, and flexible…. Baggage handling and security and safety have become the determinant sizing factors in terminal design.”