Challenges within the Master Plan Process

Challenges for the Airport Design within a Master Plan

With fast growing air traffic and changes in the air transport industry (such as the deregulation of the aviation market) challenges however occurred for the Master Plan Process. The following challenges mainly concern the architectural design of an airport which make modifications at the traditional airport building necessary.

1. Traffic and Passenger Load Peaks

Traffic peaks result from the hub-and-spokes structures (refer to Hub-and-Spoke Operations for more details) invented by legacy airlines. Associated with these peaks is a large amount of passengers being transported to and from the hub airport. In this context, passengers as well as airlines ask for specific infrastructure requirements, such as a resilient runway system and a large gate capacity on the one hand and on the other hand enough space and handling elements in the arrival and departure zones (Graham 1997). Due to the peak structure however the problem arises that those areas are not sufficiently used during some periods over the day, which increases the average cost of operation for these areas (Neufville, 2002 5).

Another major problem concerning many hub airports (refer to Hub Airports for more details) is the congestion, resulting from the hub-and-spokes system in the peak hours, as well as from the enormous air traffic growth over the last decades which exceeded the expansion movements at the airports. Since safety issues increase with the amount of traffic at an airport, congestion can lead to critical situations on the apron mostly resulting in delays. These are even more critical in peak hours, when it would be necessary for hub airlines to operate a punctual turnaround for being able to guarantee the transfer of passengers from one plane to another (Rodrigue, 20106).

2. LCC Demand

Another challenge for the planning of future passenger terminals is the emergence of Low-Cost Carriers (refer to Low-Cost Carriers for more details) and their expectations from a terminal:
Firstly, LCC try to operate from regional airports, thus avoiding main hub airports, which are characterized by high traffic volumes and often by delays and congestions. Through these it is mostly not possible for LCCs to ensure short turnaround times which are however essential for them to keep productivity at a high level (Neufville, 2008 4).

Therefore they prefer, next to regional airports, old military airports newly converted to passenger airports by local authorities. Resulting from their business concept LCC do not ask for much from the airport but low charges. These can be achieved since their customers do not expect special services at the airport and therefore do not need as much space as traditional air travelers for the services provided in the terminal building. Less space for holding areas (like waiting rooms at the gate) can additionally be obtained due to fast turnaround times of their aircraft, resulting in a lower dwell time of passengers in the terminal (Neufville, 2008 4).

Solutions to cope with the Challenges

The following sections will explain the possibilities for the restructuring of existing airport designs in the context of the aforementioned challenges. Operational processes will be highlighted and innovative approaches for new airports identified.

1. Flexibility in Airport Design

As indicated at the beginning, the aviation industry had seen major growth, but is at the same time not as stable as before. This implies that the whole aviation industry needs to become more flexible for being able to adjust to changing situations very quickly (Edwards, 2005 1).
When looking at the passenger terminal building several different ways of flexibility can be distinguished:

  • Distribution of space within the terminal building: Even though the total amount of space needed in a terminal is only changing slowly over time, the functions in the terminal and the related space however need to be adapted very fast. Thus the airport architecture can be distinguished into short-term and long-term changing elements. The first comprises for example lounges, check-in facilities, security systems or retail space, the latter for example the baggage handling system and building services. Most crucial therefore is to keep the operational flexibility of short-term elements as high as possible for being able to adjust to the changing processes within the terminal very quickly (Edwards, 2005 1).
  • High degree of scalability: Even though the amount of passengers is increasing only gradually, an airport building should allow for a certain degree of scalability, thus enabling the airport to stepwise create more capacity before it reaches the stage where a whole new building needs to be build. A certain degree of extendibility is therefore as important as the mentioned operational flexibility (Matthews, 2000 3).
  • Different service and price concepts: To cope with increasing competition between airports, flexibility should even reach to the extent, where different airline types with varying requirements can use the airport together and should already be kept in mind when an airport is newly constructed. The joint use of an the same terminal within an airport is nowadays limited since at a traditional hub airport, services and the related charges are too high for LCC to operate there. Since an airport, due to airline volatility should however not depend on only one airline type, it would be important to offer different service and price concepts. This would imply that a new airport would be separated into two parts – one rudimentary cheaper terminal building for LCC and one building with high quality and more space per passenger for legacy carriers. (Neufville, 2008 4).

2. Shared Use of Facilities

Another form of flexibility can be achieved by sharing the use of facilities. This is a novel way of increasing the available capacity by obtaining efficiency within the passenger terminal building and more important at hub airports, where the traffic concentrates on several time windows during the day. This implies that infrastructure elements, which are directly allocated to one single airline, would not be in use during some hours a day (Neufville, 2002 5).

One way is to decrease the rental cost for facilities in the airport by sharing them with other airlines, thus increasing the utilization rate of these facilities. These airlines however, need to operate during opposed times or at least their traffic peaks must not overlap. Sharing can also be realized between one airline operating with hub-and-spoke structures and another one in a point-to-point system, since they are mostly not incorporating the same time slots (Neufville, 2002 5).

The concept is also interesting for airport operators, if the operational capacity within the terminal declines, the runway capacity however is still sufficient and more arrival or departure slots could be given to airlines. Thus the airport could gain additional money through airport charges without having to expand the terminal infrastructure or remodel the terminal building to provide more space for certain handling elements (Neufville, 2002 5).

3. Congestion Management

Since the number of flights increased dramatically over the last decades, it is necessary to find solutions to cope with the congestion forming at some airports, mainly at hub airports within their peak hours. Otherwise the attractiveness of these airports would decrease very fast, due to a declining transfer quality resulting from an increasing number of delays.

Le (2008 2) proposed in his studies to use market based mechanisms to reduce the traffic, especially in peak hours during the day. Since airport operators, however, hardly know about the value of the slots, it is difficult for them to set the prices, especially since they would need to set various prices according to the time. Therefore Le (2008 2) sees problems to establish congestion pricing, but favors the possibility to auction the slots during peak hours for the use of a certain number of years. Therefore the airport operator would automatically receive the maximum prices, which airlines are willing to pay. Besides he could still be sure that the slots would be taken in the end by airlines which really need them. Today in contrast, many airlines only operate some of their slots, even though they would not need them, because they fear to otherwise lose them to competitors due to so called Grandfather Rights. (Grandfather Rights imply that an airline can only retain its slots, if it uses them for a minimum of 80% of a year.) This is also the reason why airlines nowadays, even though there is only low demand, still operate theses slots but only with small aircraft, thereby reducing the overall productivity of the airport. Auctioning would therefore not only decrease congestion, but also increase productivity (Le, 2008 2).

1. EDWARDS B (2005). The modern airport terminal: new approaches to airport architecture.
Second Edition. Oxon, April 2005.
2. LE L (2008). Optimum Airport Capacity Utilization under Congestion Management: A Case Study of New York LaGuardia Airport.
Transportation Planning and Technology. Vol. 31, No. 1, February 2008.
3. MATTHEWS L (2000). Airports of the Future: a Manager’s view of an Innovation Exercise.
International Journal of Innovation Management. Vol. 4, No. 2, Special issue, June 2000.
4. NEUFVILLE R (2008). Low-Cost Airports for Low-Cost Airlines: Flexible Design to Manage the Risks.
Transportation Planning and Technology. Vol. 31, No. 1, February 2008.
5. NEUFVILLE R (2002). Optimal Configuration of Airport Passenger Buildings for Travelers. Journal of Transportation Engineering. May/June 2002.
6. RODRIGUE J.-P. (2010). The Geography of Transport Systems. Assessed October 7th 2011.

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