Bechtel Corporation shares its top tips on how to grow capacity at constrained airports

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London Gatwick Airport (LGW) is the world’s busiest single runway airport handling over 45 million passengers per year and competes in one of the busiest air transport markets. In 2009, LGW was purchased from the former British Airports Authority (BAA) by a private infrastructure investment consortium, led by Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP). Since then, Bechtel has been working with Gatwick Airport Limited (GAL) to bring its years of world wide experience of working at space constrained airports to LGW. Recently, Bechtel was appointed as ‘Capital Delivery Partner’ for LGW’s £180m (US$257m) Pier 6 Western Extension programme, the biggest and most complex program of work within the airport’s current capital investment programme (CIP). Bechtel’s understanding of GAL’s need to balance commercial objectives with capital, construction and operational requirements has been key to supporting GAL’s successful project delivery.

Bechtel’s Steve Riano is currently responsible for managing strategic planning support for LGW’s CIP, leading the Bechtel team’s analysis of airport development projects and providing strategic advisory services for future capital investment and development.

“Both terminal and airfield space are becoming constrained at LGW,” notes Riano. “We must be clever when looking at ways to increase capacity since the space we have is so valuable”. As a result, Bechtel and GAL have devised a structured and robust planning process to help identify opportunities for delivering more balanced capacity, operational efficiency, enhanced passenger experience, and commercial success. Following are the top tips on how to grow capacity at space constrained airports.

Conduct process improvements
“Continuous process improvement is the starting point for any constrained airport,” advises Riano: “All airports – regardless of space constraints – should seek to increase throughput capacity of existing facilities and maximise the level of service by changes to existing processes or the introduction of new processes. This approach automatically minimises the need for additional space and ensures the best possible passenger experience,” he says.

“GAL utilises Lean Six Sigma (LSS) methodologies to optimise their processes. For example, they analysed several key factors of their security screening process using LLS and determined a key process improvement was the provision of a staging area where passengers dispose of items not allowed through the screening checkpoint, such as liquids, to streamline the efficiency of the process. Another key improvement was the introduction of multiple side-by-side divestment points as passengers enter the screening area, allowing passengers to move quickly through the screening process without being delayed by the person ahead of them. “These changes have significantly increased throughput, and reduced queue times ensuring that 95% of passengers now wait less than five minutes at security,” Riano explains.

Introduce new technology
He also recommends introducing technology solutions to optimise the passenger experience without the need for additional infrastructure. Bechtel was instrumental in assisting industry leader McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas with devising and implementing its ground breaking innovative technology strategy. McCarran was one of the first airports in the world to incorporate 100% common-use and self‑service systems to enable airlines to time-share facilities, saving the need to create additional terminal area, as well as new self-service bag drop units to reduce queues and self-service automatic boarding gates to speed up boarding.

“Self-service bag drop technology and smart security screening solutions are two examples that Bechtel has assisted GAL with recently implementing at LGW that help increase throughput, reduce queues and enhance the passenger experience,” he explains.

Self-service automatic boarding gate technology is another key investment for constrained airports: “Passenger processing using automated boarding gates is more efficient and requires far less transaction time than traditional staffed desks at closed gate lounges reducing the queuing area required to access the lounge and the number of airline staff to host the process.”

Riano says airport managers need to keep track of industry trends to reap the benefits of the latest tech innovations: “Innovation is at the heart of everything we do at Bechtel – and that means constantly reappraising what we’re doing and how we could be doing even better for passengers and our customers. Keeping on top of aviation industry trends such as advancements in technology and security systems can influence future requirements for physical facilities.”

Reconfigure existing space
Before airports look to add new facilities, Riano advises first considering if an existing space can be reconfigured instead: “Look for opportunities to convert underperforming existing assets into high performing capacity or commercial assets, minimising the need to expand” he says. Bechtel has learned this lesson from years of working at other space constrained airports such as Dubai International Airport and Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima, Peru. For example, at Jorge Chavez International Airport, Bechtel converted an underutilised administrative office area to a new and improved retail and catering offering known as Peru Plaza, available to all departing passengers at the airport.

GAL and Bechtel applied this same methodology to convert underperforming landside retail at LGW’s South Terminal into next-generation smart security screening lanes and the redevelopment of the original decentralised security screening zones as walk-through duty free and additional airside retail and catering has improved the passenger experience and increased commercial revenue without the need to expand.

Combine separate projects
Airports should also look to combine separate projects, where possible. “Seek opportunities to combine and consolidate separate projects into single, larger synergistic development solutions – leveraging the concept that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” suggests Riano.

“For example, LGW had a project to upgrade an out-dated baggage handling system in the South Terminal and a separate project to replace Pier 1, the UK’s oldest aviation pier. In a space constrained area of the campus, GAL and Bechtel developed an innovative solution that combined the two separate projects and also introduced a new early baggage storage system into one new single integrated project. This creative approach significantly reduced the amount of space needed, and reduced cost and programme. The new pier opened last year and offers a great passenger experience and a modern, efficient baggage handling system.

Build new space only as a last resort
Riano recommends only building new space when neither process improvements nor technology solutions alone can deliver the required capacity. He gives the example of the new Pier 6 Western Extension project at LGW, where eight full Code C stands are being added to the existing pier to increase the number of aircraft that can be pier served. In all cases, when building new spaces in space constrained airports, Riano advises to resist the urge to add capacity in the only available spaces left on the airport. Just because space might be available does not ensure that it provides the optimum solution.

Build in resilience
Finally, Riano emphasises that, “Building in resilience in any form is sound business practice for all airports, space constrained or not.” Riano believes there are some interesting technologies in the market that allow airports to enhance airfield resilience which help maintain a stable operation. “A stable airfield operation is critical to busy airports that handle significant numbers of aircraft movements,” he notes.

One such technology being considered to enhance the resiliency of the airfield system is called the ‘Smart Runway’ which comprises physical and operational monitoring technology solutions. “The main differentiator of this technology is the real-time collection and analysis of big data to allow immediate response to real-time conditions,” Riano explains. “Smart Runway technology helps maintain existing aircraft movement capacity and reduces aircraft delays associated with runway closures and conflicts, improving profitably and enhancing the passenger experience.”

Such investment can increase pavement lifespan and minimise maintenance regime, reducing long-term capital and operating costs; while also reducing impacts to live operations by identifying potential pavement and system failures before they become emergencies, thereby reducing or eliminating the need for emergency repairs.

Physical monitors include situational surface condition sensors to provide real-time pavement surface monitoring using high-definition and infrared cameras to monitor crack widths, surface condition, potential delaminating, and level changes; and situational subsurface condition sensors to provide real-time pavement subsurface monitoring of strains, vertical displacements, and environmental data using strain gauges, and e-mu coils/linear variable displacement transducers and water table sensors to provide real-time moisture monitoring using stand pipe piezometers, which monitor the seasonal variation in ground water that can weaken the pavement subgrade when the ground water is high.

Operational monitors such as a Foreign Object Debris (FOD) detection system to continually monitor the pavement surface for FOD, alerting operations management when detected, as well as a ground service vehicle detection system to identify the presence of ground-based vehicle activity to mitigate conflicts with aircraft movements further increase safety.

An anti-freeze system is another component of the ‘Smart Runway’ technology: “A sprinkler system at the edges of the runway that detects the need for and sprays de-icing material on the runway surface between aircraft movements allows for an efficient runway de-icing procedure without the need for vehicles to do the job,” says Riano.

Looking forward, and in recognition of a key technology trend, Riano describes one final component of the ‘Smart Runway’ technology: “Drone detection systems should be incorporated to prevent conflicts with aircraft movements within the airport vicinity, as both a key safety and operational tool.”

Riano suggests that the application of the planning approach described above is strengthened by carrying out the following activities:

 Perform demand assessments and develop ‘no regrets’ projects
It’s also critical that airports consider various demand profiles and peaking characteristics. Airport facilities are generally designed to accommodate peak-period activity levels, however, micro-patterns of activity within peak periods may indicate that a slight variance in a terminal’s performance standards could result in a marked decrease in program requirements. “In such cases, adjustments to adopted performance standards can be considered,” advises Riano.

Riano also advises identifying what he describes as ‘no regrets’ development initiatives. “Some development projects can be defined so that the added resulting capacity enhancement can be fully utilised under any future development scenarios,” he says. “Implementation of such projects can defer investment decisions on subsequent projects that address requirements specific to only some of the demand scenarios. The challenge, of course, is that any solution needs to also cater for the immediate needs as defined by the business at the time,” he reminds us.

Leverage existing infrastructure and maintain flexibility to meet future requirements
Riano advises airports to leverage previous planning work completed to date: “Incorporate previous planning work and leverage existing demand and capacity assessments, as well as operational assumptions and service level standards, to maximise the value of work applicable in the development effort and to minimise redundancy,” he says.

Phasable and scalable strategic alternatives should also be developed. “Where possible, develop long‑range strategic alternatives that can be developed in phases and with configurations whose initial phases are smaller scale versions of the ultimate development concept to minimise future reconfiguration of the facility.”

Meet the needs of your airline and business partners
As a final point, airports should also ensure they coordinate actively with airlines and key business partners. “Teamwork and strong communication with all the players involved is essential to the success of any project. GAL routinely consults with its airlines and key business partners to understand their requirements, their business models, their product offerings and their mid-term and long-term requirements,” says Riano.

Steve’s top tips

  • Always keep the passenger experience at the forefront of all decision making;
  • Focus on process improvements to minimise the need to expand facilities;
  • Leverage benefits from new technologies by partnering with technology providers and avoid being a technology pioneer;
  • Think comprehensively when developing “balanced” capacity solutions and resist the urge to add capacity in the only available spaces left on the airport;
  • Maintain open and frequent dialogue with the airlines and other business partners.

Steve Riano at Passenger Terminal Conference
Steve Riano, global airport strategic planning director, Bechtel Corporation, will make a joint presentation with Bronwen Jones, LGW’s development director, entitled ‘Gatwick Airport: innovative capacity building in a mature, constrained asset’ as part of the Airport Design, Planning & Development track at Passenger Terminal Conference, on Tuesday, March 20, 2018.

View the full version of the article in the March edition of Passenger Terminal World magazine by clicking here.

Written by Anthony James

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With over 20 years experience in editorial management and content creation for multiple, market-leading titles at UKi Media & Events (publisher of Passenger Terminal World), one of the UK's fastest growing publishing companies, Anthony has written articles and news covering everything from aircraft, airports and cars, to cruise ships, trains, trucks and even tires!

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