Bringing the joy back to flying

Those of us who are a little older remember a time when it was a treat to take a trip.  The fact that those days are long gone has almost become a cliché – jokes about tight airplane seats and crowded airports have been around for a while now. Today, as we celebrate the 110th anniversary of the Wright Brother’s first flight, it’s incredible to consider the transformation airports and aviation have undergone over the last century. Since the first commercial airline flight in 1914 (a 23 minute flight between St. Petersburg, Florida and Tampa with a pilot and one passenger) aviation has grown exponentially. There are now 41,821 airports in the world and close to 3 billion people flew in 2012.

The pace of growth does not seem to be slowing.  In today’s market of tight margins, airlines want to turn planes around faster than ever. Major airports have filled all the landing and takeoff slots their field’s can handle. Changes in the ways passengers handle baggage and security have not been matched by new facilities to make the passenger experience more efficient.

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U.S. airport modernizing

After years of planning and gathering the need approval of funding for improvements, airports are starting to try and catch up to the industry and make much needed improvements to their facilities. While developing areas of the world such as China and the Middle East build brand new airports, here in the United States, major hubs are looking at projects that should improve the passenger experience, while also addressing the operational needs of airports and the carriers that use them.

Los Angeles International Airport provides a fine example. One of our nation’s busiest international hubs, the bulk of the airport facilities were built in 1961. While terminal modernization is under way, a key planned project is the Midfield Satellite Concourse. This facility will support current flight operations, but in a 21st century setting. The upshot is that once this new facility is complete, LAX will have the gate capacity to shift flights out of older terminals so those facilities can be upgraded. It’s an all-around win for all users of the airport.

Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport is another example in which recent upgrades to the B concourse now align the airport with current air service trends. Smaller jets now have a concourse designed and built with their needs in mind. The new 225,000-square-foot facility is nearly four times the size of the existing space. The space features expanded gate lounge space, concessions and restroom facilities.

Another area of focus is power – more specifically, making it available to passengers and their electronic devices.  There have been many improvements aimed at making these power sources more availabvle, and they are being incorporated into many larger projects. Some facilities are teaming with airlines to do even more, providing stations with wall outlets and tablet computers for travelers.

Role of builders

As builders, we know none of these improvements can happen in a void. No airport is going to shut operations in order to perform renovations. It’s our job to work with our clients to ensure construction work does not disrupt flight operations or the passenger experience. Builders, though, can get involved in the process early on to help advise airports, airlines and designers on how to head off any potential issues.

It is exciting to be a part of the efforts to modernize the spaces that facilitate air travel . Hopefully in the process we can start breaking down some of the unpleasantness and stereotypes that have really dampened peoples’ interest in flying.

Jim Clemens

Jim Clemens

Skanska USA Executive Vice President and National Director of Aviation Center of Excellence

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