Trends driving airport construction

American airports remain some of the busiest in the world, with nearly half of the world’s 30 busiest airports within the U.S. and domestic air travel at an all-time high of 743 million passengers taking flight in 2013. However, upgrades to aviation infrastructure have not kept pace with the increase in airport traffic or even at a level sufficient to accommodate the life cycle of our many dated terminal facilities. Until now.

At Philadelphia International Airport, we recently erected a baggage conveyor bridge over a main airport road at night so as not to disturb airport operations.


While funding challenges remain (especially as a consequence of the cap on PFCs),  as competition heats up between newly consolidated air carriers and as airports seek new revenue sources to upgrade or replace outdated facilities, the need for efficiency, flexibility and improved customer experience is generating a wave of terminal projects that are transforming America’s air travel gateways. Renovations include turning away from multiple security checkpoints and centralizing infrastructure to allow for greater scalability, and can be seen across the industry, from the smallest regional facilities to large hubs. Current estimates project that the industry will spend more than $14 billion per year between now and 2017 on airport upgrades in the U.S. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the nature of this work requires that much of it will be highly invasive, with projects located right in the heart of the airport, and construction firms will need to work with and among airport authorities, air carriers, concessionaires, the TSA and FAA, and passengers to minimize any impacts, carefully coordinating those renovations and expansions. By aligning best practices with those needs, contractors can best support all stakeholders affected by construction work.


To deliver a replacement terminal at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport, we developed a multi-phase approach centered on taking as few of the existing aircraft gates out of service as possible

For example, next generation airports are maximizing efficiencies both on and off the tarmac, which means larger aircrafts with additional seats. The fuel-efficient Boeing 737-900ERs have a 25 percent bigger wing area, a 16-foot longer wingspan and 25 percent more seats than the Boeing 737-400s being retired. With more seats available, airports are accommodating more travelers, meaning the airport needs to be upsized. These re-gauging renovations require careful planning in order to make the process go smoothly while existing facilities are expanded with surgical precision. Bigger planes and bigger waiting areas mean there is a need for additional amenities, from restaurants to rest rooms. Contractors must carefully communicate and coordinate with all stakeholders.


1. Communicate early and often, beginning with design review. Mock-ups are an important tool, allowing stakeholders to touch and feel new counters and other elements that will be installed.

2. Work out the phasing. Contractors must consider how passengers use airport infrastructure, phasing a job properly or working overnight in order to minimize impacts to passengers and other stakeholders. Our team experienced this first-hand at Philadelphia International Airport, where we were tasked with erecting a baggage conveyor bridge over the main airport departure road. In order to minimize impacts to the departure roadway, we prefabricated the bridge on site and erected it in a single eight-hour pick, rather than building it piecemeal over the roadway, which would have taken longer and required frequent closures. Additionally, Building Information Modelling (BIM) is increasingly useful as a tool for communicating construction plans and the phasing of the work to stakeholders.  By rendering the projects electronically, we can show those stakeholders more clearly where and when the work will take place.

3. Safety and security is central to everything. These complex renovations often require an extensive system of temporary walls, clear way finding and a rigorous badging program to keep the construction sites inside the terminal carefully insulated from nearby passengers. Coordinating with all parties prior to execution – especially the TSA – ensures timely and efficient project delivery. We have also developed tools like the inSite Monitor to enhance safety during construction. This tool remotely monitors the environmental conditions on a project, measuring noise, dust, vibration and other environmental factors and notifies our team immediately if conditions on the site go over acceptable levels.

The need to upgrade our outdated aviation facilities is clear, and airports and airlines are driving many of these changes in response to new customer expectations. Contractors can do their part to deliver efficient, flexible solutions that put the customer experience first and foremost. These trends in aviation construction reflect the interests of the modern traveler, which will continue to impact the way we will design and build airports.

This post originally was originally published on Aviation Pros.


MacAdam Glinn

MacAdam Glinn

Skanska USA Vice President - Aviation Center of Excellence National Director

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