What upgauging means for airport design

The air travel world is entering a period of dramatic transformation, thanks to significant internal changes (including mergers and acquisitions) and external changes, such as rising fuel costs and new technologies. Not only will tomorrow’s airlines and airplanes need to be different to adapt to this shifting environment, but airports will need to evolve too.

One key change is that in responding to higher fuel costs, technological advancements and shifting travel markets, airlines have increasingly been “upgauging” to larger jets, rendering the previously favored smaller, regional jets uneconomical. Compared to the 50- to 100-seat regional jets, larger planes like the Boeing 737-800 and the Airbus 321 are far more fuel efficient and provide better value in terms of seat-miles for airlines. It’s clear that the upgauging trend will have lasting impacts on the industry, especially where it comes to airport design.

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Airport owners will need to rethink the layouts of their facilities in order to stay ahead of the upgauging trend. Terminals at smaller airports designed for slim regional jets, with gates close together, will need to be reconfigured to accommodate airlines’ new fleets. They will also likely require new jet bridges that can accommodate larger planes and connect them to terminals.

However, it is not just what happens on the tarmac that will have to be redesigned, but also the interior layout of terminals. Internal corridor space will have to be re-sized to handle the increased number of passengers disembarking from the larger planes. Passenger hold areas will have to increase in size to accommodate the greater number of passengers on each flight. Concession areas will have to expand as well to serve the additional travelers, and to help defray the costs of renovations. Without these changes, it will become more difficult for airlines to serve outdated airports, likely resulting in less service – something that is a loss for airlines, passengers and cities.

Major airports, home to specialized regional terminals that may retain that service for the time being, will have to make design changes as well, as forward-looking airport authorities will opt to create flexible spaces that can be sustained over many stages of industry evolution. As airlines continue to move towards bigger, more-fuel efficient jets, airport design will continue to evolve along with it.

As builders and providers of facility solutions, we are constantly seeking ways to assist our aviation clients in meeting their business goals. We work hard to understand the factors that are affecting our clients’ businesses, so we can be their partner in developing solutions.

MacAdam Glinn

MacAdam Glinn

Skanska USA Vice President - Aviation Center of Excellence National Director

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