Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the major implications on the building construction industry at global and local levels, most AEC companies have been required to work with their clients on the re-evaluation of their most recent planning and programming analyses. The Aviation industry has been particularly affected by the issue and engineering companies were asked to be even more creative and flexible in the way they provide typical design services and embrace adaptive building design.
In this article Building Design Experts in collaboration with DY Consultants examines the previous “lessons learned” and best-practices identified by Airport Industry Experts prior to the COVID-19 recession in order to better understand their future relevance and applicability in a post-covid recovery period. Adaptive building design will be a key component of any strategy to meet the design challenges of the future.
COVID-19 Recent Events – Can we use “Lessons Learned” from the Past:
After a major contraction of the aviation sector and the global air traffic demand, we can expect significant changes in the way Airlines will develop plans, forecast for the next few years, and adapt to the new global aviation industry landscape. Strategic decisions will be developed incrementally and will be refined by Executive Management teams through a continuous dynamic and iterative process.
Even though the 2020/21 Covid-19 pandemic has presented an unprecedented crisis in our economy, there are still key lessons learned from the past that we can utilize as we move forward, as we innovate, embrace adaptive building design and as we develop flexible planning techniques to anticipate the future needs of the ‘Airports and Airlines’ industry.
In 2019, the Transportation Research Board published an industry synthesis led by DY Consultants on best practices and recommendations related to “How Airports Plan for Changing Aircraft Capacity: The Effects of Upgauging”. The study explored a broad concept of airline upgauging (an approach used by the airline industry to enable carriers to increase capacity by using larger planes and adding seats to existing planes) considering the principal drivers and techniques of upgauging, from both airlines and airports’ perspectives.
It is interesting to review these findings and key lessons learned developed pre-Covid and assess their relevance in the scenario of a post-pandemic environment and economic recovery. The findings can help airport planners, engineers and architects identify and assess the key factors that will affect the design of terminal buildings and infrastructure supporting those facilities once air traffic comes back.
Airlines Upgauging and Key Parameters for successful Terminal Building Design:
While upgauging is generally driven by the airline network and system-wide strategies, the impact is in many cases experienced at the local level by the airport community. Terminal planners and designers will have to thoroughly consider and analyze the following metrics as part of the sizing and programming parameters of any new facility requirements:
Airport size: the change of an aircraft model may have different impacts at small or large airports;
Timeframe (short- versus mid- term): some impacts may have to be addressed by airports immediately, mostly those on the airside/apron due to immediate changes of aircraft size and dimensions, while impacts on the terminal facility may come gradually due to progressive passengers growth (compensated by a lower load factor);
Planning/Design versus Operational/Procedure considerations: while some of the impacts can be mitigated through the use of new operational protocols and/or procedures with minor changes on current facility, it will be important to identify impacts to be considered as part of the planning/design process. Those impacts will be strongly related to the question “how to design for flexibility?”
Impacts resulting from “Airlines Upgauging strategies” versus impacts from “organic” traffic growth.
In terms of available information sources, the following guidelines from the ACRP and the FAA will be valuable documents for Terminal Building Designers, even though they were written and published before the 2020/2021 recession:
ACRP Report 25: Airport Passenger Terminal Planning and Design (2010)
ACRP Report 96: Apron Planning and Design Guidebook (2013), section “Aircraft Fleet Evolution”
FAA’s Draft AC 150/5360-13A, Airport Terminal Planning and Design (2016), suggesting a different approach on providing terminal planning guidance to airports, contrary to the original AC released in 1988: “The previous version of this AC provided a more quantitative approach to guide end users […]Given the unique nature of each airport environment and site specific considerations, the approach of the previous AC was found to be inflexible for the site specific nature of planning and designing terminal facilities”.
ACRP Report 163: Guidebook for Preparing and Using Airport Design Day Flight Schedules (2016). This new report will help identify how forecasting and market trend analysis can play a key role in providing more flexibility during the planning/design phase to anticipate potential impacts from airline upgauging.
Expected Repeat of Airlines Strategies and previously observed Trends:
The 2019 study was intended to explore the broad concept of airline upgauging, covering a whole spectrum of practices. It was intended to comprehensively account for the principal drivers and techniques of upgauging, from a planning, operational, design and safety standpoint. For this reason, the analysis still seems relevant for any future planning and design efforts required after Covid.
Similar strategies that we usually observe during an airlines’ recovery and upgauging period will once again be implemented by the aviation industry. Small changes will obviously be observed but the fundamentals of the following trends will essentially remain the same:
Drivers/Causes of Change in Aircraft Size:
Growth of passenger demand, requiring larger aircraft equipment/model
New airline launching operations at the airport, using a different fleet than existing airlines
New route/destination requiring a larger aircraft with longer range capability
Airline fleet management: replacement of old aircraft with new generation models
Changes in Airport Mission and Passenger Services:
Upgrade from general aviation to commercial services
Addition of new route(s) and/or market(s)
Successful Air Service Development
Development of a new type of activity such as international or cargo operations.
So we can use “Lessons Learned” from the Past:
The 2019 study shows that airport managers and operators take decisions based on what they think is good for their airport and their community, using all the data and information they have at that time. Their goal is to develop plans that will be as flexible as possible and that will help mitigate any potential risks associated with the uncertainty from future demand and airlines’ plans.
The following general findings in terms of relationship/communication with airline partners, lessons learned and successful practices for Terminal Designers were memorialized in the report and will still be very relevant for the period post-Covid:
Relationship and Collaborative Communication with Airline Partners, on the following strategic factors:
Merger, consolidation, strategic alliances, and their impacts on air service at local airports
Factors driving airlines’ decision-making process in terms of fleet management and aircraft model choice, such as: market characteristics, fuel efficiency and fleet age
Specific needs for Low-Cost Carriers (LCC) and international service at secondary airports
Air Service Development:
Analyzing and learning about the airport’s local market and passengers is recognized as a successful approach. Airports sharing this information with airline partners to show them how to expand their operations and make money at the airport were extremely satisfied with the outcome of the process during pre-Covid times.
Flexible Plans for Facility Development – The same strategies and practices will have to be applied for a successful design:
When looking at their ability to build a new terminal, successful airports will have to consider the initial costs but also Operation & Maintenance costs. For smaller airports that recently started commercial service, designing for a functional and inexpensive facility will be confirmed as a general good practice
When immediate additional capacity is required, the construction of temporary modular buildings, to accommodate additional holdroom and concession space will most likely be prioritized
Once traffic starts to grow and airlines expand their operations, successful terminal planners and designers will recommend to their clients incremental development plans, through a step-by-step approach to better meet the airlines needs while controlling costs.
Airports usually recommend looking at the “what-if scenario” as part of the decision-making process. What if the airline decides one day to cease operations? Value engineering is usually a good way to keep costs down and avoid “overbuilding” terminal facilities.
Improvement of airside/apron infrastructure:
It will be critical to have trained staff to be strongly familiar with technical details, such as aircraft characteristics and latest FAA standards. It will help these airports refine their needs assessment during phases of rapid growth and successfully reduce the overall program costs.
In some cases, upgauging will result in the change of the airport’s critical design aircraft. Some airports will have to go through Modification of Standards (MOS) request with the FAA
Revenue, Funding and Coordination with Federal, State and Local Agencies:
Relationship building and communication with the local community will be key, particularly when the airport is experiencing a period of rapid growth
In addition to FAA and State funding, a variety of other sources may be available for airports. All airports will have to identify and develop new sources of non-aeronautical revenues
Master Plan: coordination and relationship with the FAA will be especially important to align the airport planning approach and the vision for the airport. The development of flexible plans as part of the process will be essential to meet the FAA requirements and to prepare the airport for unforeseen events and potential deviations from the Master Plan forecast. The Master Plan can be used as a key tool to identify shortfalls and demonstrate to local agencies the need for new developments.
The 2019 ACRP study is available at this address: How Airports Plan for Changing Aircraft Capacity: The Effects of Upgauging | Blurbs New | Blurbs | Publications (trb.org)
In order to cover all the possible drivers for airline upgauging, the research team conducted a nationwide survey and pre-selected twenty airports representative of all types and sizes of facilities and operations, based on criteria such as: 10-year historical enplanements (the process of boarding an aircraft), National Plan of Integrated Airports (NPIAS) Category, FAA Regions and FAA Part 139 Certification.
For any questions about the subject matter in this article, please feel free to contact Marie Guittard at DY Consultants (email@example.com) and Denis Verdier at Building Design Experts (firstname.lastname@example.org).