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Infrastructure in 2014: Rise of the regions

Airport investment particularly around the regions is going to take off in 2014 as passenger numbers revive and confidence returns.

On 17 December the Davies Commission is due to announce a shortlist of solutions for increasing Britain’s airport capacity and maintaining the country’s status as a global hub. Among a long list of 51 suggestions on the table are proposals for a new runway at Heathrow Airport, expansion at Stansted and Gatwick, and whole new airports in the Thames and Severn estuaries and in Oxfordshire.

In terms of future strategy then, all eyes in 2014 will be on the Davies options that will focus in particular on increasing capacity in the South East, which is deemed to be so constrained that it is threatening Britain’s future economic growth.

Davies, though, is not scheduled to reach any conclusions until 2015, and serious action following those conclusions is unlikely to come to fruition for at least another 15 years beyond that. So in terms of actual development activity, attention for the next 12 months will be focused on what can be done with existing facilities, particularly at airports where there is capacity to spare.

After seven years in recession the UK’s airports are planning for expansion. Numbers of passengers wishing to travel having dropped dramatically, particularly outside London, are now on the rise and creating markets for airlines looking for new take off and landing slots away from Heathrow and Gatwick, which to all intents and purposes are full.

Britain’s top 10 regional airports carry 84% of the passengers not going through the main London airports. In 2007 over 100M people used these regional airports for leisure and business journeys. By 2012 those numbers had dropped 15% to 85M. But there has been a big upswing in 2013 of around 5M according to the latest CAA figures, and the regional airports are anticipating that those positive figures will keep on growing, giving them confidence to invest in developing their facilities to attract new routes and new airlines.

A glance at just some of the schemes around the country reveals that projects ranging from runway extensions to terminal expansions have either just begun or are about to start, and not just at the top 10 airports. Smaller airfields have their plans too.

After seven years of recession, 2014, it is fair to predict, will be the year confidence returns to aviation, and with that will come significant investment

In terms of runway development, Birmingham’s new 405m extension is the prime project of 2014. The £45M scheme being constructed by a Colas and Volker Fitzpatrick joint venture is underway and due to complete in 2014, allowing direct flights to places as far away as China and South America and giving the airport capacity to expand from the current 9M passengers a year to 36M. Within a year of its completion the expectation is that the longer runway will open up numerous new direct long haul route options and lead to a fundamental change in travel patterns for passengers within what will be an expanded catchment area for the airport.

On a smaller scale, but equally significant for Highlands & Islands Airports and its passengers, is a £1.4M investment to resurface the 1.6km long runway at Inverness to extend its lifespan and ensure the airport is able to accommodate the forecast growth. Alongside this is a £1.2M scheme to extend the taxiway. This follows an £850,000 project in 2012 to upgrade the south apron. The airport can now handle Boeing 757 long range jets.

Siting business parks alongside airports to take advantage of direct flights between the UK and important international economies is a key enterprise strategy. Manchester is already Britain’s third largest airport in terms of passenger numbers and its major project for 2014 is the £800M Airport City, complete with hotels, manufacturing facilities and logistics park, all designed to develop the city’s links with China and the rest of Asia and to encourage more direct flight options. The 465,000m2 scheme is expected to be the largest regeneration project in the UK and is a joint venture between Manchester Airports Group, Beijing Construction Engineering Group, Carillion and the Greater Manchester Pension Fund. Argent has been appointed by the joint venture as development manager. It is hoped the international businesses attracted will bring an extra 16,000 jobs to the North West.

Edinburgh Airport, under its new owner Global Infrastructure Partners, has pressed the button on a £25M expansion of its terminal building as part of an overall £150M investment to transform the airport that will also see improvements to the check-in hall and stand capacity.

Piling started in December, and throughout 2014 Balfour Beatty will be building a new security hall, retail units and airline offices. The Edinburgh Tram link, which terminates metres from the new facility, will also be open in time for a big year for Scotland when it hosts the Commonwealth Games, Ryder Cup and a second Year of Homecoming.

The airport will also be celebrating its first direct flight to Doha in the Middle East. Qatar Airways starts the five times a week service in May, providing the east of Scotland with a direct link to a Middle East hub and onward trips to Australia, as well as strengthening Edinburgh’s links to Asia and helping drive trade and tourism.

Qatar Airways will be flying Scotland’s first scheduled 787 Dreamliner plane to Doha, and take-up of the Dreamliner by airlines at airports around the country will lead to significant maintenance upgrades on numerous UK airfields in 2014 to reconfigure aprons to cope with the longer planes.

All airports are having to invest in expanding and beefing up their terminal facilities to cope with new Standard 3 baggage scanners that are larger, heavier and slower than existing equipment, all by a deadline of 2018.

After seven years of recession, 2014, it is fair to predict, will be the year confidence returns to aviation, and with that will come significant investment and asset replacement at airports all around the UK.

  • Thanks to Colas airport director Carl Fergusson, Mott MacDonald aviation practice leader Chris Chalke, URS technical director aviation Andrew Evans and URS aviation business director Kevin Harrison for help in compiling this article.

Rebuilding the skills factor

As the airport industry comes out of recession the sector will need dedicated, experienced airfield contractors to help it deliver its maintenance and ­development ambitions in terms of volume and cost, predicts Colas airports director Carl Fergusson.

Colas works with airports around the UK, including Birmingham, where the mobile asphalt plant it used to resurface the Gatwick runway in 2012 is now in action for the extension project, and Inverness where it is currently at work on runway resurfacing.

“During the recession a lot of capacity went out of the marketplace,” Fergusson says.

“Asphalt plants have closed, bitumen and energy costs have gone up and airports will be competing for services with the highways sector, where there is a huge amount of work coming in.

“We believe airfield work is very specialist, and airport owners will get a better service by working with suppliers who are dedicated to the sector and understand the intricacies, safety and security needs of working in the airside environment.”

He says his firm’s long history in the airport sector has resulted in the company investing time and effort in acquiring expertise, training and developing people, as well as in state of the art equipment.

He describes the Colas airport team as “responsive and agile and part of a solutions and innovation driven culture, which we think is going to be crucial in the year ahead to contain prices and meet demand not just in the UK but also overseas”.




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