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Shuffling the work, people and terminals

After 50 years in operation, Gatwick’s ageing infrastructure is set for a radical makeover: Creativity and working as a community are the key to improved capacity at Gatwick Airport’s two terminals.

We have a forward plan but we have to be agile enough to respond to new priorities

David Brewer

Gatwick’s South Terminal, the airport’s original one, opened 50 years ago this June. It’s creaking at the seams and showing its age and the challenges facing BAA’s Airport Solutions team were to refresh the building, improve the environment for users and increase throughput – all while the terminal remained operational, with congestion at peak times.

Given the complexity of operations, the solutions proposed were stunningly simple. First, improve capacity in the airport’s more modern North Terminal, largely through process efficiencies. Then relocate a number of airlines from South to North, liberating space in the South Terminal. Add to this via efficiency improvements in south terminal operations and voilà! Less congestion and lots of room for the well being of carriers and travellers alike. Problems sorted.

Well, not entirely. About two years ago, while much of the planning and some of the work described above were underway, the security demands on airport operators suddenly became more onerous. New security rules meant that Gatwick, like many other airports, had queues of passengers slowly winding their way though much tougher security procedures.

But Gatwick was unlike other hard pressed airports in one important respect – it had this carefully engineered (and as it turned out, conveniently timed) additional check-in capacity in its South Terminal. “The floor space amounted to a bank of check-in desks, a quite sizable area,” says BAA Gatwick head of airport solutions David Brewer.

Although earmarked for other things, the space was made available for security use. “We had nine search lanes in the South Terminal originally but were able to add a further 11 lanes,” he says. “This new capacity along with the efforts of staff and recruitment of over 650 additional security guards meant that we began delivering a much better “security experience” for passengers, something we could not easily have done had we not been in the process of finding room for building works. It has actually proved a big win for passengers.”

And passengers have shown their appreciation, according to the quarterly survey by Airports Council International. It rated Gatwick as the best of the busiest airports in Europe for waiting times at security. The downside is that BAA has had to rethink its plans to improve the airport’s capacity. “But that’s what we’re here for,” Brewer says, “we have a forward plan, but we have to be agile enough to respond to new priorities by being even more creative and continuing to come up with viable solutions.”

At a glance

Gatwick Airport is the UK’s second busiest “air gateway”. It handles 35.6M passengers a year: 20M a year through the South Terminal and 15.6M through the North. Both terminals are being worked on to enhance service levels.

BAA’s project management teams
Airport Solutions, headed by David Brewer; Airport Project Team, headed by Chris Gregory
North Terminal enhancements
Work started in 2006 and is expected to be complete by 2011.
Companies involved with the current North Terminal programme Costain is Gatwick north terminal’s “build advisor”, the architect is Capita, WSP is structural engineer with Hoare Lea responsible for M&E. Cost consultants are EC Harris and Davis Langdon & Everest.
South Terminal enhancements
Work started in 2006 and is expec ted to be complete by the summer of 2012

Brewer’s airport solutions team knows Gatwick and its operations well (just as Solutions teams at other BAA locations know their particular airports), down to the finest details. “We have to,” he says. “BAA is responsible – among other things – for providing check-in desks, the runways, the aircraft stands, the baggage handling system and the security operations, but in many cases they are operated by other companies.

“In order for us to provide facilities that work, we must thoroughly understand the needs and requirements of all airports users, from passengers and those dispatching cargo to the airlines, handling agents, immigration authorities and other users of BAA facilities.” He adds: “We need to know and be able to analyse how everyone functions and the processes that are involved. Our job is to comprehend every aspect of operations, so that we can get the infrastructure right. And it isn’t just about now, but the future as well. We have to define what’s needed and then provide it.”

Brewer is a civil engineer. He and his staff work closely with the Gatwick airport projects team, whose head is Chris Gregory, an architect. “Our role is to deliver the airport’s infrastructure requirements, as specified by David’s team,” says Gregory. “In effect, David decides what to build and when, and then we do it.” He admits that actual building is often a solution of last resort: “Operational processes have to be right, the work has to be done efficiently and there still has be a need for new infrastructure before we will consider new build.”

The current situation at Gatwick is that existing facilities at the airport’s two terminals are being exploited to the full – the search for improved capacity through process efficiencies is just about exhausted. Three airlines – Continental, Virgin Nigeria and TUI – have moved from the South Terminal to the North, as has EasyJet in part.

To increase efficiency and capacity further means having to undertake infrastructure and system improvements. For instance, in the North Terminal, the check-in concourse is to be extended and baggage handling capacity is to be enlarged. Added pier served stand capacity is also being planned. All this will have an impact on core services, such as roads and car parks. “It is very early days with this work. We’re at the preliminary design stage and still looking at all the options,” Chris Gregory says.

Operational processes have to be right, the work has to be done efficiently

Chris Gregory

BAA philosophy, at least as applied at Gatwick, is to drive out as far as is humanly possible the opportunity for anything unforeseen to arise during construction in the design phase. Gregory refers to this process, with a smile, as “extreme ECI”, or ultraearly contractor involvement.

“Our nine week old project team already includes contracting people, designers, M&E specialists and others, all intent on achieving efficient and effective buildability, to a fixed timescale and budget. We’ve got individuals and companies involved of high calibre who are co-located here and with whom we’re in constant dialogue,” Brewer says. “A big issue is managing disruption: both terminals are very busy at all times.”

Enhancements planned for the South Terminal programme are somewhat different. Here there are to be general improvements to the landside environment, in particular to the check-in desks and to the immigration hall. The functionality of the baggage handling system is to be enhanced. South Terminal’s forecourts are being redesigned and the rapid transit system between the South and North Terminals is to have its track refurbished and train replaced.

“We should complete the majority of the current £874M programme by the latter half of 2012,” says Brewer. “Gatwick is like a growing town full of demanding citizens. we’re here for the long term – Gatwick’s 50 this year and the infrastructure we build now needs to last for future generations.”


Gatwick dates as an ‘airport’ from 1 August 1930, when the Air Ministry issued a licence (for a fee for of just over £1) for agricultural land to be used ‘as a regular place of landing and departure by aircraft carrying passengers for hire and reward’.

Early activity was from diversions of airlines (Imperial Airways and others) from Croydon (then the main London airport) in times of fog. Civil use took off, to coin a phrase, in the 1950s.

Gatwick South Terminal opened in 1958; then came a satellite 25 years later; which eventually metamorphosed into the North Terminal building.  

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