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The changing demands of air travel

Air travel is increasing and airports are under constant pressure. Turner & Townsend’s Tina Millan discusses what can be learned from the United States.

Space, or rather the lack of it, is less of an issue for airports in the United States than it is in other parts of the world. As major international airports in places like Hong Kong, and indeed Heathrow, wrestle with the problem of increasing capacity in restricted footprints, their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic can mostly luxuriate in acres of unrestricted land.

The footprint owned by Dallas Fort Worth, for example, is equal to the size of Manhattan. And it’s a similar story in Miami, Denver and Houston. But that’s not to say that these transport hubs are without infrastructure problems of their own.


Arriving now: The new Airbus A380 jets are changing the way airports are designed

British consultant Turner & Townsend was recently commissioned by the City of Houston to lead delivery of a programme of terminal redevelopment at the city’s largest commercial airport, George Bush Intercontinental. The objective, as the company’s US head of aviation Tina Millan explains, is to ready the major air transport hub for the arrival of the new A380 Airbus.

“Houston only has room for six A380s,” she says. “So they’re going to need to have stands and the ability to service anywhere between 18 to 24 of them.

“They’ve got to look at larger hold rooms, an airfield that gives a turning capability, and they’ve got to look at the ability to process passengers,” she adds.

“When you have 450 people getting off an A380 as opposed to 170 getting off a typical smaller jet, it changes the way you process people through security and through passport control.”

“When you have 450 people getting off an A380 as opposed to 170 getting off a typical smaller jet, it changes the way you process people”

Tina Millan, Turner & Townsend

As with the current programme of work at Gatwick, Millan reveals that Houston is looking at automated systems for things like passport control, security and baggage processing. She thinks the most significant change in US airports in the past three years is the way they have embraced early baggage storage.

“Early baggage storage systems, as you are seeing at Gatwick, leave people free to walk around the airport,” she says. “In an airport like Miami it became imperative to do it because of the amount of people getting off a cruise ship at eight o’clock in the morning and not having to get on a flight until five in the afternoon.”

Millan says she is watching the debate around Gatwick and Heathrow as an interested observer. Seeing as the company’s UK office has performed consultancy work for both clients, she doesn’t want to be drawn on the work of the Davies Commission and the decision facing the UK government. But she gives an interesting insight into attitudes towards runway expansion in the US.

“You try to find more efficient ways to use runways and you try to be more generous with how you build runways these days,” she says.

A good example, she says, is Chicago O’Hare airport where two more runways were built to cope with the changeable weather conditions.

“Some of the runways intersect, so they’re not all usable at the same time, but it has more to do with their weather conditions there which are quite rough because of the lakeside and the amount of snow.”

“It used to be a case of building the minimum runway that you thought you need. These days the equipment is changing and the needs are changing and the safety [requirements] are changing, so you almost want to give yourself more room than you actually think you need, so you can adapt in the next 30 to 40 years for whatever’s coming next.”


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