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NEWS Last modified on February 13, 2015

Blog: Maximising the value of an airport's infrastructure assets

All airports still follow the fundamental principle of moving people and their baggage on and off aircraft. This is the basic precept upon which all airports have planned and developed their infrastructure for decades.

This sounds a simple process but as we know, it is far from that and the complexity of this simple mission has increased over a long period of time. Ultimately, the whole process defines the success or otherwise of achieving this goal and is represented by the overall concept of “passenger experience”.

Modern airports are required to manage multiple facets of functions that relate to operational, environmental, technological and commercial needs. This is no easy task given the significant number of parties represented within the modern airport environment and the potentially widely differing needs and wants that they require.

Whilst there will always be new airports being planned and delivered globally, there is still a vast majority of airports that are from a previous decade or two and have an ongoing need for renovation, expansion or both.

Ironically, both the development of a new airport or the expansion of an existing requires a response in infrastructure that is similar but clearly starting with a blank canvas does negate the need to understand and manage the limitations of what already exists.

Ultimately both are intent on creating an asset that has long-term value and functionality.

Airports are a constantly evolving environment with change an ever present factor which needs to be considered and allowed for. Ultimately airport infrastructure has to be able to allow for this undeniable truth and inherent in the response is the ability to be flexible.

Airports can and often will seek to create the most flexible solutions to their needs and to those of their customers. Their assets have to play a significant role in this strategy. Flexibility in planning and operation are above all key.

Airports don’t stand still and need to maintain competitive advantage allowing them to maximise their commercial value and to become the destination of choice for airlines and passengers alike. Capital expenditure of airports or airlines is significant and is required to create and manage an ongoing long-term asset and investment.

Planning and development horizons for many infrastructure programmes at airports can be lengthy and it’s imperative that throughout the entire life cycle of any asset created or enhanced, operational efficiency through management and technology and in turn commercial value is maximized.

With newer airports, the issues of understanding this complex timeline have become easier, but regardless of an airports chronology, the early planning phases of any capital investment are key to capturing as much of these future proof issues as possible.

Flexibility, as we have said, is pivotal. What does this actually mean in reality for an airport client?

There are in truth many aspects to a flexible approach to infrastructure investment. There needs to be a clear understanding of what is actually required both in the short term and in the long-term. This is often harder to confirm than one would think so it’s long been an important strategy to safeguard for different future scenarios in areas such as operations and the physical environment of the airport itself.

Airport clients need to always have options in the solutions they can provide. This in itself can provide improved value for the future by accommodating change and not committing to a single solution that could be time expired relatively quickly.

Airports rely heavily on forecasting to give them some clearer indications of their growth and capacity requirements, airline demands, surface access requirements and revenue streams in both aeronautical and non-aeronautical.

Examples would include the flexible approaches adopted in passenger terminal planning and construction to allow for capacity increases utiliaing large open structural free spaces; MARS stand configurations in aircraft parking to accommodate differing sizes of aircraft and multi-modal surface access strategies.

Of equally vital importance however is the need to fully understand the maintenance and operational requirements of airport assets. The vast majority of airports globally wrestle with significant day to day demands in the cost and complexity of maintaining the existing infrastructure they own.

Significant value can be added in investment and return by truly understanding the lifecycle of all airport infrastructure assets and being able to strategically plan and manage their maintenance and replacement.

It is often the case that airports don’t have the existing or historical data to allow them to map and manage this critical area of their business.

Since 2009, Bechtel has worked closely with Gatwick Airport to develop a sophisticated BIM based approach to both recording the entire asset portfolio, but also most notably, to identify with each asset its key data to provide a holistic source of asset management across the entire airport.  

The need to have a clear communicated plan for the technological and operational functions present and planned combined with a defined programme will always form the basis for a sound infrastructure investment plan at an airport.


About the author

Graeme Power-Hosking is aviation development manager for Bechtel’s global aviation business.

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