The future of airports and airport design – developing a COVID safe and cost-effective environment

13 January, 2021

Many airports around the world were congested before the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic as the rapid growth in air travel levels put added pressure on ageing infrastructure. This has been a major issue for corporate travellers, impacting the choice of airports they use and journey satisfaction and efficiency.

The massive decline in travel levels that we seen this year have helped these facilities breath, but new requirements to support health and hygiene protocols and permit passenger spacing across buildings mean we may be set for a even bigger capacity crunch as travel recovers.

In order to reduce the impact of COVID-19 measures on airport performance, and so contribute to aviation's overall recovery from the pandemic, airports need to focus on reducing the impact of space constraints. A study published by European air navigation provider EUROCONTROL last year suggested that significant changes would be needed to accommodate changing rules and safety measures.

The study, commissioned from the Airport Research Center (ARC) in collaboration with European airport body ACI Europe and other industry partners, including four airports/airport groups (Paris CDG, London Heathrow, Stuttgart and Swedavia), as well as the support of IATA, used simulations to assess the impact of new measures such as increased sanitisation and social distancing, on terminal operations, in particular passenger journey time, terminal throughput and boarding gate processing capacity.

The findings highlighted a significant additional pressure on airport resources. For departures it illustrated that 50% more space is required at check-in, 100% more space is needed at security control and 35-50% more space is required at boarding gates and up to ten minutes additional time will be added on average to the departing passenger journey.

On the arrival side it found that 100% more space is required at immigration, 30-50% more space is needed for baggage reclaim and that between five and 20 minutes additional time would be added to the arriving passenger journey. Further, additional measures will be needed to mitigate impact if health checks are required for arrivals and/or transfers, as has become the case in some locations.

Airport capacity issues are set to become a major constraining factor for the system when demand for air traffic picks up. Facilities have been adapted heavily to adapt to changing passenger requirements, new traveller demographics and enhanced security needs while at the same time supporting increased traveller volumes.

Another significant shift in the modelling is now on the cards, but many short-term mitigation measures will certainly need to be incorporated at many airports to ensure that when travellers feel happy to take to the air that they are ready to welcome them in a safe manner.

In the Nov-2020 edition of CAPA Live - a monthly virtual summit, offering insights, information, data and live interviews with airline CEOs and industry executives across a next-gen virtual event platform - Foster and Partners' senior partner, Antoinette Nassopoulos-Erickson, provided some views on the future design of airports.

There are many unknowns in the recovery. Will there be fewer full-service airlines and fewer widebodies? Will longer-haul narrowbodies come to the fore - if so, what implications on airport/apron design? Will the LCCs thrive - and therefore heighten concerns over airport 'gold-plating' and efficient turn-arounds? Will more terminal space be needed for physical distancing on the eventual rebound - and will that take a bite out of F&B and retail space?

Discover the thoughts of Ms Nassopoulos-Erickson in her CAPA Live presentation.