Airports of the future have arrived

Beijing New Airport Terminal Building designed by Zaha Hadid

Air Travel is growing in popularity across the world, and the global aviation system is undergoing projects big and small to keep up.  “We’re forecasting that traffic will double in the next 17 years,” said Angela Gittens, director general for Airports Council International (ACI World). “Millions of more people will be travelling.”  And those people, she said, won’t just be in places where flying is already popular.

“An emerging economy now will be an advanced economy later,” Gittens said. New and expanded airports are needed to meet that demand. Istanbul, for example, has already begun opening its new airport in phases that will eventually be able to accommodate hundreds of millions of travellers a year. Beijing is set to get its own new airport up and running next year.  Istanbul’s new airport is now the largest in the world, but Beijing’s Daxing International is expected to top it when it is completed sometime in 2019.

(That airport, designed by the architect Zaha Hadid before she died in 2016, is being touted as the world’s largest, at 7.5 million square feet). The key to making both airports manageable for passengers, Gittens said, is taking advantage of technology to facilitate how people and goods pass through them.  “We have to do things more efficiently. We have to have technology work more efficiently for us. We have to figure out how to process passengers, aircraft and cargo more efficiently in the air as well as on the ground,” she said.

The airports’ designers agreed and said that efficiency has to start with the buildings themselves.  “We’re starting to arrive at scales which were previously unimaginable for the size of these airport buildings,” said Andrew Thomas, a partner at the architectural firm Grimshaw, which designed the Istanbul airport along with the Nordic Office of Architecture and Haptic Architects. “It almost doesn’t matter what you put in it if the walks are so long that people are exhausted by the time” they get to their gate.  The designers of the Beijing airport agreed.

“You keep it on the human scale,” said Cris-tiano Ceccato, an associate director and director of aviation at Zaha Hadid Architects. Gittens said that technological innovations will help passengers navigate the buildings more quickly and efficiently.  “I think one of the things we can really expect is that biometrics will be used throughout the entire process. If you can avoid people having to stop and queue — stopping and queuing takes up space — if people can move, they don’t need as much space,” she said.


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