Airports are an essential part of a nation's infrastructure and even more so in advanced manufacturing. As many countries in the world are working on building smart cities for future generations, building airports that are smart, efficient, and sustainable seems to be an indispensable part of the process.
Unfortunately, airports in the U.S. are facing significant challenges today. Many airports cannot remain competitive with modern airport standards around the world. They're also struggling to keep up with the exponential growth of air travel.
The problems with US airport construction
- Older infrastructure
Many airport facilities are outdated and in need of repair. This includes runways, terminals, and other airport buildings that could be improved to make them more efficient, safe, and comfortable for travelers. Many airports were built during the 1950s and 1960s. This brings the problem of being too outdated to serve the needs of travelers today.
- Lack of space
The airports built a long time ago also come with another issue - being short of space. This means overcrowded security infrastructure and terminal buildings. As the number of travelers increases, airport operations become challenging. Travelers often experience slow security checking and baggage claim. Expanding airport capacity can be expensive and difficult due to the cost of land acquisition, environmental regulations, and public opposition. This makes it tricky for airport authorities to build an airport or expand existing ones to meet the needs of travelers.
- Poor public transport connections
Since airports are often built outside the cities, travelers need a reliable way to get to and from them, especially during peak hours. However, unlike Europe or Asia, where public transportation systems are highly developed and used, most U.S. cities are designed primarily for cars. The airports rarely feature mass transit to or from them. Travelers have to rely on private cars as their major means of transportation to the airports. And this causes more traffic jams.
- Environmental impact
Airport operations also have a significant environmental impact. Some of the main environmental and sustainable development concerns raised with respect to airport operations are emissions, noise issues, land use by airports, and energy consumption. Airport authorities are challenged to maximize potential growth opportunities while minimizing any accompanying repercussions.
A bill to build better future infrastructure
The Biden-Harris Administration recently delivered the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to rebuild infrastructure, including funding for airport construction and renovation projects across the US. This law seeks to modernize airports, improve airport operations, increase efficiency, and promote sustainability.
Specifically, the bill will fund projects like airport technology upgrades, air traffic control system upgrades, improvements on baggage check and claim systems, and improvements in security screening, among others. The funding is an important step in finding solutions to common issues faced by U.S. airports and building better future infrastructure.
Building an airport that's modern, efficient, and sustainable
A total of 99 airports across the U.S. will benefit from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The funding will be used for various purposes to improve airport infrastructure. Here are some examples of the projects that the funding will support:
- Albany International Airport
The Albany International Airport is taking on one of Upstate New York's infrastructure projects thanks to a $2m grant from the bill. The air traffic control tower is looking to bring its systems up to current standards by replacing outdated mechanical, electrical, and HVAC building systems that have reached the end of their useful life. In addition to airports, Upstate New York also has rehabilitation programs for roads, bridges, energy, as well as digital infrastructure.
- Des Moines International Airport
Des Moines will focus on building new or expanded terminal facilities at airports. One of these airports will be Des Moines International Airport. The airport will replace its 1948 terminal, which is beyond its useful life and operating above capacity.
- O’Hare International Airport
O'Hare International Airport, among many other airports receiving the grants, will improve the efficiency of its check-in process. The project will involve rehabilitating and expanding passenger access for the 60-year-old Terminal 3. The funding will go toward a reconfigured Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint, improvements to the central passenger corridor, new Americans with Disability Act (ADA) compliance and family restrooms, and more.
With O'Hare being one of its major projects, the City of Chicago will focus heavily on transportation infrastructure renovations. These include repairing streets, underpasses, sidewalks, viaducts, and bridges, replacing 300 blocks of streetlight infrastructure, modernizing traffic signals, installing wheelchair ramps at intersections, and fulfilling 24 streetscape projects.
- Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport
Some other airports will use the grants to improve their baggage systems. For example, Lawton-fort Sill Regional Airport will use part of its funding to build expansion with a new baggage claim, a conveyor baggage handling system for departures, and a meeter-and-greeter area. The airport will also expand its security checkpoints and hold room to accommodate more airline gates.
- Cleveland Hopkins International Airport
Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, along with many others, will increase its access to more types of transportation or improve roadways. The project will rehabilitate and resurface approximately 2,100ft of the public transportation tunnel membrane from downtown Cleveland to the Airport terminal building.
- Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport
Some airports, including Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, will use their grants for sustainability projects. Funds will support the airport’s Zero Carbon Electric Central Utility Plant (eCUP), powered 100% by renewable energy. Another portion of the fund will be used toward its Terminal D Energy Efficiency Enhancement program. The program aims to improve energy efficiency by replacing old infrastructure with modern systems.
Digitization will be the key to airport operations
The projects above reflect a new generation of air travel that the industry, as a whole, is moving toward. For airports striving to achieve seamless end-to-end travel journeys, digitization will be essential for their success and competitive edge. According to SITA’s 2022 Air Transport IT Insights report, airports are ramping up their investment in digitization to speed up the passenger journey. A majority of airports surveyed―an estimated 93%―anticipate either preserving or boosting their IT expenses in 2023 compared to 2022.
Managing irregular operations will be a main focus for airports adopting IT solutions. Over the next three years, 93% or more airports are expected to invest in asset management and flight operations. By 2025, many airports will implement automated predictive alerts before flight disruption events and business intelligence initiatives to enable based-on-demand operations.
Airports are also initiating self-services for a smoother passenger experience. 86% of airports will be planning the implementation of self-check-in and self-bag-drop by 2025. In addition, the number of airports implementing a secure single biometric token across all touch points has surged. It's gone from 3% in 2021 to 39% in 2022, signaling the industry's commitment to a seamless travel experience.
Plug and Play projects: innovating future infrastructure
Smart airports are a crucial part of our future infrastructure. Working with the world's most innovative corporates and startups, Plug and Play has fostered innovation projects aimed at improving airport infrastructure.
In 2020, through an introduction by Plug and Play, Fraport AG, one of the leading players in the global airport business, collaborated with Blickfeld, a LiDAR technology provider. They worked on a project to track passenger flow and measure waiting time in Terminal 1 of Frankfurt Airport, with the ultimate goal of finding a technical solution that could be rolled out in all passenger areas at the airport. By implementing Blickfeld's LiDAR sensors and the evaluation platform Sensalytics, the airport found a solution to predict passenger volume within three months. This helped the airport make decisions to improve customer experience by ensuring the smoothest possible process at different strategic points.
Plug and Play has also worked with startups like ZYTLYN and Neticle to predict travel demands and manage traveler expectations. Using predictive analytics and text analytics technologies, airports and travel businesses can know whether they're prepared for peak travel seasons and get feedback on customer experience. This makes decision-making easier in an airport construction plan. Learn more about the startups' technologies in our ebook.
By embarking on innovative projects, U.S. airports are set to experience meaningful and long-awaited changes. To build an airport that's smart, efficient, and sustainable will take considerable effort. However, these airport construction initiatives represent a hopeful glimpse of what is yet to come for the nation's most essential transit hubs. They'll help us get one step closer to the next-generation travel experience.