Central. Rooms dedicated to IT infrastructure are focus at Phoenix Airport. (Photo courtesy of Phoenix Aviation Department)

Nothing quite like the Passenger Information and Paging System, installed just this spring, exists at any other U.S. airport–yet. "Coming up with custom products is something we do," says John Dungan, spokesman for PIPS supplier ARINC, Annapolis, Md. "We have a standard line of products for passenger processing systems, but it seems everyone wants a custom-made one."

As U.S. airports look for technology custom-tailored to their facilities and passengers, they also are looking at making their facilities–including IT infrastructure–available for use by airline tenants. These trends are affecting how designers and engineers do business at airports–both in terms of physical building and in terms of working with airport owners and high-tech vendors. From consolidated communications rooms to construction management-at-risk contracts, flexible and redundant IT infrastructure and IT specialists on construction teams, U.S. airport building is entering a new era.

Future Wave. Common-use e-ticketing kiosks, just installed in Las Vegas’s airport, probably will become widespread. (Photo courtesy of Clark County Department of Aviation) bottom courtesy of KJM Technology Team at Phoenix Sky Harbor

Some technology is becoming so crucial to airport operations that more owners are creating separate master plans for IT projects, or at least creating specific sections within the traditional capital master plan. "Whether technology has its own master plan or is an independent focus component of a master plan, airports absolutely have to do it or they’ll miss out," says Vince Lepardo, project manager for Parsons Brinckerhoff, New York City, program manager for Houston’s Bush Airport expansion.

Phoenix first created a technology master plan in 1999. It includes about $50 million worth of projects, including a universal backbone for wireless connections, a new access control system that can handle biometrics and the PIPS system, says Max Shoura, project manager for the Phoenix office of KJM & Associates, Bellevue, Wash. KJM, the airport’s in-house technology consultant, is helping to update the IT master plan for the next five years with up to $80 million of potential projects. These include perimeter intrusion detection and airport-wide geographical information mapping.

The technology team coordinates with every other aviation department–design and construction, water and power, business modeling and operations–to ensure that the projects fit into the overall airport vision. "If you look at environmental issues, they need a plan with its own weight and its own coordination with the airport’s master plan," Shoura says. Technology issues are now achieving the same importance.

For any airport upgrading its technology, "the biggest issue is flexibility and incorporating the infrastructure into the building," says Al Lyons, project manager for Arup, New York City. Arup performed IT consulting and engineering for Toronto’s Pearson Airport, which established a common use/service provider network shared by all airport tenants. This meant an average of 40% in saved space at the terminals.

Phoenix in many ways exemplifies what U.S. airports are doing today. It is implementing technology lessons learned from many other airports, while introducing some trailblazing concepts of its own. One model airport for Phoenix is Las Vegas’s McCarran, which prepared a technology master plan 10 years ago.

"We provide all of the computer systems, which gives us much more flexibility in the use of terminal space," says Samuel Ingalls, McCarran’s assistant director for information systems. The airport recently installed common-use electronic ticketing check-in kiosks, including six off airport grounds, which passengers of 15 airlines can use. "We are now working with some hotel casinos to bring in speed-check kiosks with a baggage scale incorporated," he adds. Eventually, agents will do roving check-ins with handheld devices.

Information. Drivers can check flight info for pick-ups in holding lot.
(Photo courtesy of KJM Technology Team at Phoenix Sky Harbor)

Phoenix airport officials studied McCarran, Dallas-Fort Worth, Orlando, San Francisco, Jacksonville and others as it began its own IT master plan. Phoenix now has built 40 new communications closets and three mainframe computer rooms per terminal to accommodate miles of new common-use conduit and fiber-optic cable, says Dennis Murphy, technology project manager for Sky Harbor. Each mainframe room receives cabling from two directions to create redundant network connections.


David Krietor, Phoenix airport director, says a redundant system was added to the IT master plan partly because of a power disruption at Terminal 4 caused by construction equipment that damaged a power cable. The Y2K fear provided further motivation. "You get hit by so many new technologies, and we didn’t have a blueprint," Krietor says.

From this base, Phoenix as part of its $600-million expansion program is building a combined vehicle tracking/vehicle identification system, a consolidated rental car facility, a new access control system and an in-line baggage system.

Picking Teams

As such technology become the norm, contractors and designers must ensure that they have the right partners on their teams. "Technology involves more attention to areas we’ve not traditionally been involved with," says Ralph Ketchum, Southwest regional manager for Austin, Tex.-based Austin Commercial, the CM-at-risk for the airport’s $175-million consolidated rental car facility project. In looking for workers, "contractors used to be worried mainly about whether they could pour concrete, Now, that’s not even half of what they have to do," Ketchum says.

The rental car facility will incorporate a hybrid vehicle tracking and vehicle identification system (see story on page 2). Sky Harbor also built a nearby holding lot where drivers coming to pick up arriving passengers can view a live message board that displays current flight information. This keeps them from having to circle constantly around the airport or linger at a curb, waiting for passengers whose flights may be delayed.

Austin’s CM-at-risk contract "allowed us to participate in the design of the project as a partner with the airport early on," which is crucial with new technology, says Ketchum. "Now we’re starting to look at qualification-based selections for major subcontracts like electrical systems and controls."

The recently created Division 17 of the Construction Specifications Institute’s master format focuses on computer and communications technology (ENR 4/15/02, p. 33). Lyons says that airport officials and their architect-engineer teams preparing contract documents "will need to be extremely specific in those documents. They should prequalify those that can bid and deliver to Division 17 specifications."

In the past, IT often has been the last item of consideration for design and construction teams, rather than the first, says Marco Prieto, principal with Convergent Strategies Consulting Inc., Sugarloaf Key, Fla., which designed the new copper/fiber backbone infrastructure for Phoenix’s PIPS system. "We’ve helped retrofit the design to accommodate technology."

Grafting new technology onto an existing terminal is a challenge. "This terminal is 13 years old," said Murphy recently, standing in Sky Harbor’s Terminal 4, several yards from a PIPS station undergoing testing. Along with keeping airport operations moving while installing new cabling and fiber optics systems, it’s also tough in an existing terminal to convince all tenants to buy into a common IT backbone. "Everyone likes to have 100% control," he says. "Sharing resources in a struggle. It can be...an onus on the airport owner to demonstrate that we can provide resources [for airlines]."


Choosing the right high-tech specialist to be part of the construction team is particularly tricky when proprietary software is involved, says Shane Shovestull, Sky Harbor design and construction engineer. "For contractors, it takes pre-planning and coordinating with the operators of the technology," he says. "A lot of the technology ends up being proprietary, which may compel the contractors to hire a sub they may not know."

Among other measures, Phoenix officials may require proprietary IT firms to provide component pricing that is guaranteed for a certain time period, Shovestull says. "We supply the numbers across the board," he says. "This helps protect the contractor [and owner] from getting burned" by an IT sub raising price quotes on additions to systems.

ARINC’s Dungan agrees that airports should take care in selecting IT vendors. "The worst-case scenario is having an IT provider who underestimates the complexity of an airport," he says.

Forrest Swonsen, western regional manager for Dallas-based Transcore Systems, which is providing the hybrid commercial vehicle tracking and vehicle identification system for Phoenix, says his firm takes care to develop long-term relationships...

hen Phoenix City Councilwoman Peggy Bilsten’s mother uses Sky Harbor Airport, she now can go to a new paging assistance location and send a message to her daughter either by typing–in Braille–or using a phone. Within minutes, the message flashes on screens throughout the terminal, and a voice reads it over the public announcement system.