Aviation construction is back on the runway and gaining speed, thanks in part to the growth of low-cost carriers such as JetBlue and Southwest. They are pumping figures back up for passenger traffic despite the lingering financial woes of major carriers. That has regional jet expansion playing a key role for airports looking anew at master plans. For example, JetBlue expects to invest about $500 million in airport facilities over the next few years. While security remains the top factor, capacity and other issues are reboarding, too.

"The industry is moving forward. I’m not jumping up and down for joy, but there is a slow, steady build-up for workload and projects," says Evan Futterman, aviation services chairman for HNTB, Kansas City. "Airports dominated by low-fare airlines, like Tampa and Oakland, are going gangbusters." But with limited budgets, "we’re learning to do more with less–how to use current facilities and how to get more out of them with technology," he adds.


Low-cost carriers are growing from about 14% of the market to 20%, says William Fife, aviation vice president for DMJM+Harris, New York City. "The regional jet is here already, and it’s forcing airports to rethink how they use gate space and boarding areas." For example, loading bridges for commuter jets run 5 ft off the ground, while 747’s are 17 ft.

In addition, the Airbus 380, a double-decker, 1-million-lb, $250-million craft that can carry 800 passengers, is scheduled to start flights in 2006. It won’t affect U.S. airports greatly for the first two years, but eventually will, Fife says.

"Capacity and expansion are coming back to the forefront," says Gerry FitzGerald, president of PB Aviation, New York City. But airport officials are examining alternative financial approaches to projects, such as third-party private development and private operations of airport services, he says.


NEW WAYS Tampa’s design-build success may inspire other terminal projects. (Photo courtesy of Skanska USA)

John White, aviation group president for Atlanta-based Beers Skanska, sees increasing interest in design-build delivery of new terminals after the firm completed a $59-million example in Tampa. The firm also holds a $372-million, construction management-at-risk contract for renovation of Terminal A at Boston’s Logan Airport for Delta Airlines, plus a new concourse and underground people mover.

After pulling out of Atlanta, JetBlue plans to begin service soon in Boston. "We’re not yet back to where we were in air traffic, but the last few months have been up and up," says Chris Brady, director of capital programs for the airport.

After 30 years of effort, the airport may finally be able to build a new runway thanks to a Superior Court judge lifting a 1976 injunction last month. "We hope to have the first bid package out this summer," Brady says. The airport spent some $25 million on security adjustments after 9/11 (ENR 8/19/02 p. 26) and so far has received reimbursement for 75%.

Delta already had fnanced the terminal expansion, so work forged ahead, but "other airlines have taken a second look" due to economic woes, Brady says. "In the future, we will see the plans again, but we’ll have to wait." In the meantime, the airport plans plenty of private development, including a 600-unit condominium, four or five hotels and a retail complex, he adds.

BRIGHT FUTURE Aviation work is ramping up again, though the future is not clear-cut. (Photo courtesy of Tate Snyder Kimsey Architects)

The evolution of the $2-billion expansion program scheduled to start next year at Oakland Airport reflects overall industry changes, says Kristi McKenney, aviation planning manager for owner Port of Oakland. She predicts that "programs going forward will be more incremental and more modest." Plans for dozens of new gates and 20-year financial commitments are falling out of favor, McKenney says. "Now it’s going to be, ‘What do you need for the next five years?’"

The program represents a scaled-back version of the megaproject that officials envisioned in the 1990s–a near-complete overhaul with addition of a second level and 20 gates. The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were a factor, but McKenney says that only hastened trends due to the airline industry’s financial woes. The airport took the plan and "converted it into a more modest program that gives us the capacity we need," she says. "Going forward, we’re going to look at how we can add capacity for the cheapest price and be less concerned with some of the niceties."

The program is still extensive. The improvements will allow Oakland to field about 16 million passengers a year. By 2007, the airport will add seven gates, a 6,000-space parking structure and expand one terminal by 108,000 sq ft.

The airport, which houses JetBlue, is a major contrast to its neighbor. At San Francisco Airport, where a 2.5-million-sq-ft international terminal opened three years ago, plans for other key components of a $2.4-billion master plan remain on hold. SFO has been hard hit by the economic slowdown and the airline industry’s woes, says Michael A. McCarron, SFO spokesman. "They took too big a bite to chew off," says one airport planner. "Right now, it’s real painful to be paying for [the new terminal], but not needing it."

SFO’s Terminals 1 and 2 need remodeling and modernization, but "we’re not going to be doing anything right now," McCarron says. "The most optimistic forecast" for moving ahead with the projects is in two or three years.

Douglas Stephen Jones, design manager at Mineta-San Jose International Airport, says that airport planning is in the midst of an historic transformation, compounded by widespread uncertainty. The Transportation Security Administration, however, "has a much stronger need to tell us exactly how they want to run their operations," says Jones.

Understanding those needs poses a challenge for planners developing the next generation of airport facilities. "Not to get it right would be very easy...if you didn’t know how it was supposed to work," Jones says.


The drop in air travel and Silicon Valley’s recession have cooled off Mineta-San Jose’s once-blistering growth, but planners must move forward to retain the airport’s vital position in the regional economy, Jones says. Mineta-San Jose’s first phase of a $1.3-billion overhaul is scheduled to start in 2004. After 9/11, "we did look at the cost of pumping up some of those [existing] facilities" rather than replacing them, "and it was ugly," Jones says.

Jones believes that Mineta-San Jose can lay claim to being the first airport in the U.S. "designed to 21st century needs" and "the new realities." The phased strategy for gradually replacing buildings in the airport’s built-out footprint requires a new concourse to take over the functions of the aging central terminal before it can be torn down.

The $300-million north concourse will now house screening facilities to address security requirements. Designs must account for the likelihood that within years, carry-on baggage will have to go through the same screening as checked baggage does now, Jones says. "We just need to make sure that our facility allows for that."

Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport has a $600-million capital improvement program scheduled through 2009. The program entails the first-phase construction of a 4.7-mile-long automated people mover, under design by DMJM+Harris and HDR, Omaha, that would connect terminal and parking facilities.

Contractor McCarthy Building Cos. Inc., St. Louis, expects to finish a new $16.2-million, 500-ft-long, 20-ft-wide glass-enclosed secured corridor for international passengers this month, removing the second screening step and retrieval, says Deborah Ostreicher, Sky Harbor spokesperson.

Sky Harbor also is building a new 335-ft-tall traffic control tower. The FAA will build a new Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facility with the new tower in a single $54-million structure. Construction is expected to be completed by mid-2005 for that and a $142-million, 2.5-million-sq-ft consolidated rental car facility with a three-story, 7,400-space garage. Light rail eventually will link with the garage. "We are concerned with maximizing our intermodal connections," says David L. Hensley, the airport’s development engineer.


City officials say a $258-million project to modernize Kansas City Airport’s three terminals will help retain its cozy, park-at-the-gate concept, while meeting new security and logistics needs. Scheduled to finish in 2004, the airport’s gut rehab began in 2001, but Kansas City-based designer HNTB and program manager Burns & McDonnell had to readjust KCI’s shallow depth of 70 ft and modular gate layout after 9/11.

NEW REALITIES Reviving construction must take factors into consideration, such as heights of loading bridges for smaller jets. (Photo above courtesy of HNTB/Dan Freuh; bottom courtesy of Parsons Brinkerhoff/David Sailors)

"It’s one of the most unusual airports to go through," says Tony Molinaro, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman, of the terminals’ narrow, circular design with separate security areas and no central terminal-wide checkpoint. Passengers can park at the terminal and walk less than 200 ft to the flight gate.

Philip I. Muncy, the city’s chief aviation engineer, explains that security issues were solved with laminated, blast-resistant exterior glass and heightened walls that divide gate lounges from the main concourse. Each lounge has up to five gates and individual security, says HNTB project manager William Mitchell.

It was not economically feasible to demolish the terminals’ cast-in-place concrete shell and design a new layout. The owner opted to expand terminals with protruding "bump-outs" on the airside and curbsides to accommodate new security equipment, concession stands and ticketing offices.

Now 70% complete with renovations, builders will expand the total 1-million-sq-ft terminal spaces by 100,000 sq ft. A new $62-million parking lot will be done next year, and a $90-million consolidated rental-car facility design will soon go out to bid.

Click below for more articles from special report "Airports of the Future">>

Introduction: Challenges in Airport Design and Construction Aren't New
Design: The Future is At the Gate
International: Global Aviation Takes Off
Security: Baggage Screening Goes In-line, Out of View
Connections: Take the Train to the Plane
Airport Products