Terminal Makeover: Renovate, Reconstruct or Just Start Over

Terminal Makeover: Renovate, Reconstruct or Just Start Over

By Bret A. Pilney, PE, LEED AP BD+C

When faced with aging terminal, airfield infrastructure or aviation support facilities, airport operators need to evaluate the available options to meet changing facility requirements. However, the challenges of aging infrastructure, airline consolidation and fierce competition for capital dollars can make even the best option a difficult implementation. Still, there are proven strategies to help you maximize your investment budget to provide flexibility for the future.

Which One Is Best?

Several questions should be answered when deciding whether to renovate, reconstruct or start over. First, the airport or tenant should consider functional and operational needs:

  • Does the terminal meet forecasted passenger needs?
  • How does security function in the current terminal footprint?
  • Does the concession layout work for passengers and concessionaires?
  • How does aircraft gate utilization match up with the current and forecasted fleet mix?
  • Do parking accommodations meet expectations for convenience and forecasted demand?
  • What is the public perception of the current terminal, and how do you manage the passenger expectations for future improvement?
  • How does the facility operate financially? Is it generating the revenue to its full potential?
  • Does your landside infrastructure meet the projected needs for passenger and commercial vehicles?

The answers to these fundamental questions should serve as a guide to deciding which approach — renovation, reconstruction or starting over — will best serve the needs of passengers, concessionaires, airlines and airport staff.

Renovate

If the existing facility is architecturally and structurally sound — meaning the existing terminal facility can meet your functional and operational needs without falling down — renovation may be the best option. Finishes are the first facility component to fail in the wake of daily passenger and tenant wear. Electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems are next, while architecture and structure can usually last longer.

Similarly, if the terminal is 20 to 30 years old and the existing envelope can meet the functional and operational needs, renovation may be your best option. For most terminals, the building envelope, structure and aircraft aprons/utilities represent a significant investment. The terminal's interior and building systems have likely evolved over time, so a holistic approach to renovation will help "reset" the facility to meet the current needs while providing the flexibility for the future.

Within the same age range, the building systems are aged and possibly obsolete. Replacement parts may not be available or the systems may be limping along. This is an excellent opportunity to consider complete replacement of these systems. Typically, you can realize significant energy savings and reduce long-term operating costs.

Reconstruct

A second option is reconstructing within the same general footprint. With the significant investment in a terminal's surrounding infrastructure, it may be more cost-effective to reuse this infrastructure — the aprons, taxi lanes and associated utilities. Reusing the existing surrounding infrastructure to the extent feasible can yield substantial capital savings, making your project more financially viable.

In this case, the same questions need to be answered. If the existing terminal envelope no longer meets your current or future needs, then reconstruction may be the best approach. The original terminal layout may not be functional within the current and projected airline operating environment. It also may not be the most efficient gate layout. Airlines have increased their gate utilization which can be more flexible and efficient, potentially reducing the overall number of gates required.

LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in New York has taken this approach for reconstruction, particularly with the adjacent airfield and landside constraints. The LGA Central Terminal Building has evolved and expanded over the years, but it has reached the point where it is just not practical or cost-effective to renovate.

Just Start Over

At some point, an existing terminal facility and supporting infrastructure age beyond their useful life or will not meet the forecasted operational requirements. In addition, the answers to the previous questions yield evidence that it is not practical or feasible to renovate or reconstruct. If the airport has the available land, then just starting over may be the best approach. Kansas City International Airport is considering at least two iterations of this option after initial studies recommended this approach because of the advanced age of the existing terminals combined with their unique operational characteristics.

Starting over provides a unique opportunity to maximize operational performance and enhance financial potential with concessions and tenants. This option typically comes with a higher initial capital cost, but the long-term benefits may yield the best alternative to meet your needs. In addition, it could provide an opportunity to consider other on-site amenities, such as rental car facilities, long-term parking and on-site hotels, for easier access and better proximity to the airport.

No matter which option you choose, the long-term financial benefit that provides the highest level of passenger service and tenant opportunities will yield the best return on your investment.

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