Build Strength into Aging Facilities with Planning, Upgrades

By Rhett Workman and Katherine Goudreau

With so many busy terminals approaching middle age, how do airports and airlines keep them operational while still giving them the much needed upgrades they need to meet the demands of an increasingly demanding public? Some airports simply shut down portions of the terminals, then gut and rebuild. However, this is a luxury that most busy airports cannot afford. Gates, holdrooms and concession spaces are in high demand and must remain operational during any modernization program. So, how is this achieved?

First, thoughtful planning is essential. What are the key upgrades and changes the airport, airlines and concessions folks need to achieve? Are power and data upgrades necessary? Are modifications to the HVAC system in order? Are additional toilet facilities desired? Critical to any successful renovation program is a detailed planning document to which all parties agree.

Once planning is complete and the scope is defined, the real work begins. Understanding airport passenger flow is critical in developing a plan to close off areas for construction while maintaining full operations. Among questions that must be answered in the early stages of design: What holdrooms and support spaces can be closed concurrently? How will passengers and employees get through the construction zone? What temporary accommodations must be made?

Providing a 3-D model that details temporary conditions and pedestrian/cart flow is key to helping all affected parties understand the conditions expected during construction. Identifying work that can be completed behind the scenes before any public impact is critical for minimizing operational disruption. As design progresses it becomes even more critical to continue providing visual models to all parties, showing how construction will occur and how the facility will be affected.

Throughout the process, existing mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems should be evaluated to determine if replacement or retro-commissioning could reduce operating costs and maintenance budgets while improving the environment of the terminal. In many cases, replacement or retro-commissioning of systems pays for itself in one to two years.

BProfessionals can work with airports and airlines to design and renovate all or parts of terminals. Key to success in such efforts can be the use of building information modeling (BIM). By integrating such modeling with engineering analysis, data regarding materials and building systems can be used to generate efficient design, significantly reducing impacts of changes during construction. An effective project-management system can give owners and interested parties regular reports, photos, status updates and other information, providing daily progress on a project.

The result is a refreshed and revitalized terminal — designed to meet the needs of owners, operators and vendors — that is completed with minimal disruption. During the next few years American Airlines and Burns & McDonnell, along with their Division of Aviation partners, will be providing a much-needed face-lift to terminals B and C, the heart of the American Airlines hub at Philadelphia International Airport.

Rhett Workman is managing director for government and airport affairs at American Airlines. Katherine Goudreau is a vice president in the Aviation Group at Burns & McDonnell.


An aging terminal can feel more modern, inviting and lively with doses of:

  • Contemporary, informative signage
  • Sufficient charging areas for electronics
  • Ample seating
  • Varied and plentiful space for food and retail
  • High, open ceilings
  • Bright common areas
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