Expanding airports

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Airside International reports on how air travel demand is fuelling airport investment plans

Growth in air travel is driving investment at many of the world’s largest airports, including the busiest of them all, Hartsfield-Jackson International, in Atlanta, Georgia, which serves 89 million passengers a year.

A new US$1.4 billion international terminal is scheduled to open on time this month (May) on the US airport’s east side on a site previously used by air cargo facilities and the midfield cont rol tower. The terminal will add 12 new gates which can service widebody jets. The facility could also be transformed into 16 narrowbody gates if required.

Hartsfield-Jackson International has even grander expansionist plans. A US$1.8 billion terminal, south of the current one, is projected. Known as the South Gate Complex, it is expected to include up to 70 gates.

The airport is also improving its facilities to prepare for the arrival of the world’s largest passenger aircraft, the Airbus A380, which has the capacity for 407 passengers. Korean Air will run a daily A380 service aircraft between Atlanta and Seoul from January 2013. “It makes sense that the world’s largest passenger aircraft should have service to and from the world’s busiest airport,” said Hartsfield-Jackson’s Aviation General Manager, Louis Miller.

The A380 is 238.5 feet long with a wingspan of 262 feet. The vast dimensions have compelled the Atlanta airport to spend US$30 million in infrastructure improvements. Part of the problem is that the A380’s engines sit so far out on the wings that they can kick up dirt and debris from the grass, which can get sucked into the aircraft’s engines.

The changes include modifications to two gates on Concourse E, as well as the widening of several taxiways and a runway. Air France is also considering starting an A380 service from Atlanta once these improvements are complete.

In the mid-western US, Chicago O’Hare Airport is poised for a major extension, although the plans have long been held up by financial constraints and even lawsuits.

O’Hare is the second biggest airport in the US and was the world’s fourth busiest in 2011, with more than 66 million passengers. The crowded schedule can lead to long delays and cancellations, which means that O’Hare has one of the highest percentages of delayed flights in the US.

Chicago’s Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, has repeatedly talked about the city’s need to enhance the facilities at its major airport and last month (April, 2012) he committed US$1.4 billion to build two new runways by 2015. The funds are part of a US$7 billion programme to overhaul Chicago’s infrastructure.

The Mayor said the three-year investment would create 5,900 jobs. He said most of the expansion would be funded through public-private partnerships, as well as a new non-profit fund called the Chicago Infrastructure Trust.

“We are doubling down on our strength and on O’Hare’s modernization, because there is no way to imagine a modern Chicago without a modern airport system. We are well on our way to achieving this goal, building two new runways that will be ready by 2015. Both runways are built to handle the newest generation of aircraft that specialize in long-haul flights – so that Chicago can stay connected with markets in Asia, Latin America and Europe, and the rest of America.

“Our goal is to reduce delays at O’Hare by 80 per cent and raise the airport’s capacity by 300,000 passengers per year by 2015,” Mayor Emanuel said. “To help us accomplish this goal, I call on the airlines to begin planning with us today, so we can add a fourth and final runway.”

Meanwhile, also in the US, substantial developments are underway at Denver International Airport (DIA), in Colorado, the country’s fifth largest airport. DIA was the 11th busiest airport in the world in 2011, with close to 53 million passengers. Once fully built, the plan is to increase its capacity to 110 million. DIA is planning to build an additional runway, 20 new gates on the existing concourses and two more international gates.

Outside the US, much of the greatest growth in the world’s airports is taking place in Asian nations, driven by the relative strength of their economies, especially in China.

In Hong Kong – one of two special administrative regions of China – Hong Kong International Airport is expanding rapidly. Currently, it stands as the 10th busiest worldwide with 53 million passengers in 2011. And it became the busiest airport in the world for cargo when it overtook Memphis last year.

Hong Kong’s midfield development project takes advantage of the land available between the two existing runways to the west of Terminal 1. Phase 1 should be completed in 2015 and will include 20 aircraft parking stands, three of which will be wide enough for the Airbus A380. The additional facilities will allow for 10 million extra passengers per year.

Looking further ahead, the Government recently approved the airport’s “three-runway system” plan. Dr Marvin Cheung Kin-tung, chairman of the Airport Authority, said it would now embark on the process of planning, approval and implementation which he expected to take three years. After that, he expected construction to begin. “Our airport’s future development into a three-runway system is crucial if we are to maintain Hong Kong’s status as a leading international and regional aviation centre,” he said.

The third runway will be developed to the north of the island of Chek Lap Kok, which houses the existing airport’s two runways. The extension will be made possible by reclaiming about 650 hectares of land. Additional terminals, airfield and apron facilities will be built to serve the new runway.

According to the airport authorities, Hong Kong Airport would then be able to handle 620,000 flights per year and meet forecast annual passenger and cargo throughput of about 97 million and 8.9 million tonnes respectively by 2030. The Government’s approval is a massive step forward, but it is feared that environmental and noise pollution concerns could cause some hitches in the planning process.

China’s third largest airport, Shanghai Pudong Airport, which had 41 million passengers in 2011, has one of the country’s most ambitious plans for development. The airport was the world’s 21st busiest in 2011, but had climbed to 16th place in the first quarter of 2012. It is China’s busiest international airport with about half of its passengers travelling to or from overseas.

In November 2011, Pudong Airport received approval for its expansion plans, which include building two new runways to take the total to five. The 3,800-metre fourth runway project, which also includes building an auxiliary taxiway and traffic control facilities, will cost around ¥2.58 billion (US$403 million). Meanwhile, the 3,400-metre fifth runway project, including a new traffic tower, will cost ¥4.65 billion (US$726.6 million). Construction of both runways is expected to be completed in 2015, which will double the airport’s capacity from 332,100 aircraft movements a year in 2010 to 650,000 combined landings and take-offs.

The increase in space will help solve one of Pudong Airport’s major problems. A shortage of landing slots has prevented major airlines from adding to their services to China’s commercial capital. Hongqiao airport, which was originally intended to be for domestic flights, opened to international flights last year, partly because of congestion at Pudong.

Meanwhile, China’s second largest airport, Baiyun International Airport, in the city of Guangzhou, in Guangdong province, has large-scale growth plans. The airport was the world’s 19th busiest in 2011 with 45 million passengers, but rose to 13th position in the first quarter of 2012.

The enlargement of Baiyun International Airport is costing ¥14.036 billion and should be finished in 2015, when it will be able to handle 75 million passengers. The lynchpin is the construction of a third runway which will be 3,800 metres long and 60 metres wide. Other elements include a 531,000 sq m Terminal 2.

Also in the Far East, South Korea’s biggest hub, Incheon International Airport, is investing in its future. The airport was voted the world’s best seven years in a row (2005-2012), by the Airports Council International and is one of only three airports, along with Hong Kong and Singapore, to be awarded the five-star Skytrax ranking. It had 33 million passengers in 2011, putting it just outside the world’s top 30, but climbed to 22nd place in the first quarter of 2012.

The South Korean Government has agreed to build a second terminal at Incheon International Airport by 2015 at a cost of 4 trillion won (US$3.1 billion). The additional facility will be built on 350,000 square metres of land. The Government says the airport will then be capable of handling 62 million passengers a year, up from the current 44 million, as well as 5.8 million tonnes of cargo, up from 4.5 million tonnes. The blueprint includes adding more aprons and extending a railway line to the city centre of Seoul 70km away.

An airport official said: “Incheon International Airport Corporation’s profit, which is 200 billion won to 300 billion won per year, will be used to pay for it. We plan to complete it by 2015, but the completion can be changed according to air travel demand.”

Meanwhile, in Thailand, at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, near Bangkok, the evolutionary schemes are ahead of schedule.

The airport is the sixth busiest in Asia with close to 48 million passengers in 2011, placing it 16th worldwide. But it is operating beyond its full capacity and the overcrowding would get worse if the airport did not develop.

Suvarnabhumi International Airport is putting into effect an ambitious two-phase expansion plan which would see passenger handling capacity soar to 103 million per year by 2024.

The first phase expansion includes the construction of a new domestic terminal capable of handling 20 million passengers a year at an estimated cost of 9.2 billion baht. The additional terminal will tackle the problem of congestion as it will be completed in a few years.

The phase-two operation will help with long-haul traffic demand. The expansion includes the construction of three additional runways, the enlargement of domestic and international terminals, and improvements to parking bays, car parks and other infrastructure.

An extension is also in the pipeline at Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport, which is Asia’s 10th busiest, with more than 27 million passengers in 2011. Under the masterplan, a new runway and a new satellite building will be built to accommodate the rising number of passengers.

The airport authorities say there is sufficient land to build five runways, enabling the airport to handle up to 100 million passengers a year by 2020. The blueprint includes two mega-terminals, each linked with satellite terminals.