Airports utilize large amounts of space, and support vast infrastructure and numerous buildings, much like a small city. It is, however, the complex operational challenges combined with the size that makes an airport a fertile environment for Building Information Modeling and Management. An airport is a combination of many systems that themselves contain several functions organized together. From the outside, it may look like a chaotic system and maybe your last trip may have confirmed this idea, but trust me; an airport is a well-planned and intricate system where many experienced professionals have worked hard to ensure all the details are considered. During the processing of aircraft and passengers, there are many outside factors that can cause issues for airport planning, such as weather, human behavior, system breakdowns, all of which will contribute to an unhappy experience for travelers.
Airport authorities are aware of the role that airports play in the business and leisure ecosystem and they want to improve their revenues by increasing the traffic and by reducing passenger disruptions. One aspect of this is to put in place everything for the airlines to service their clients better, in a timely manner, with all necessary accommodations. In the end, airline clients are airport clients.
To succeed in this, great terminal designs with intuitive way-finding, efficient check-in and baggage handling processes, rapid security verification, clean and sufficient restrooms, good retail and restaurants are expected. One of the low hanging fruits of BIM benefits is the enhanced visualization within the 3D environment such as Virtual/augmented reality. The immersion in the future environment stimulates decision-making and ideas from the airport operators. The focus should be on the effectiveness of the operations while creating a comfortable environment where the passengers have a great experience.
Few airports in North America and Europe are built from scratch. The construction scope is most likely to be renovations or expansion of an existing facility, or both. The operational planning associated with construction should have as few impacts or no impacts on regular operations. A rigorous model coordination process during design and pre-construction will lower the risks for design/constructability errors and reworks. 4D simulations done at the right time can also have enormous benefits and prevent potential design or planning errors.
Budgeting is a focus for airports in this regard; they are no different from any other business. Therefore, modeling should be leveraged for quantification. Capital Investments are usually massive at airports and accuracy in budgeting and cost control is essential to their success. Spending should be done right because they can have direct impacts on OPEX. Which brings us back to the benefits of visualization.
Other impacts on OPEX are the energy costs. The wide spaces of passenger terminals, the baggage handling high energy consumers and outside temperature variations makes sustainability a very interesting subject for airports. Again, BIM provides the tools to quickly identify the best designs by allowing iterations to be done in the early stages of the design. Reducing carbon footprint is also a key driver for airports efforts supporting their sustainability efforts.
Finally, functioning systems are essential to provide the on-demand functionalities for the airlines and passengers, therefore airport authorities focus on maintaining those systems. For this, the information on equipment must be integrated early during and after the construction or renovation of the infrastructure to be available when the building is operational. Sophisticated airport authorities have operational readiness plans dedicated to ensuring smooth transitions from construction to operation and they also have their maintenance operators involved in the projects from scope definition to project delivery, preparing for the big switch.
These are just a few of the uses of BIM, there are many other uses for airports. I like to say that the limit is only your BIMagination. Be imaginative and leverage the tools to achieve better results in your project execution.
Thinking out loud, this article could also have been written for pharmaceutical facilities, casinos, theme parks (big Disney fan here!), etc.