6 Key Considerations for Designing a Modern Sustainable Airport Terminal
Modern airport terminals are no longer just places for passengers to arrive or await their departures. They’re also hubs for international trade and commerce, aside from being architectural statements about the regions they serve. With global air passenger traffic projected to reach 2.6 billion passengers by 2026, airport developers all over the world are now under immense pressure to offer a seamless blend of efficiency, comfort, security, and innovation. Let’s look at six key objectives that airport developers consider when building new terminals or redeveloping existing ones to contemporary standards.
1) Efficient Passenger Traffic Flow
Airport terminal design should prioritize streamlined airport operations services from check-in to security, boarding gates, and baggage claim. Terminal layouts should avoid creating bottlenecks and contribute to a seamless passenger experience. Improving on this one area can contribute to a series of positive effects not just for the airport but for the community it serves.
Since the late 2010s, the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) terminals in the Philippines have undergone a series of efficiency updates. Since the first of these updates were completed, the MCIA, now managed and operated by a consortium composed of Aboitiz InfraCapital, GMR Group, and Megawide Construction Corporation, has become a preferred gateway to the Central Philippines, becoming the only airport recognized by the Airports Council International (ACI) for its efficiency and top-tier passenger experience. The MCIA’s performance has had positive effects on local investment and tourism, with these benefits seen to increase further with the completion of other terminal improvement projects in the MCIA consortium’s pipeline.
2) Up-to-date Comforts and Amenities
Travelers often spend hours within an airport terminal, making comfort and amenities crucial. Modern terminals should include ample seating, charging stations, lounges, and relaxation areas. Moreover, there should be a reasonable selection of options to accommodate diverse passenger preferences, particularly in dining and entertainment. Having these conveniences will help ensure that passengers are comfortable and engaged throughout their time at the terminal.
3) Non-Intrusive but Effective Security
In the two decades since the 9/11 attacks, security remains a top concern in the global aviation industry. However, passenger terminal design has greatly evolved since then, with cutting-edge developers balancing safety with a non-intrusive experience.
Technological advances are bringing terminals ever closer to this non-intrusive ideal. Advanced security systems that use contactless biometric identification and AI-assisted surveillance are already in use in a handful of airports and are being tested in dozens of others. If these systems are viable, they may offer a valuable way to keep passengers safe without negatively impacting their experience.
4) Technology Integration
If there’s one thing modern air travelers hate, it’s awful airport Wi-Fi. With many passengers being part of globally distributed corporate teams across industries like finance, marketing, media, engineering, diplomacy, and many others, these people are always on the go, working even as they travel. As such, fast and free Wi-Fi at airports is often a necessity for them. However, seamless Wi-Fi isn’t the only modern convenience that travelers expect. Today, a growing number expect smart wayfinding, self-check-in kiosks, and mobile apps for real-time updates.
These technologies are just the bare minimum. Recently, Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport tested virtual reality for immersive experiences, and Osaka’s Kansai Airport is now using robots for customer assistance, setting the technology bar much higher for other airports the world over.
5) Sustainability and Energy Efficiency
Environmental considerations are now fundamental to airport terminal design. Incorporating sustainable practices, energy-efficient lighting, and eco-friendly materials reduces a terminal’s carbon footprint while also allowing it to enjoy significant cost savings. Integration of renewable energy sources, efficient waste management, and water conservation further contribute to an environmentally responsible design.
In the Philippines, MCIA is a leader in airport sustainability, demonstrating that efficiency and passenger experiences do not need to be sacrificed to protect the environment. With energy-efficient fixtures, extensive use of natural lighting, as well as 6,300 onsite solar panels, MCIA is showing airport developers the world over the way forward in meaningful sustainable airport terminal design.
6) Aesthetic Appeal and Cultural Relevance
Airport terminals inevitably become part of a wider brand. Iconic terminals such as the ones at Singapore Changi, Hong Kong International, Tokyo Haneda, and London Heathrow, for instance, are truly extensions of their countries’ brands, giving passengers a taste of the culture and creating a statement about the country itself, much like any other public monument. Even smaller airports strive to showcase local culture in an authentic, emotionally resonant way.
However, airport developers cannot simply build an impressive structure and visually appealing interior spaces; they also need to account for the other considerations included in this list. As a result, many developers may stick to safer but less emotionally inspiring designs that ultimately do little to uplift their country or region’s brand. The fact that so many otherwise famous airports have terminals with a generic or unimpressive feel underscores the difficulty of getting this part right.
Even just going back a few decades, expectations for airport terminals have come a long way. It’s no longer enough for terminals to provide waiting areas and baggage processing; they also have to solve a dizzying array of challenges that will only become more difficult as the world’s air travelers continue to increase in numbers. Moreover, at a time when many airports now look alike and offer broadly similar experiences, airport developers have to find ways to differentiate their terminals and offer memorable positive experiences.
Many of today’s newest modern airports show that this is all possible, especially when infrastructure developers adopt a holistic approach. Airport terminals designed with the considerations above create an environment where travelers embark on journeys with confidence and a sense of connection—a true embodiment of the modern travel experience.