Coping with growth

Posted: 11 September 2006 | Robert Hilliard, Director, Dublin Airport & Paul O’Kane, Communications Manager – Capital Development Programme, Dublin Airport | No comments yet

It’s a problem that faces most of Europe’s airports; the construction process is not always conducive to an efficient boarding process. One solution, employed at Dublin Airport, is Temporary Boarding Gates.

It’s a problem that faces most of Europe’s airports; the construction process is not always conducive to an efficient boarding process. One solution, employed at Dublin Airport, is Temporary Boarding Gates.

Dublin Airport is the home base for both Ryanair, which is Europe’s largest low cost carrier, and Aer Lingus, Ireland’s national flag carrier, which has reconstituted itself as a low-cost player over the past five years. Both Ryanair and Aer Lingus, which are Dublin Airport’s two largest customers, have aggressive expansion plans for Dublin and demand quick turnarounds in order to maximise aircraft utilisation.

Our other airline partners have also experienced huge growth at Dublin in recent years on the back of a sustained economic boom. Ireland has consistently been Europe’s fastest growing economy over the past decade and that growth has brought a huge increase in wealth to most Irish residents. Irish people are taking more foreign holidays; in the first three months of this year the number of foreign trips increased by 18 per cent, according to recent data from Ireland’s Central Statistics Office. As if this domestic growth was not enough, Dublin remains one of Europe’s top short break destinations and is the premier gateway into Ireland as a whole for both business and leisure traffic.

Ireland’s Celtic Tiger economy has lured many tens of thousands of immigrants to the country over the past decade and this has also created new markets for Dublin Airport and helped to fuel further growth. Dublin now has, for example, 14 services to seven destinations in Poland and six services to three separate locations in Lithuania. In the three years between 2002 and 2005, passenger numbers at Dublin have increased by 22 per cent from 15.1 million to almost 18.5 million. This growth came despite the impact of September 11th, which crimped airline travel worldwide during 2002.

In the first half of this year, almost 10 million people passed through Dublin Airport – a 15 per cent increase on the same period last year. Our traffic forecasts for 2006 indicate that end of year passenger figures will surpass 21 million.

To help cope with this growth, the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) – and its forerunner Aer Rianta – have had plans for a new Pier facility at Dublin Airport for several years. The plans to construct Pier D were put on hold awaiting an Irish government decision on future aviation policy, but in May 2005 the government asked the DAA to proceed with the Pier D project and also to construct a second terminal at Dublin. Pier D, which will bring an additional 14 aircraft stands, will open in the autumn of 2007, but while this new facility was being built, there was a significant short-term demand for extra airside capacity and additional contact stands. “Airlines at Dublin have a reluctance to use remote stands as they are not keen on bussing passengers,” says Brendan Daly, Dublin Airport’s General Manager of Terminal Operations. “Bussing also adds to apron traffic dramatically and given the number of contact stands that we have at Dublin, we already have a very busy apron.”

Having considered the various options that would deliver additional stands in tandem with our airline partners, it was agreed that the most efficient solution was to build a temporary boarding area that would be used from the summer of 2005 to the autumn of 2007, when Pier D and its 14 new aircraft stands are completed. In early January of this year, the main contractor for the Temporary Boarding Gates (TBG) came on board and the preparatory work began soon after. The key challenge was to deliver a temporary product that was acceptable to our airline customers and their passengers in a highly demanding timeframe.

The plan called for a 5,500 square metre temporary facility that would comprise a new 4,000 plus sq metre boarding area with eight gates serving nine contact stands. This area would be connected to the existing passenger facilities by a 250-metre long walkway. The new boarding lounge, which cost a total of €5m, has the capacity to handle 1,086 departing passengers per hour.

The walkway linking the Temporary Boarding Gates to the existing passenger facilities connects with the rear of the Old Central Terminal Building at Dublin Airport and the construction activity for the TBG meant the loss of three contact stands in this area. Two of the stands were lost as soon as construction began, while the third was removed from service one week later. To cope with the loss of the stands, Terminal Operations Manager Brendan Daly and his team maximised the utilisation of Pier A at Dublin Airport, while the airlines also had to bus some passengers to remote stands during this period. “As the construction took place between March and May the season wasn’t fully up to speed, so while there was an element of bussing, it wasn’t huge,” according to Daly.

To enable Dublin Airport to meet demand during the peak the summer season, the TBG had to be in service by the start of June. A modular building was the best solution to constructing the new gates quickly and cost effectively. A total of 171 Portacabin-style modular units were built and assembled off-site, then shipped the 90 miles to Dublin Airport for final assembly and fit out.

Although the new facility is constructed from modular buildings, the interior fit out is the same as any other airport building. It is finished to the same standard as our other departure lounges; the only difference that passengers will notice is that they are walking on timber floors.

Workers went on-site on the apron on March 20th and the job was completed in just 10 weeks. The Temporary Boarding Gates were built on time, within budget and without a single major incident on-site. The gates, which were named A64-A71, were delivered to Dublin Airport at midnight on Sunday May 28th and went into service on a trial basis on Tuesday May 30th, with Ryanair flights to Stansted and Durham Tees and an Aer Arann flight to Cork.

Timing was critical during the construction phase as Daly and his team had to have the nine contact stands that came with the TBG in operation by the start of June to help cope with the peak summer season. Airline customers were also keen to limit the need for bussing to as short a period as possible. Ryanair, for example, ended its bussing contract on the day that the Temporary Gates opened for business.

The TBG has now been in operation for a full two months and has worked “extremely well” according to Brendan Daly. “The airlines are very happy with it. In fact, Ryanair actually prefer it to [the original] Pier A as there is more space at the gate.”

The Temporary Boarding Gates are currently handling about 1,050 flights per week, which equates to 150 flights per day. Ryanair is currently the main user of the new facility, which also handles flights operated by Aer Lingus and Aer Arann. The lounge area, which is fitted with Kusch metal seating, is fully air-conditioned and has its own heating system and toilets. It can handle up to 1,086 departing passengers per hour and has a holding area that will comfortably take up to 1,500 people. The ceiling in the lounge area is higher than that used in the walkway to enhance the feeling of space in the area in which passengers will spend the most time.

Passengers using the TBG pass through The Street, which is Dublin Airport’s main airside retail offer and alongside the Pier A retail area before reaching the temporary gates, so it was felt that the TBG did not require a large additional retail offer. But since there is dwell time at the lounge serving the eight gates, the TBG has a takeaway café, a small bookstore and there are plans for a small number of further retail outlets.

There are currently four FIDs in the TBG but Dublin Airport has plans to add a second bank of screens in the lounge and a further additional bank of screens in the walkway that connects the new gates to the existing facilities. The screens display 20 lines of data, which show departing flights over the next two hours. The signage to the temporary gates has also recently been improved to help way finding for passengers.

With the TBG fully in service during June, Dublin Airport handled two million passengers in a single month for the first time. A further two million passengers passed through the airport in July and we are expecting similar numbers in August and September.

Work on Pier D – a new 14,000 square metre pier with 12 gates servicing 14 aircraft stands – is progressing on the northern side of the TBG and the new facility will come on-stream in the autumn of 2007. At this point, the TBG as it is currently configured will be retired. However, the modular units that make up the temporary gates may subsequently see use elsewhere at Dublin Airport in the medium term, as we may have requirements for other temporary facilities over the next five years as part of the airport’s €1.2bn plus capital development programme.

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