Challenge and opportunity for airport authority

Posted: 7 February 2009 | Randall L. Tobias, President, Indianapolis Airport Authority Board | No comments yet

The new Indianapolis International Airport (IND) opened for business on November 12, 2008. With a new multi-lane interstate entrance it includes a tripled-in-size parking garage and spacious parking lots, together totalling nearly 18,000 spaces. Adjacent to the new Ground Transportation Centre, passengers can easily reach eight rental car facilities capable of housing 1,200 vehicles.

The new Indianapolis International Airport (IND) opened for business on November 12, 2008. With a new multi-lane interstate entrance it includes a tripled-in-size parking garage and spacious parking lots, together totalling nearly 18,000 spaces. Adjacent to the new Ground Transportation Centre, passengers can easily reach eight rental car facilities capable of housing 1,200 vehicles.

A new Airport Operations Centre/Emergency Operations Centre, in addition to a new fire station (the airport’s second), helps ensure rapid emergency response. The high-tech, energy-efficient 1.2 million square foot terminal was built for maximum passenger convenience and accessibility. It showcases one-of-a-kind shopping and dining options featuring some of the city’s most beloved restaurants, arts and cultural institutions, and sports organisations.

Built on time, on budget, and without local or state tax dollars, the $1.1 billion Indianapolis International Airport was 33 years in the planning and three years in construction. Owned and operated by the Indianapolis Airport Authority (IAA), the project was the largest civic development in city history. It has been hailed by some, including the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation, General Manager of Field Operations for the Transportation Security Administration, and several architectural critics, as the best new airport in America.

Planning for the facility began in 1975, when IAA approved a master plan calling for an airport complex with two parallel runways, a nonintersecting crosswind runway, room between them for a passenger terminal, and public access from Interstate 70 rather than the circular I-465 beltway.

The transition between opening the new airport while simultaneously closing the old (facilities physically separated across the airfield by two miles) needed to be seamless for the public, airlines serving the city, and airport business partners.

Lessons learned

Solid planning was key. Centred around hundreds of small but crucial logistical considerations, the move involved more than 3,000 airport, airline, and other employees, 10 major airlines, and 180 daily departures. Since IND is home of the world’s second largest Federal Express operation, disrupting the airport’s heavy night traffic was avoided.

IAA studied lessons learned by other airport authorities with the goal of avoiding mishaps like those occurring in Denver several years ago and, more recently, in London when Heathrow opened its newest terminal in January.

In 2007, IAA executives met with those responsible for airport transitions in Pittsburgh, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Ft. Lauderdale. They engaged project managers and consultants with expertise in transition oversight and facilitation. Early this year, IND department heads and managers, along with airline managers, contractors, consultants, and other business partners were assigned to specific teams. The groups met frequently.

The transition focused on five areas; Organisational modelling, equipment testing, trials and simulation, employee training, and planning the physical move. All systems impacting the public, from baggage handling, ticketing and security, to parking, plumbing and flight information displays, were thoroughly tested over the course of several months.

New and existing employees, including security guards, ticket agents, baggage handlers, restaurant and retail employees and parking cashiers, completed web-based and small group training sessions. Because the airport moved from a 680,000 square feet terminal to one twice that size, staffing increases were necessary. Many individuals were completely new to an airport environment.

The physical move was broken into discrete phases, with one company overseeing all logistics, controlling the loading docks at both ends according to a master schedule. A phased approach eliminated the need to tow aircraft across the field for the first day of operation. Terminating flights (i.e., those parking overnight) began landing at the new facility at 8 p.m. on November 11; departures and arrivals began on November 12.

A focus on planning and testing proved successful. On opening day, all public-facing systems were fully operational, functional, and ready for business. Baggage was loaded on the appropriate planes and flights departed on schedule. One hundred specially trained ‘ambassadors’ were positioned throughout the airport to ensure passengers made their flights. Remarkably few customers went to the old airport, but those who did were intercepted by personnel with maps and directions to the new facility.

Informing and engaging the public

Because the opening spanned two days, location change, and thousands of individuals departing from the old but landing at the new airport, public awareness was a priority.

In addition to a major communications campaign and advertising blitz, a free two-day public open house was held one month prior to the official opening. The entire airport complex was open to the public, and attendees were encouraged to take self-guided tours at their own pace.

Children and adults were encouraged to go out onto the tarmac, where a fleet of aerial fire trucks, rescue vehicles, and snow removal equipment waited with open doors. They also took advantage of exploring the normally off-limits baggage screening area, featuring two miles of conveyors, chutes, and carousels.

Drawings were held for free airline tickets and restaurant and retail gift certificates. Music and entertainment was provided by a variety of local musicians, performers, and cultural groups.

The event exceeded IAA’s expectations. Not only did the authority receive outstanding media coverage, but an estimated 25,000 people toured the airport, much of which was still under construction, including the restaurant and retail build-outs. In addition, the open house provided transition teams with valuable, real-world insight on how thousands of people moved through and responded to the new facility.

Simple, sophisticated design

Architects HOK of St. Louis and AeroDesign Group of Indianapolis have created what may be the first entirely post 9/11 U.S. airport. Forward-thinking, purpose-driven and contemporary, much of its success lies in the intuitive straightforward passenger flow, from parking to security, to boarding gates.

Under the curved sweeping roofline, sheltering 500 feet of terminal frontage, departing passengers can be dropped at 16 curbside check-in stations, which are directly connected to the baggage screening system. Inside the Ticketing Hall, soaring 90 foot glass walls provide natural illumination. Four parallel banks of freestanding ticket counters provide up to 96 check-in spaces and flexibility for future reconfiguration.

Moving toward the light, visitors enter a vast area crowned with a 200 foot circular skylight. The heart of the terminal, Civic Plaza is a lively gathering area to meet family and friends, sip coffee or wine, have a meal and shop. An outward-curving glass wall, encompassing the entire eastern end, offers an excellent view of aircraft moving from gates to taxiways and a glimpse of the downtown skyline.

From either side of Civic Plaza, ticketed passengers can make their way to one of two next-generation security checkpoints, each containing up to 11 lanes, designated for families and passengers with special needs, casual travellers, and expert travellers. TSA technology includes a 100 percent inline baggage screening system, millimeter wave technology, and multi-view X-ray machines.

Concourses A and B each have 20 gates, are 1,300 feet in length and 110 feet wide, contain two sets of moving walkways, and feature floor-to-ceiling glass walls on both sides. An international arrivals area with two gates and escalators leading to a dedicated U.S. federal inspection area and baggage claim is on the south end of Concourse A.

At 73,000 square feet, baggage claim features 30 foot glass walls on three sides, six circular carousels for regular sized baggage, a conveyor for oversized items and luggage, and airline baggage offices along the rear wall. Circular outdoor gardens flanking the north and south ends of the terminal can be seen from inside.

LEED Certification is pending

IND is expected to be one of the first American airports to receive LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. This prestigious designation is awarded to buildings promoting sustainable development, conservation, recycling, and renewable energy sources. Among IND’s green achievements:

  • Seven tons of asphalt and concrete from old taxiways and roadways were used as construction fill
  • The terminal’s location between runways facilitates the efficient movement of aircraft, providing the shortest, most direct route to the gates. Because taxi time is reduced, less fuel is consumed and emissions are lower
  • No shuttle buses are needed to transport customers between the terminal and rental car facilities
  • Sleek recycling bins for passenger and visitor paper, plastic, and aluminium are positioned throughout the terminal and each concourse
  • High-quality, low-E glass keeps heat from sunlight out, reduces cooling costs, and provides natural illumination. A radiant heating and cooling system in Civic Plaza provides even indoor climate control
  • Low-VOC paints, concrete sealants, caulking and carpets were chosen for lower harmful fumes for those with respiratory conditions and allergies.

Public art that appeals

A competitive, juried selection process yielded 36 original works of art that have been installed throughout the terminal, parking garage, and grounds. The pieces have been integrated into walls, floors, and ceilings to help passengers identify specific areas within the terminal, facilitate the smooth flow of foot traffic, and create a sense of calm.

The art includes murals covering entire walls, including one of a Midwestern prairie filled with native plants, flowers, animals and insects, composed of 500,000 handcrafted mosaic tiles. A series of 16 large colourful abstract art glass installations, designed by an artist from the U.K. from panels hand blown in Germany, provides a unique backdrop for original poetry written by Indiana authors. A unique terrazzo design, with compass points and whimsical elements, circles the Civic Plaza floor.

The ceiling of the pedestrian bridge, connecting the garage to the terminal, features an interactive installation of circular lights that ‘follow’ passengers and play musical notes. The rainbow of colours can be seen inside and outside the glass walls, especially at night when the bridge appears to glow.

Seemingly disparate, the pieces all share similar themes; those of flight, flying, nature, changing seasons and sports. A foundation has been established to help fund and maintain the airport’s art and plans for additional pieces are in discussion.

Future Development

Originally built in 1931, the old IND had undergone major renovations, expansions and upgrades over the years. Structurally, it had grown too old for efficiently addressing the rigors of 21st century air travel. In addition, there was little room to expand. The parking garage and surface lots were land-locked. At peak times of the year these parking facilities would fill quickly, resulting in customers using off-airport commercial parking operations that shuttled them to and from the terminal.

Although it is expected to serve Indianapolis for decades as it stands, with little in the way of improvements, there is ample space at the new airport for future landside and airside development.

Preliminary discussions about future light rail development for public transportation between the airport and downtown Indianapolis have taken place. Other potential developments could include; new roadway access, utilities distribution, additional parking, support facilities and commercial development, including a hotel. Unencumbered land owned by IAA on the south side of Interstate 70 is in reserve for an eventual third runway. On the airfield side, it is likely that construction of a large, freestanding cargo facility could begin within a year. Additional aircraft parking areas, runway access, and aviation support facilities may also be in IND’s future.

In 2007, IND handled 8.27 million passengers and served 40 nonstop destinations. Primarily an O&D facility, IND is not a hub for any one airline; there are 11 airlines competing for specific routes, which keeps fares low and competitive. Customers living within a two-hour radius, in cities including Cincinnati and Louisville, frequently drive to Indianapolis because fares are less expensive.

Future development will obviously involve careful environmental and logistical planning, study of regional and national demographic trends, consideration of trends in the aviation industry, and airline partnership. IAA will continue however, seeking new avenues for increasing passenger and cargo service in the Indianapolis market.

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