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Airport authorities across the country are master planning their way through some pretty staggering growth statistics. 

Nashville International Airport (BNA) is on its fifth consecutive year with about 10 percent growth in enplanements (i.e., passengers boarding an aircraft). The FAA’s typical growth rate is 3.5 percent. And it now boasts 88 percent origin-destination traffic, compared to only 13 percent of travelers starting and ending their trip at the airport back in the late 1980s. 

“More than 100 people are moving to Nashville per day, and have been doing so for a number of years,” says Robert Ramsey, chief operating officer of the Metro Nashville Airport Authority. “It’s a blessing, but it comes with its own set of challenges in terms of staying ahead of that passenger demand.”

Enter the “BNA Vision” plan—the first major component of which wraps up this month. JE Dunn is delivering a 2,400-space parking garage with a ground transportation center on the first floor to alleviate curbside congestion. A second parking garage and administrative building were awarded to Messer Construction in July, and Hensel Phelps broke ground on Concourse D work in June. Bids for the largest package, a $350 million terminal lobby and international arrivals facility, will likely be brought to the board in November, Ramsey says. 

In Florida, Tampa International Airport (TPA) is putting the finishing touches on phase one of a three-phase expansion that will allow it to accommodate 34 million passengers annually—roughly double the number served when the project kicked off in November 2014. Design-builders including Austin Commercial, Skanska and Kimmins Contracting have been busy constructing a 2.6 million-square-foot rental car center, a 1.4-mile automated people mover and a football field-size main terminal addition, as well as revamping surrounding roadways. Ramping up next for phase two will be express curbside lanes as well as a 17-acre commercial development around the rental car center.

“We’re facing rapid growth with functional, yet aging facilities,” says TPA spokesman Danny Valentine. “Our challenge has been to update our facilities while remaining in our existing footprint and accommodating record passenger numbers without sacrificing our high customer service standards.” 

Mission seemingly accomplished. Via a daily survey, Valentine reports “we never had more than 5 percent of passengers indicating they were severely impacted by construction.”

OPTIMISM YIELDS OPPORTUNITIES

On a broader scale, American airports have nearly $100 billion in capital needs through 2021 for terminal building, airfield capacity, reconstruction and surface access, according to Airports Council International-North America. Yet, on an annual basis, airports only generate about half of what they need to fund infrastructure projects through net income, passenger facility charges, the federal Airport Improvement Program, capital contributions and state grants.

In July and August, the FAA awarded $1.38 billion in infrastructure grants to hundreds of airports via the third and fourth installments of its $3.18 billion Airport Improvement Program. And in October, President Trump signed a five-year FAA reauthorization that will keep Airport Improvement Program construction grants at $3.35 billion annually and extend new discretionary funding to small and medium sized airports.

Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago O’Hare and Dallas/Fort Worth are still the busiest airports, but enplanements are projected to grow the fastest (among large hub airports) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, San Diego, Boston and Newark, New Jersey, according to the FAA Terminal Area Forecast 2017-2045. For the next 20 years, the FAA anticipates a competitive and profitable aviation industry characterized by increasing demand for air travel, steady growth in the number of seats per aircraft and airfares rising more slowly than inflation.

Evidence of this optimism is apparent nationwide. Last year, voters in Kansas City, Missouri, approved a public-private venture to build a billion-dollar, one million-square-foot airport terminal, which is expected to be complete in late 2022.

In May, in response to a 5.3 percent annual uptick in passenger load, Denver International Airport broke ground on a $1.5 billion expansion adding 39 new gates to existing concourses by 2021, resulting in a 30 percent increase in gate capacity. The Colorado Department of Transportation also is conducting a study on the feasibility of constructing a hyperloop transportation system, with initial design concepts placing the first station near the airport.

Moving further west, the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority is gearing up for phase one of its latest development plan, which could include phased construction of a new 30-gate terminal, administrative building, structured parking and airfield paving. RFQs for the four procurement packages likely will be released in 2019 and 2020.

Activity isn’t contained to big cities. But at smaller hubs, the financial pressure is more pronounced as airports balance spending on things like compliant pavement versus vehicle access or aesthetic upgrades.

“In general, the challenge we face is the funding necessary to address aging infrastructure and assets, and to make facility improvements that can accommodate passenger increases and potential new carriers,” says Darion Warren, director of capital programming for the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority in Mississippi.

With that in mind, a multi-year capital improvement program is in place for Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport (JAN) that shows a serious commitment to the future. Current JAN projects include rehabilitating taxiways and terminal roadways, updating terminal flooring and ticket counters, upgrading the security and access control system, adding wall murals and improving restrooms—all of which will be done by next year. 

More roadwork will get under way in 2019, and an existing public parking garage will be converted into a quick turnaround area for rental car service/storage that’s adjacent to the existing rental car return area—creating a consolidated facility. Construction on this project should begin in late 2020.

HOME AWAY FROM HOME

Manhattan Construction Company, which has an 80-year history in the aviation sector, sees this as a prime time for both vertical and horizontal airport work. 

“9/11 diverted most funding toward security enhancements, and then a few years later the economy softened, which further inhibited non-critical spending on maintenance of airport facilities,” says Paul Dorsey, Manhattan’s vice president of aviation. “Now, 20 years later, with aging facilities and not enough infrastructure to accommodate a strong economy and record enplanements, many airports are challenged to keep up with maintenance and capacity constraints, which translates to large-scale projects all over the country.”

Of particular focus is the amount of time passengers spend “airside” after passing through security or during layovers. 

“Restaurants are getting bigger and better, lounges are expanding, and hold rooms are getting more sophisticated with improved seating, queuing and technology,” Dorsey says. “There are more kid zones, quiet spaces, rocking chairs, live music and pet relief areas than ever before.”

Airports also are working hard to personalize their spaces by emphasizing local culture, food, art and attractions. For instance, it’s a natural fit for Nashville to carry its Music City identity through BNA, which already boasts four stages and has a couple more in the master plan.

“As soon as you step off the plane, we want you to know where you are,” Ramsey says.

Public art is emphasized in Tampa, where seven new works were commissioned during the phase one expansion. Wellness and sustainability are key components as well, including widespread indoor landscaping and town square-like space for community events.

The trend is clear: airports as self-contained cities that serve as a home away from home with top-notch retail and restaurants, fitness and wellness centers, native plants in seasonal outdoor spaces, indoor water features and short-term sleeping rooms—not to mention ubiquitous electrical outlets and excellent WiFi coverage.

EMBRACING TECHNOLOGY AND COLLABORATION

How aviation construction projects are brought to life is advancing as well. AEC firms that offer integrated project delivery methods, have sophisticated offsite prefabrication operations, invest in technology and can navigate public-private partnerships are in the sweet spot.

Case in point: The Metro Nashville Airport Authority is utilizing progressive design-build on its Concourse D expansion. There are five guaranteed maximum prices for portions of work that teams have to design (versus one upfront lump sum or fixed fee with traditional design-build).

“They’re responsible for hitting the design-to-budget number, but they’re bidding packages like a construction manager at-risk,” Ramsey says. “We have to be reasonable; there’s so much unknown when working in an existing facility. 

“It wasn’t a good approach to have one GMP for the owner or the contractor community,” he adds. “Given the risk a contractor would have to assume, and the check we’d have to write to cover that risk, we thought progressive design-build would be a more equitable approach.”

BNA is using a set of 20 percent complete drawings as a framework for each package so all the work is cohesive. Most packages have a six-month design window before turning loose on groundwork.

“We can’t spend two years in design, six months in procurement and then move on to construction. At the growth rate we’re experiencing, that would crush us,” Ramsey says.

In preparation for this more collaborative environment, BNA built a project management complex where in-house engineers can co-locate with designers and contractors for each major project. 

“I don’t want to receive dozens of emails, so we tell staff to put down the phone and walk to the trailer next door and sit down to figure things out. It has worked out really well having contractors adjacent to us in terms of speeding up the design and construction process,” Ramsey says.

They’ve also implemented virtual reality workshops every Friday so operations, maintenance and public safety personnel can offer input on the drawings they see, but may not fully understand. Additionally, BNA is merging BIM with its existing GIS technology for easier data management and consolidation, and it’s in the early stages of looking at P3s for a hotel project.

“All that is happening within the next year,” Ramsey says. “It has forced us to evolve into being a more sophisticated owner.”

In turn, contractors must rise to the occasion by embracing technology and collaboration.

“The aviation industry is a tight-knit community and successes and failures are pronounced,” Manhattan’s Dorsey says. “You only get repeat business by doing a great job the first time and every time after that.” 

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