Aerotropolis, 2030

Think Tanks, Experts, Planners and Sci-fi geeks – all with their own predictions of what the airports of the future will look like. EXEC shares the excitement.

Airports will shape business location and urban development in the 21st century as much as highways did in the 20th century, railroads in the 19th and seaports in the 18th ~ Dr John D Kasarda

The Denver Art Museum is all set to unveil a rather unique exhibit this July – Now Boarding: Fentress Airports + The Architecture of Flight. This touring exhibition promises a multimedia immersion into the past, present and future of airport design. It is the last bit that is intriguing. What WILL the airports of the future look like?

Well, considering estimates that by 2030 over 12 billion of us will take to the skies every year, they better be ginormous. Or is size really the answer? Weary passengers trudging through mammoth airports like Dubai’s are proof that sometimes the sheer size of these structures works against them. Especially in countries like India, where every scheme proposing an airport expansion dig ups a zillion land related issues, an airport that is efficient rather than super-large is the order of the day.

Blueprints for the Future

Last year, Fentress Architects conducted a global challenge inviting designs for the Airport of the Future. (The best of these will be on display at Now Boarding, which is set to tour the world till 2015.) The LDN Delta Airport, with its focus on innovation, flexibility and ecology, bagged the first prize.

The LDN Delta Airport is designed as prefabricated, mass-produced islands situated in the Thames Estuary, upstream from London. The airport would ease the overcrowding of the surrounding airports as there are no cars, runways nor check-in desks, but is served solely via public transportation. Flight information is connected through passengers’ cell phones, providing the departure time and assigned gate. The airport supports vertical takeoff with hypersonic jets capable of flying at the edge of space, lifting off from purpose-built landing pads and uses the tidal currents to run on total sustainable power.

Some of the other winning designs include an airport that is self-sustaining through the use of algae grown in nearby farms as a renewable resource, one that supports vertical take-off and landing, even one modelled after the St.Peter Basilica and Pocket Airports – a network of airports scattered across the city that be accommodated in sky scrappers and other large buildings.

Distributed terminals and integrated surface transport – Experts believe that these are two features are the hallmarks of great airport design. In addition to this, airports of the future must integrate concepts of urbanisation, globalisation, must take advantage of current innovation in materials, technologies, aesthetics, flexibility, security, adaptability and more importantly the traveller’s experience from ‘curb side to airside’.

The Rise of Airport Cities

Another concept that has been doing the rounds in recent year is to Aerotipolis – urban settlements placing airports in the centre with cities growing around them, connecting workers, suppliers, executives, and goods to the global marketplace. In its simplest form, the aerotropolis is an economic hub that extends from a large airport into an adjoining area that consists mostly of distribution centres, office buildings, light manufacturing firms, convention centres, and hotels, all linked to the airport via roads, expressways (aerolinks), and rail lines (aerotrains).

Commitment to this idea is shaky at best. Though this model has met with success at some airports, there are concerns about the uncertainty of oil prices and availability. Exasperating this is the massive capital costs, long gestation periods and uncertain return on investment. Not to mention the issues with noise pollution. Tricky.

But the advantages of having an airport slap bang in the centre of the city are undeniable. Muse on that the next time you are rushing to your city airport 30 kms away. 15 years from now, you might just step out of your flight and take a walkalator to your hotel room that is ten minutes but a million miles away. And your ready-made office park that is conveniently situated in the aerotropolis is another 10 mins away. Bliss!

And figures indicate that the next new airport is most likely to be Asia than in the developed economies. For instance, 78 brand new airport structures are in the works in China as opposed to only five in Europe. So the next time you see a fellow passenger walking forlornly through the security line, pass on the good news – Hang in there. The best is yet to come.

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