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Airports: A home away from home?

A highly modern airport design and construction has been deeply thought out. But there’s more to that than what than a lay person can see

Airports, Chintan Shukla, GVK, H Ravikumar, Shapoorji Pallonji E&C, K Ranjan, L&T Construction, Umashankar, Jairam Panch, Turner Project Management

The plans are ambitious. However, it is not easy. One of the most financially draining and complex projects are construction and renovation of airports. Yet the government has announced plans to construct 100 airports by 2024 to aid the UDAN scheme. That was before Covid-19 hit the world.

Now even existing airports are barely functioning, unless they are carrying emergency supplies. But the fact remains that a growing urban population demands that more airports be built and expanded so as to accommodate larger number of fliers.

In order to better understand the nuances of airports, Construction Week organised a webinar to highlight some key takeaways that need to be remembered for building or renovating or expanding airports. Our panellists comprised:
• Chintan Shukla, VP, project planning and design and head of design, GVK Airports
• K Ranjan, head of quality, L&T Construction (Chennai Airport)
• Umashankar, head of quality, L&T Construction (Delhi Airport)
• H Ravikumar, AVP and regional head, Chennai, Shapoorji Pallonji E&C
• Jairam Panch, VP and MD, Turner Project Management India

Get it right first time
Most cities in India have one airport. While that is not enough for the metros, the smaller cities make do, even though they might complain about over-crowding. Airports are long gestation projects. Much has changed since the time airports were constructed in India since the 40s and 50s. Chintan Shukla of GVK Airports says, “Earlier airports were constructed mainly for efficiency in processes like baggage handling, check in, security, immigration, etc. The design was made to get the most optimal efficiency out of it. It was only with global exposure that people started having more expectations. Getting the best experience was a goal that passengers demanded. Also, they want this at the least price.”

Chintan Shukla.

Expounding on this, Umashankar of L&T Construction said, “Design has to appeal to the stakeholders, and today this spectrum has gone very wide. Design is lasting and must be available to all parties before and years after the project too.”

There was a general consensus that the final design must be carefully retained for decades to come so as to enable generations to rework on it when the airport will undergo renovations or expansions. Designs are also audited at regular intervals for its present day validity and it helps authorities and stakeholders catch up with its relevance. If there’s one thing constant in airport design, it is change. Considering that there are disruptions happening every now and then, it’s imperative that stakeholders keep up with the times to evolve on design that can appeal to all.

K Umashankar.

Shukla believes that design must be flexible. Today, times are uncertain and one is unsure of happenings two years down the line. Imagine planning an airport that is expected to sustain for 50 years!
Efficiencies should be put into the system at every stage of the project. Right from design to project management to construction and O&M, not one concerned party can afford to falter.

Adding to this, Jairam Panch of Turner Project Management said, “There are three aspects to design: landscape, air-side and terminals. The idea is to make the humungous project simpler and cost-efficient, thus reducing O&M cost. Since we deal with project management, it is one of the most specialised jobs, because we are dealing with people. It is important to put the best people on the job, draw up processes that work, and ensure that all the parties involved work well.”

An integrated team approach is what Panch suggests. Not only is it good for personal well-being and growth, but also helps the project develop smoothly. Communication here plays an important role. Project control rooms help in tracking scheduling, risks, procurement, etc.

Jairam Panch.

Making it work
Stakeholders and local governments would also like their airport to be unique. However small the budget, they will bring out the best design and construction methodology that will work. H Ravikumar of Shapoorji Pallonji E&C says, “It is a lot of work settling on a design and construction theme that would suit the budget. Nowadays, even the smaller airports are made up to international style, though at a miniscule level.”

Overall, while design and look may matter, an airport must be efficient. This can only happen by choosing the right materials and extensive planning. Today, there are teams that even delve into the long-term use of a partici=ular product or material to ensure it will continue to keep costs low once adopted into a structure.

K Ranjan.

Stressing on overall quality, K Ranjan of L&T Construction said, “Coordination is of vital importance in maintaining airports. Even the smallest oversight or carelessness can cost the operator dearly. I would like to state that quality of materials is of the essence in construction of an airport. The parties involved must look at global procurement so as to allow world-class products at infrastructure projects of these sizes.”

Even in terms of O&M, the speaker believed that there is no need to curtail movement of passengers and one can easily get this done by looking at smaller parts, and putting the model back on track.

Simulation is a modern technique adopted to ensure that all the planning executes well when it comes to the real thing. Shukla says, “Technology is making the transition easier. So what we perceived in design and construction can be made a reality after simulation techniques have been adopted successfully.”
Airport management are also adopting digital twins so long-term benefits. Moreover, globally airports have taken on such myriad shapes and designs that they have set benchmarks.

H Ravikumar.

Construction Week also invited the audience to ask questions. One such question came from an architect who pointed out that during his travels abroad, he would often admire airports that were built to stand out. It would also make him wonder why India has been unable to build more such airports (besides the Mumbai and Delhi international airports, of course). Shukla replied saying that Indian companies have been doing their best to engineer products that would add value to a project. “Architects play a key role throughout the lifecycle and time of an airport. No way can anyone undermine the work they do and their lifelong association with the project,” he added.

Citing one example of challenge, Ravikumar said that his company has been working on the Port Blair airport, which is cut off from civilisation in terms of logistics and material supply. Despite this, the company has been coordinating with the team stationed there to work out a uniquely designed airport and smart execution in terms of glazing.

During the course of the conversation, the speakers also touched upon the extensive use of technology. Airports have to deal with challenges such as predicting capacity demand, providing enhanced passenger travel experience, improving operational process efficiency, improving staff productivity, and ensuring safety and security. The need of the hour is to create a unified, integrated, ready-to-use digital platform to assist airports in becoming intelligent and informed.

A typical airport deploys 30-plus IT systems, is provided by varieties of vendors used in siloes and have limited interoperability. Intelligent airport connects them all to get a better view of integrated airport operations. Airport operations command and control centres help centrally and remotely manage the multi-discipline staff work together. However, even though airports globally are trying to wear the “smart” or “intelligent” look, they are adopting the technologies in a piecemeal manner. The operators need to look at intelligent airport-based approach for sustainability and differentiation. The need is to define a reference architecture for Intelligent Airport Enterprise that would have solution components for analytics, mobility, integration, automation and collaboration. A clear roadmap with incremental implementation of the reference architecture is what is, thus, needed. There is also a need to establish an Intelligent Airport Innovation Council for continuous technology innovation.

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