What will airports of the future look like? Will they continue to develop as complex hubs of transit and commerce, with ever-increasing expectations of grand design, traveler amenities and elements of spectacle? Will the trend of public private partnerships (PPPs) sweep the American airport operations landscape and deliver higher tax revenue and lower costs to municipalities and port authorities? Or will the internet topple airports as we know them today (as it has many other industries) and reduce them to tarmacs with drop-offs, where security is handled through smart phone retinal scans, and only the absolute minimum of brick and mortar facilities is required?
These and other provocative questions were asked at the invitation-only Malaga Aviation Forum, produced by AERTEC Solutions, a leader in aviation design that recently consulted on the development plan for Denver International Airport. The Forum was an opportunity for a core group of airport operators and design consultants from around the world to network and discuss the latest trends in design and creatively imagine the future of airports. This was AERTEC’s second annual Forum, kicked off this year with a curated tour of and dinner at the Picasso Museum of Malaga. Picasso’s prolific and radical cubist images significantly affected the trajectory of modern art. Likewise, Picasso’s work was meant as a powerful metaphor and prompt to attendees to think differently about aviation facility design and passengers’ experience. How can airport design be radically altered for the better?
To that end, Phil and I were panelists for a session entitled “Wow Factor” in Airport Terminals. Using Mickey’s Ten Commandments (developed by the beloved Disney legend Marty Sklar), Phil reviewed elements of design and operation that are often cited as the methodology for the successful operation of Disney theme parks. Taken as a whole, these Commandments state that if designers can hold guests longer using a clear aesthetic vision, the operator will be rewarded by guests who will spend more on food and merchandise, and come back again. Most importantly, these happy customers will tell their friends and family what a great experience they had. Downtown Disney (in Anaheim, CA), Universal Citywalk (in Orlando, FL and Universal City, CA), and The Linq by Caesars Entertainment (in Las Vegas, NV) are all great examples of mixed-use large-scale retail, dining and entertainment developments that have prospered from this strategy. (The casino industry employs this general strategy routinely as well.) Similar principles can be applied to the design and operation of airports, particularly as airport design teams move beyond a tight focus on function and efficiency and integrate more visually stimulating passenger experience elements, such as those seen in LAX’s International Terminal and Singapore’s Changi Airport. “Wow Factor” elements can enhance a terminal’s environment, reduce passenger stress, increase dwell time and can raise revenue from leisure and business travelers alike.
No matter how internet technology creatively deconstructs the physical components of future airports and what people do while there, brick and mortar terminals will never cease to exist completely. Many in the industry argue that such a disaggregation makes “Wow Factor” elements an even more essential part of the airports of the future. Regardless of the ultimate outcome for airports, Phil’s look back at Mickey’s Ten Commandments offered a set of proven strategic guidelines to Forum attendees.
Anthony Pruett, Senior Vice President