Busy airport check-in

+ Considering operational readiness from the outset ensures that airport terminals such as Heathrow T2 work effectively and efficiently from day one.

As engineers, we’re used to designing for construction or manufacture yet clients all too rarely ask us to design for operation. This is a missed opportunity to ensure new infrastructure works at its best from day one.

Ideally as a client, you’d start with a set of operational principles with an operational concept and an operational model. You can’t always plan in this detail but you need at least some operational principles for your design team to work towards.

So for an airport terminal like Heathrow T2, these principles would include things like the number of passengers you expect to pass through, the number of bags, and the queuing times you expect for security.

On projects such as the High Speed 2 rail line where there isn’t yet an operator, there is a risk that design is undertaken without knowing vital operational details. How will it be run? What jobs will people do? What processes will they follow? What tools will they use?

We talk a lot about considering the needs of end users when we design, engineer and build. But what about the needs of the people who will operate the facilities we design? All too often they are overlooked.

BIM promises to make it easy to involve operators from the start. It is now possible to give an operator a tablet computer containing a fully integrated model that shows them everything they need to know about a facility.

This is what happens with airport terminals. And the result is that new terminals tend to operate more effectively and cost-efficiently than those they replace – scoring higher Airport Service Quality (ASQ) scores.

If you don’t design for operation, then people may find that the building or infrastructure gets in the way of their jobs, and they’ll create their own less-than-ideal workarounds. I’ve seen baggage handlers driving the wrong way down roads in baggage terminals because the route works better that way in practice.

Of course, it’s impossible not to design some constraints into physical assets. As technology changes, operational requirements will evolve. So you may never create something that operates absolutely perfectly, but factoring in operational readiness from the start of the design process would help you get a lot closer to perfection.