Inside the terminal building of Ben Gurion International Airport

+ Getting the most value out of the design of airport projects requires open and effective stakeholder collaboration.

In airports effective stakeholder collaboration is essential to the development of a strong design solution. Technical expertise alone misses out on the vital collective knowledge needed to overcome the complexities and obstacles inherent in airport development.

Designing workable, effective aviation infrastructure solutions is a complex undertaking. Clients need to retain operational flexibility in the face of growing passenger numbers or need to respond to the changing shape of the passenger experience. But these imperatives are usually highly constrained by an airport’s existing footprint. 

Aviation clients face diverse challenges, from ever-increasing passenger numbers, to the need to optimise baggage handling systems for changing passenger behaviours. Established city airports face some of the toughest development constraints. Heathrow Airport is the third busiest airport in the world, but its landlocked situation makes further spatial development difficult. Growth related issues need to be responded to with complex but smart adaptations, rather than continually building out into bigger facilities. And a major complicating factor for any proposed solution is that aviation is a low-margin, high volume business that cannot afford lengthy, costly downtime. 

A successful solution requires that every stakeholder and supplier be involved, working as an interdisciplinary team from the outset. To make this cross-disciplinary approach work designers have to think creatively, but always bring the entire stakeholder group along with them on the journey. Capturing and reflecting every stakeholder’s day-to-day business insights, particularly the operational specifics of the airport involved, are crucial to the development of a plan that doesn’t interrupt airport operation. In other words, a plan that allows successful open heart surgery on a patient who continues to go about his daily business.

A relatively new airport terminal in the UK reached its passenger capacity within its first decade of operation. Without additional physical space to expand into, a capacity optimisation business case was developed, one that reconfigured the baggage handling system without significantly affecting the terminal’s day-to-day operation at any point. In order to succeed the plan required that every stakeholder, from those running the baggage programme to operational management and the incumbent airlines, understood the changes and contributed their own insights to the process.

Stakeholder management is about facilitating communication too. The designer’s job often involves assembling the puzzle pieces of existing knowledge from within departments that are not used to sharing knowledge with each other. But this collaborative approach is needed to support the client through the process, allowing timely delivery of the project.

For aviation clients, the challenges are varied. If the initial constraints are not primarily spatial, they are just as likely to be financial or time related. Ultimately, airports are like highly contained little cities – changes to their operation will only be harmonious and successful when everyone’s insight and agenda is reflected in the proposed solution. Unearthing those views and using them to help develop the solution is the value that designers can bring through extensive stakeholder collaboration.

How do you go about engaging your stakeholders and when do you start involving them in a project?