Future Airport Systems

Future Airport Systems

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1. The concept
Airports are an essential element in the Air Transport System (ATS). Airports were started as aerodromes, where the boarding of passengers was the essential function. Since then airports have diversified into hubs and more regional airports where there is a strong desire to be more than an aerodrome and many airports have become a combination of air station, shopping mall, business centre and parking lot.
Unless the ATS will become completely structured around VTOL aircraft, airport functions are here to stay. Airports are related to 4 major elements in the ATS system of systems: the passenger; the ATS security; the ATS capacity and the surroundings of airports. There is also a strong relation to multi-modal transport chains.
If air transport is to grow, sufficient airport capacity will be needed. At this time, the 43 European hub airports that still handle 85% of the European traffic are congested and some are reaching the limits of their capacity.
There are some 2200 other airports in Europe (including 450 main regional airports) that are currently underutilised. But these airports are often not located at the main populated areas of Europe where traffic flows are most densely.
The development of the airside of airports has not changed much since air transport started. The way passengers, cargo and planes are handled is basically the same as 50 years ago (although many processes have been automated).
The additional security measures that are needed in air transport of today have complicated the procedures at airports. Many passengers will experience time consuming and sometimes humiliating security checks, which are not designed to handle large numbers of passengers at the same time. Different organisations have to work together at an airport which easily creates disruptions in handling passengers and goods.
It is time, therefore, to have a fresh look at the airport operations and to develop new ways to handle passengers and goods at these nodal points. We must keep in mind the ACARE target, that a passenger should not be obliged to spend more time at the airport than 15 to 30 min. from arrival at the airport to boarding a plane.

The concepts address three basic elements of the airports:

  • Handling of passengers,
  • Capacity increase,
  • Reducing the environmental impact.

2. The passenger
Check in at airports can be a time consuming affair. Remote booking and check in will reduce the time lost for activities that the traveller will regard as non-essential. A possible solution will be to enable check-in at the aircraft gate.
Currently at airports there is hardly a distinction made between passengers that are willing to spend time at the airport as these offer shopping and other opportunities . Some, like most business travellers, want to spend as little time as possible at the airport. If shopping is required this could be done onboard the aircraft and the electronic orders would be available when the passenger returns to the home or away destination. This procedure saves time and the passengers are not required to carry extra luggage on the aeroplane. (Such a system is already available at some airports or some airlines.)
Most airports do not have facilities to separate the flows of leisure and business travellers. Both groups have to be submitted to lengthy security procedures. Passengers could be offered the possibility to use modern ID technologies for guidance and tracking through the terminal and to be chipped. The chip would be implemented in the passenger’s body. Security checks could be reduced by remote reading the chip data, video recognition to check that the chipped person is the one he/she claims to be and an electronic body check. This could all be integrated into a simple full-body scan corridor which passengers are requested to walk trough.
If no hand luggage were carried, as is proposed in another chapter, the process could be speeded up even more significantly. Such a set up would take into account that perhaps more than 90% of the passengers present no threat to the ATS.

3. Capacity increase
The first issue is the optimal use of the airport capacity by using advanced arrival and departure management methods, advanced surface movement and the reduction and elimination of wake vortices coming from aircraft.
These issues are already part of current research programmes or will be dealt with in other parts of this report.
The second issue deals with insufficient runway capacity. The layout of airports follows a traditional set up that has been in use since the start of aviation. Passengers and goods are collected at terminal buildings; runways are connected to these terminals via (often long) taxiways ; passengers are transferred to the aircraft via gates at the terminal building. At some airports passengers are transferred to the planes on the apron by busses departing
from the central terminal. Luggage is taken to and from the aeroplane via a centralised luggage handling location.
The current set up requires a substantial land use for taxiways.
An alternative could be to locate the landside activities at the airport as much as possible near the runway and preferably under the ground. This concept follows the rule that the aircraft will not come to the passenger but the passenger will come to the aircraft. Passenger transfers will be done via fast people movers under ground.
Passengers will stay with their luggage as long as possible.
One concept could be to co-locate access to the aircraft with the access to other transport modes. This would create the drive in terminal where check in will be at the aircraft gate.
With such a concept, additional runways could be created within the perimeter of the airport. This is important as airports are centres of economic activity and normally attract business parks as close as possible to the airport.
This often makes expansion of an airport a difficult task with no additional land available.
Airports serve as multi-modal nodal transfer points. In another part of this report the idea of multi-modal containers that will transport people and their luggage is explained. These containers would speed up the boarding of aircraft even more, as these would be inserted in the aircraft directly.
This could be combined with an aircraft service street along the runway, where aircraft are being readied for the next flight while passing a number of service stations and gradually roll towards the runway threshold. If, even so, insufficient airport capacity exists in certain parts of Europe, an alternative could be to locate airports at the European shores.
It is a well known fact that most densely populated areas are normally located at the shores or are well connected to these. Such a set up would require the development of new amphibious aircraft.
An alternative could be the development of dedicated cargo ports at the European shores to free some airport capacity at European airports and satisfy the ever increasing demand for air cargo capacity.
A totally different approach would be to locate airports high above the ground in densely populated areas. These could be heliports that could accommodate (feeder) VTOL aeroplanes. One could even imagine an airport situated at 3000 ft above the ground. Such an airport would be able to accept large aircraft as well. Such a structure would be rather big and although it would reduce noise and pollution near the ground, it would have other major impacts on the environment for those living next to it.
An alternative could be an airborne air station, that could be placed in between the Metro liner and small air vehicles that would provide personalised services to the passenger. These airborne air stations would be located several thousand feet in the air so that these would have little impact on the environment at ground level. As these stations would in principle be stationary or local units, use could be made of the flywheel principle to power these stations. Power could be provided by solar and nuclear energy sources or by beamed energy.
In some situations, an airport at sea could be considered. One can imagine the construction of airports at sea as an overflow facility of large existing hub airports. The alternative could be to relocate major airports at sea. There are already some examples in Japan and in China where major airports have been relocated. If traffic growth continues as predicted one might even think of very large aircraft transporting people and freight on intercontinental routes and stationed at international super-hub airports located in international waters.
Seaside airports have already been constructed as islands and as pontoon type of floating structures that are still attached to the bottom of the sea. These floating structures are attached to pneumatic support structures that compensate for the tidal effects and create a stable platform. Current island based airports still have a conventional layout. An alternative would be to create a large round inshore airport that can be approached from all directions and would thus be independent of the direction of the wind. Such a setup would enable to reach maximum capacity in all weather conditions. Globally some 40% of the population live on the seaboard or riverside and this makes the concept of these water-based airports attractive alternatives.
Seaside airport structures have been built in littoral waters. If new airports are to be located on the high sea, floating airports could be constructed using the semi-submersible technology applied in the off shore industry.
Being floating structures these could be turned into the wind to maximise capacity. There could be a floating dyke around the structures to minimise the effect of high sea states. The advantage of a floating airport over an island structure could be that the marine life is less affected by the airport structure. Besides it could be a more cost-effective solution than building an island in deep waters.
These floating structures could be of modular design and be extended as traffic flows increase. The floating airport could be directly linked to offshore wind turbines and offshore hydrogen fuel production sites.
Offshore airports need to be connected to the mainland via high-speed tube transport means and by small feeder aircraft.
Airport capacity may be constrained by legislation aimed at reducing the noise and local pollution at airports.
Research efforts are already aimed at reducing the noise of future aircraft. The concepts involved are flying an advanced Continuous Decent Approach; throttle back engine power to idle at high altitude and glide towards the airfield as well as the reduction of source noise (engine, gear and high lift devices). Future retrofits to existing aircraft may be called for.
The concept of the invisible aircraft mentioned in the next part may also be of significance, as may a number of the ideas mentioned elsewhere. The interesting concept of parachutes for landing will also be addressed later.

4. Delivering benefits
The conceptual idea is to improve passenger service and to increase airport capacity, which is currently seen as one of the bottlenecks in the future development of air transport. (Another one being environmental impact).
Speeding up passenger handling requires a much broader and aggressive use of advanced IT solutions. These solutions are at hand but need to be introduced on a worldwide scale in aviation. New standards are needed to stimulate the early application of modern technologies. Linking passenger data chips and information with day to day electronic devices and cellular phones requires a broad sector approach.
Advanced security and scanning devices are already being developed. The aviation sector could be a promoter and stimulator for these new technologies. This is relevant in view of the additional security risk involved through the international nature of air travel and the control of large crowds of people at airports.
New airport construction could benefit from ideas like the drive in terminal.
The new approach towards airport operations can decrease turn around time of aircraft, increase passenger comfort and reduce the environmental impact of taxiing aircraft by refocusing on the airport internal traffic flows.
This approach requires a different mind set towards airport movements. Simulation models are needed to fully understand the impact, benefits and pitfalls of this different approach.
The development of European amphibious aircraft virtually stopped after the Second World War. Although the United States and Japan continued some efforts in this domain, the only nation still active is Russia. New designs using composite materials could be developed in Europe that would create a market niche for the European industry.
The development of floating airports is of interest to several European nations. It would create possibilities to expand the hub functions of several nations and create competition to new Middle East hub initiatives. However, the design of these large structures needs to be well developed and tested. Experience in Japan shows that this is a long process. The actual fielding of floating airports cannot therefore be expected before 2020.

5. Policy issues
The introduction of new devices for passenger guidance and checking would require new world standards. New security measures need to be aligned with privacy regulations. New airport concepts need to be evaluated against safety and security, evacuation issues and disaster control, legal issues, economics and funding, international agreements, communication connections to surface transport, public acceptance, transition issues etc.

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