Air travel is growing in popularity across the world, and the global aviation system is undergoing projects big and small to keep up.
“We’re forecasting that traffic will double in the next 17 years,” said Angela Gittens, director general for Airports Council International (ACI World). “Millions more people will be traveling.”
And those people, she said, won’t just be in places where flying is already popular. “An emerging economy now will be an advanced economy later,” Gittens said.
New and expanded airports are needed to meet that demand. Istanbul, for example, has already begun opening its new airport in phases that will eventually be able to accommodate hundreds of millions of travelers a year. When it is completed, it will be the world’s largest.
Beijing is set to get its own new airport up and running next year, one that will come close to rivaling Istanbul’s in size and ambition.
The key to making both airports manageable for passengers, Gittens said, is taking advantage of technology to facilitate how people and goods pass through them.
The airports’ designers agreed, and said efficiency has to start with the buildings.
“We’re starting to arrive at scales which were previously unimaginable for the size of these airport buildings,” said Andrew Thomas, a partner at the architectural firm Grimshaw, which designed the Istanbul airport along with the Nordic Office of Architecture and Haptic Architects. “It almost doesn’t matter what you put in it if the walks are so long that people are exhausted by the time” they get to their gate.
Biometrics, including facial recognition technology, will likely take on a bigger role as those technologies develop, but Thomas said other systems already exist that make airports more efficient than they used to be. For example, he said, automation is making it quicker and less stressful for most travelers to check in.
While Istanbul and Beijing are two of the more high-profile projects in the works, airports around the world are undergoing improvements to keep up with demand as well. Los Angeles International and La Guardia in New York are essentially being rebuilt (one phase of the La Guardia project opened in November), and New York’s John F. Kennedy will also be overhauled in the near future.