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Innovative Infrastructure: How Technology is Changing Airport Construction

From component tracking systems to building information modelling, airports are increasingly turning to new technologies to facilitate the construction of major projects. Here is a look at case studies.

Infa BigNew global airport construction projects are springing up like never before. According to a recent report from Business Wire, the value of projects at the execution stage totals $377.6bn, while those in the planning stages account for $215.8bn.

The aviation industry should be applauded for its forethought. With global passenger numbers expected to hit 8.2 billion per year by 2037, airports cannot afford to let themselves buckle under the strain of such an inordinate swell in custom.

Constructing an airport – like any architectural undertaking – is a complex business, involving a whole host of stakeholders, from designers and contractors to construction managers and executives.

Increasingly, airport operators are turning to large-scale technology to make sure projects run as efficiently as possible and – most important of all – are completed on time. 

Heathrow Airport: innovative component tracking

According to its latest masterplan, Heathrow – Europe’s busiest airport – aims to have a third runway up and running by 2026. The airport operator is hoping the introduction of a new pilot component tracking system will help it attain this goal on schedule.

Using technology developed by Siemens Digital Logistics, the system will track millions of vital construction components destined for the site of the new runway in real-time.

Heathrow is currently in the process of weighing up four logistic hubs, which will be connected by the centralised system. Acting as a kind of ‘nerve centre’, the system will link up off-site construction centres, allowing for the seamless delivery of parts to the hub outside West London. It will also serve to provide regular updates to the construction sites.

Glasgow Airport: betting on a digital toolset

Glasgow Airport might be a fraction of the size of Heathrow but remains an important cog in the Scottish economy. Welcoming 9.7 million passengers last year, it generated in excess of £1.44bn, while supporting more than 30,000 jobs north of the border.

As part of its 2040 masterplan, which is aiming to increase its passenger share to 17 million within the next two decades, Glasgow – which recently introduced its first A380 service to and from Dubai – is betting on digital technology as part of its future expansion efforts.

According to Glasgow head of capital Gordon Bain, digitisation, including the likes of automated communication and real-time data on project performance, will provide clearer, more up-to-date information for engineers on-site.

“We are in the process of developing a digital portfolio and programme management toolset that will enable us to track project performance and KPIs in real-time and improve interfaces with the business,” said Bain, writing in an op-ed in BIM+, a Chartered Institute of Building publication.

“This will allow us to reduce feedback loop delays between what is happening on-site and the key decisions that need to be made by the business to ensure the smooth delivery of projects.”


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