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Fast Company Highlights HOK Vision for the Airport of the Future

HOK and aviation consultancy Airbiz have developed a new airport layout to reduce the amount of walking time required to travel between terminals.

The Group Rapid Transit system would see passengers check in, go through security and then wait in the building where they checked in before boarding an automated shuttle to their gate. Along with allowing airports to shorten walking distances for passengers, the design would significantly reduce the amount of surface-level construction (and related embodied carbon), cut the need for duplicate amenities, create flexibility for future airport projects, and lower energy and operating costs. The technology to implement the design already exists.

Excerpted from Fast Company:

Many airports around the world use some form of internal transit to move passengers from one terminal to another. Now, HOK is proposing an efficiency upgrade to that system: shuttles that can drop people off directly at their gate. HOK envisions a layout where people would check in and go through security as normal. But then, instead of walking to another concourse to get to the gate, travelers would shop, eat, and hang around in the building where they first checked in. When it’s time to board their flight, passengers would start that process at the very end of that hall where they’d board a Rapid Transit shuttle by seating group before whizzing to their departure gate in minutes.

Once at the departures gate, passengers begin boarding their flight and can walk directly onto the plane without ever having broken a sweat. It’s too early in the process to say what these gates might look like, but HOK envisions them as utilitarian, transient hold rooms that are less about creature comforts and more about efficiency.

“It’s all about the traveler experience,” says Matt Needham, director of Aviation + Transportation at HOK. No more labyrinthine corridors, no more walkathons.

At this stage, this is just a speculative proposal, but Needham says HOK is in conversations with a major airport in the U.S. about building a standalone terminal based on this concept. Naturally, building a brand-new airport would make the most sense, but Needham says parts of the concept could easily be integrated with existing airports, as well, most likely during a concourse expansion.

“The most efficient way to expand an airport to get more gates, is to make the concourses longer if you can, but if you’ve been to airports with long concourses, the walking distances are incredible, the cost per square foot is going to be over $1,000, and then you have to take things out of service,” he says. Instead, this concept could allow airports to connect the end of an existing concourse with a new concourse via a small Group Rapid Transit system, and build out the hold rooms in the new concourse using modular construction whereby components are built off-site and snapped to one another, “like legos.”

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