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Why airports are a great fit for BIM to takeoff

July 11, 2017 4 min. read

Airports take up large amounts of space & support vast infrastructure and numerous buildings, much like a small city. Their complex operational challenges, combined with their size, makes airports fertile ground for Building Information Modeling and Management (BIM).

Airports are a combination of many systems that include several functions organized together. From the outside, it may look like a chaotic system; perhaps your last trip may have confirmed this idea. However, an airport is a well-planned and intricate system where many experienced professionals have worked hard to ensure that all details are considered. During the processing of aircraft and passengers, there are many outside factors that can cause issues for airport planning, such as weather, human behavior, and system breakdowns—all of which will contribute to an unhappy experience for travelers and employees alike.

Airport authorities are aware of the role that airports play in the business and leisure ecosystem: they want to improve their revenues by increasing traffic and reducing passenger disruptions. One means to achieve these goals is to put in place everything for the airlines to serve their clients better, in a timely manner, with all necessary accommodations. In the end, airline clients are airport clients.

To succeed, great terminal designs with intuitive way finding, efficient check-in and baggage handling processes, rapid security verification, clean restrooms, and strong retail stores and restaurants are expected. One of the low hanging fruits of BIM’s benefits in airports is enhanced visualization within the 3D environment, such as virtual/augmented reality. This immersive experience in a future environment fosters new ideas and accelerates decision-making on the part of the airport operators. The focus should be on the effectiveness of the operations while creating a comfortable environment in which the passengers actually enjoy their airport experience.

Few airports in North America and Europe are built from scratch. The construction scope is most likely to be the renovation or expansion of an existing facility—or both. The operational planning associated with construction should have as little impact on regular operations as possible. A rigorous model coordination process during the design and pre-construction phases will lower the risks of design / constructability errors and rework. 4D simulations performed at the right time can also have tremendous benefits and prevent potential design or planning errors.

Budgeting is a focus for airports in this regard; they are no different from any other businesses. Therefore, modeling should be leveraged for quantification. Capital investments (CAPEX) are usually massive at airports and accuracy in budgeting and cost control is essential to keeping spending in check. Investments should be done right because they can have direct consequences on long-term operational expenditures (OPEX).

Another impact on OPEX is energy costs. The wide spaces of passenger terminals, baggage handling, high-energy consumers and outside temperature variations make sustainability a very important topic for airports. Again, BIM provides the tools to quickly identify the best designs for energy savings by allowing iterations to be performed in the early stages of the design process. Reducing their carbon footprints is also a key driver for airports as they ramp up their sustainability efforts.

Finally, functioning systems are essential to providing on-demand services for the airlines and passengers. Airport authorities must focus on maintaining those systems. To achieve this, equipment information must be integrated early on—during and after the construction or renovation of the infrastructure—to be available when the building is operational. Sophisticated airport authorities have operational readiness plans dedicated to ensuring smooth transitions from construction to operation. They also have their maintenance operators involved throughout the project—from scope definition to project delivery—as they prepare for the big switch.

These are just a few of the uses of BIM in an airport setting. I like to say that the only limit is your "BIMagination". Be imaginative and leverage your tools to achieve better results in your airport development project.


Christian Proulx

VP of Customer Operations

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