As the search for sustainable funding continues, airports should plan to invest in enhancements to customer experience and improved connections to ground transportation.

Our nation’s airports facilitate tourism, business travel, jobs and commerce for the cities and regions they serve. Passenger enplanements are on the rise. In fact, the FAA projects a 40 percent increase in U.S. airport system traffic by 2037, in terms of revenue passenger miles.

Despite the important role it plays, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2017 Infrastructure Report Card gave our nation’s airport infrastructure a D grade.

Airport funding
Our airports, in their current state, cannot sustain this kind of growth in the long term. Coordinated action must be taken by airlines, airports, aviation authorities, consultants and the federal government to secure the needed funding to create viable, secure, and passenger-friendly airports. The latest HNTB America THINKS survey, Airport Terminals - 2018, looks at changes and passenger preferences at airport terminals.

Traditional sources of funding — bond issuance, federal funding and passenger fees — are vulnerable to slow growth or even declines. As part of the effort to identify a permanent funding mechanism for airports, one important industry trend includes increased consideration of public-private partnerships, or P3s, for airport development programs. P3s offer a promising solution to airport funding by combining public and private capital to deliver programs sooner than traditional funding mechanisms.

Improving passenger experience
As new funding solutions emerge, they will provide the financial capacity to take our airports to new levels of functionality, design and efficiency. In the meantime, what improvements should airports plan for?

To start, customer experience and convenience are paramount in today’s – and tomorrow’s – terminals. Improvements to customer experience require innovation and change in everything from baggage services and security check areas to in-house food and retail concessions.

Improvements in terminal design can mitigate many customer experience issues.

Connecting airports and transit
The same survey found more than nine in ten Americans (93 percent) believe airport terminals could be better connected to their region’s ground transportation and transit networks. It also found four in five (84 percent) Americans would use rail transit if it could get them to the airport and back more efficiently than by car.

Airports can meet challenges in both passenger experience and transit connections by careful planning and design, engaging with passengers about their needs, and integration with regional transit agencies. Once challenges are met, airports can become a seamless component of a region’s multimodal transportation network.

HNTB aviation experts

Tom Rossbach is HNTB’s national aviation practice consultant. He is on the cutting edge of emerging technologies and alternative delivery methods that improve operational efficiency and traveler experiences in airport terminal facilities. An aviation industry veteran, he has more than three decades of experience providing strategic direction for terminal projects.  He has experience on a number of airport terminal programs, including in Chicago (O’Hare International Airport); San Diego; Los Angeles; Tampa, Florida; Austin, Texas; and Bermuda.

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Photo: San Diego International Airport Terminal 2 West Building and Airside Expansion