Queen Beatrix Int'l Adds a Touch of the Tropics to Terminal

Victoria Soukup
Published in: 

For years, Aruba's Queen Beatrix International Airport (AUA) didn't reflect the vibrancy of its Caribbean locale. These days, the terminal is awash in ocean blues, foliage greens and the warm yellows and oranges of an island sunset. 

Project: Terminal Facelift 
Location: Queen Beatrix International Airport (Aruba)
Cost: $15 million (USD)
Airport Operator: Aruba Airport Authority
Cooperation Agreement Partner: The Schiphol Group
Project Design: ArteSano Design Studio
Architectural Metal Products: Móz Designs
Passport Kiosks: BorderXpress Automated Passport Control
Kiosk Provider: Innovative Travel Solutions (an independent business unit of the Vancouver Airport Authority)  
Concession Area Lighting: Brand van Egmond
Seating: Zoeftig; Sandler Seating; Jangir Maddadi Design 
Carpeting: Shaw Contract
Ceiling: Armstrong Contract
Tensile Structures: MERO Germany; FabriTec Structures
Key Benefits: Increased concessions revenue; positive customer response to aesthetic changes

A $15 million facelift, predominantly interior, delivered the dramatic changes. With the eight-year project 95% complete last year, officials are basking in customer compliments like vacationers sunbathing on the island's emblematic beaches. 

Airport management decided to undertake the changes after completing Beatrix 2000, a major expansion that included construction of two new terminals and the renovation of an existing terminal. While the expansion succeeding in increasing AUA's capacity to handle tourist traffic for the popular Caribbean destination, officials felt that the airport was too plain and some elements, such as high-gloss pink tile and walls, were simply unattractive. 

They also wanted to increase passenger spending by improving AUA's concessions program. The end result is a terminal splashed with tropical colors and a new mix of retail and food/beverage offerings that is bringing in more revenue.  

Expand Then Refine

AUA Chief Executive Officer James Fazio applauds the upgrades. "We continue to work toward an airport environment that includes modern processes with a warm Caribbean atmosphere," he comments. "What the team has accomplished with the design concepts in our main concession area has been a major step forward and consistent with our overall objective."

Upgrading the airport's appearance came as a natural progression of the airport's growth, notes Giovanni van Wijk, support unit manager of airport development for the Aruba Airport Authority. After the Beatrix 2000 expansion was completed in 2004, the Aruban government directed AUA to focus on improving passenger experience and increasing revenues, explains van Wijk.

"They thought the best strategy for long-term improvement would be to connect with a larger group," he says. "And because we are Dutch passport holders, and we have a strong relationship with the Netherlands, it was decided we would work with The Schiphol Group."

The resulting cooperation agreement between Schiphol and the airport authority "provides for an exchange of intellectual property and technical expertise." In essence, it's a consulting contract with a twist. Per the agreement, Schiphol appoints the airport's chief executive officer and provides expertise in the form of staff consulting, audits, periodic policy and procedure reviews, and other technical expertise the airport authority deems necessary for the safe and efficient operation and development of AUA.

About the same time the airport authority put Schiphol in place, it also hired conceptual designer Claudia Ruiz-Vasquez, of Aruba-based ArteSano Design Studio, to oversee the cosmetic renovation of the airport.

On the concessions front, AUA moved retail and food/beverage offerings post-Security to encourage more foot traffic. It also boosted the volume of local vendors and changed to a one-operator-per-concept model to reduce duplication among concessionaires. 

"This has created a more effective and efficient management of the concession program and increased the footfall of the retail and food and beverage areas," van Wijk reports. "We are now forcing all the passenger flow through the primary screening location; and then right afterwards, passengers are in the shops and the main concession area."

The first year after changes were made, concession revenues rose 13% and have increased steadily almost every year since, reports van Wijk. He attributes a slight dip between 2012 and 2013 to regulation changes and queue forming issues. Figures from 2014 are not yet available.

Outdoor Influences

To create a festive interior, Ruiz-Vasquez enclosed columns, walls, ceilings and fixtures at departure gates and in Customs areas with architectural metal products. She also added new carpeting and flooring tile, as well as new seating in the main concession area and hold rooms, to further improve the ambience of the plain concrete building.

"I wanted the airport to be Caribbean in style," Ruiz-Vasquez explains. "And it was extremely important to bring the vibrant tones of our island into the terminal."

She highlights the brilliance and impact of the architectural metal, designed and manufactured by Móz Designs, as a key factor. "It almost creates light itself," she explains. "It has a dimensionality; it's not just dull, flat metal. Aruba, as a nation, is Caribbean and yet extremely modern and connected to Europe and the U.S. Using Móz materials added that modern look to the project."

The specially designed metal columns, signs, archways, entry canopy and soffits were fabricated from solid-core, recycled aluminum and shipped by rail, boat and air to Aruba. Ruiz-Vasquez selected vibrant hues as a nod to the island's natural palette. 

"Aruba's all about light and color," notes Tripp Sandford, executive vice president of Móz. "Designers who specify our product and materials come to us because of the uniqueness of what the material itself evokes as far as mood, transparency and its play with light. In this case, the overall goal was to create a sunny, cheerful atmosphere and holiday theme with our materials. The blues and greens reflect the ocean, and some of the warmer tones look like an Aruban sunset with effects of yellows, reds, oranges and rich copper."

Columns in the concessions area were covered with a warm gold aluminum that has a transparent, multi-dimensional effect. Using Móz pre-engineered CC100 Series columns and Direct Apply columns reduced the airport's cost, Sandford notes. Metal sheets were pre-formed to precise diameters so installers could easily glue two column halves to the concrete; and metal trim was used to hide the seams. "It was a cost-effective solution," Sandford says. "And because they are affixed to the concrete, they are very durable."

The chandelier lighting in the concessions area, supplied by Dutch company Brand van Egmond, is another standout feature. "They are not just spot lights; they are a form of artwork," notes AUA's van Wijk.

In the baggage area, nearly 40 columns were clad with solid-core aluminum panels in different tones. "We used a special palette in Baggage so you start seeing the interplay of colors from the island when you enter this area," Ruiz-Vasquez explains. "Initially, the columns greet the passenger with a soft hue of a champagne color, then copper, and, at last, the vibrant red that draws you into the sun of Aruba."

Visual Play

Ruiz-Vasquez softened and mitigated the high ceilings in the Customs area with eight hanging mobiles, each about 10-by-16 feet, suspended at various heights and angles. "I wanted to do something that would have impact and yet bring the area to a more human scale," Ruiz-Vasquez explains. The visual variety of the display, also created with Móz materials, adds warmth and interest to a previously sterile environment, she notes. 

The large entryway leading from Baggage Claim to the "meet-and-greet" area was another design challenge. Because the airport was designed at two different times by two different groups, the entryway did not have a clear visual connection to the building, explains Ruiz-Vasquez. As a fix, she specified a bright red Móz-designed wall archway that enlarges the doorway with a 200-square-foot frame. The woven texture of the adornment is a local reference. "Basket and hat weaving are still popular crafts in the Caribbean," Ruiz-Vasquez explains. "And the fiery red ribbons reflect the heart and passion of the people of Aruba." 

The terminal's entry canopy was also clad in facetted and tapered Móz metals: a 1,700-square-foot blue fascia and a 4,800-square-foot green soffit supported by brown "tree trunk" columns. The panels were applied directly over the existing structure and attached with mechanical fasteners. 

"The color composition is a reference to our island environment," says Ruiz-Vasquez. "The sapphire blue sea and sky, the sage green tropical foliage of our swinging palm trees and the Brazilian cherry tree columns symbolize the tree trunks that define the destination."

Columns, counter fronts and flight monitors in boarding areas also received facelifts with Móz materials in vibrant hues. Gates are color-coded to assist with wayfinding. 

Looking Forward & Back

Mid-project changes caused AUA's comprehensive interior facelift to go about 30% over the original $12 million budget; but reserve funds were available to cover the additional costs, reports van Wijk.

"Because the airport had been experiencing growth, we have managed to keep our expenses in line," he explains. "That allowed us to have additional cash flow which was used for this project."

Passenger counts increased 9.5% between 2013 and 2014, he details. All major U.S. carriers serve the island, as well as KLM, other international carriers and local airlines. Southwest Airlines began service to the island from the mainland last summer. 

With a few elements of the facelift still in the works, van Wijk considers the project's overall goal complete. "An entire atmosphere was created with the warm and vivid colors of Aruba," he comments. "We are very pleased with the feel of the airport and know it has been recognized by others, especially by passengers. The cosmetic makeover of the airport has enhanced the total experience of all passengers."

That said, the popularity of the island and the volume of passengers using AUA is creating new problems. "Because of the growth we have experienced, we must now improve our processing facilities - Check-in, gates, Arrival, Departure and Immigration," chronicles van Wijk. "We want to continue giving our passengers the same service levels and reduce the congestion at check-in and gates during the peak hours."

Efforts to address AUA's growing passenger numbers have, in fact, already begun. 

In December, the airport installed 10 new BorderXpress Automated Passport Control kiosks to expedite clearance procedures for U.S.-bound passengers and reduce wait times and missed connections.

Three groups of travelers can use the kiosks: U.S. passport holders and U.S. lawful permanent residents (LPRs); Canadian passport holders; and visa-waiver travelers with Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) from 38 countries not requiring U.S. entry visas.

AUA's Fazio expects the kiosks to help U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials in Aruba streamline the enforcement process. In the first month alone, an estimated 54,000 passengers used the kiosks.

"This is the first step in a much larger project that will conclude in the coming years to streamline the passenger flow at the airport," Fazio explains. "This strategic purchase will benefit the nearly 60% of total departing passengers bound for U.S. destinations from Aruba by reducing wait times at U.S. CBP pre-clearance and ultimately facilitate a more positive outbound passenger experience."   



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