You're Worth It!

Eric Peterson
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Eric Peterson, AIA, AIBC, LEED AP, is a principal of Architectural Alliance International with 22 years of experience in airport planning and design. Peterson has worked at 33 airports worldwide, including Minneapolis-St. Paul International, Memphis International and San Diego International. Currently, he is overseeing Architectural Alliance International's efforts at Little Rock National Airport; Grantley Adams International Airport in Bridgetown, Barbados; Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport.

Of course you're worth quality terminal design, and so are your passengers, customers and neighbors - regardless of the challenges.

It's not uncommon to hear airport directors saying: "We're just a little airport; we don't need anything special for a terminal." This type of comment always strikes me as odd. What does "special" mean? If the concern is cost in an era of limited funding, I completely understand. But if design egos are set aside, high-quality facilities do not necessarily cost more. Usually, the opposite is actually true. Poor "inexpensive" design and construction often incur far greater long-term costs due to maintenance expenses, operational inefficiencies and premature replacement. But that's another article.

What I find more perplexing about such sentiment is that it implies a passenger's experience is somehow less important in a small regional airport than in a larger airport. I suggest that one hour of your mother's, brother's or neighbor's niece's time is just as valuable, and can be just as rewarding, in a 35,000-square-foot facility as in a 350,000-square-foot facility.

They are worth it!

At small and mid-sized airports, airside projects typically account for at least 60% to 70% of capital improvement dollars. That will probably not change much in the future, nor would I argue it should. That's just what it takes to maintain the core infrastructure that is an airport. However, aside from fundamental airline functions (on-time departures, staff service, etc.), passengers' perceptions in the terminal building define their airport experience. As important as things like runway maintenance and wildlife hazard mitigation are, they're just not what passengers perceive most; the terminal is.

Aside from the altruism of creating a positive passenger experience, there are potentially great financial benefits as well. A recent study by J.D. Power & Associates found that passengers who reported high levels of satisfaction with the airport tend to increase their retail spending by 45%! Passengers who report being "delighted" with their airport experience spend an average of $20.55, while those who are "disappointed" spend about $14.12. I'm not suggesting more money should be spent on terminal facilities because of this, but it underscores the importance of a quality experience.

The natural focus on airside projects at small and mid-sized airports tends to support the propagation of on-call consulting contracts that emphasize engineering and relegate architecture and design to secondary status. At larger airports, economy of scale and larger staffs can make it easier to implement greater specialization in projects and consultants. The professional consulting industry has shaped itself accordingly. There's an abundance of big "E" (Engineering), little "a" (architecture) firms oriented toward on-call contracts. If terminal work comes up in the course of an on-call contract, they "have" architecture, too. This "one size fits all" approach may seem efficient given where the dollars are likely to be spent, but terminal architecture/design is a specialty and can be disproportionally important to the actual and perceived success of an airport. On a similar note: My family doctor is great for 75% of my medical needs, but I want a surgeon in the operating room.

Procuring the appropriate terminal architecture specialist won't happen by itself. RFQs must be written to emphasize this need, and may justify project-specific selections for terminal work beyond catchall, on-call contracts. Respondee requirements and scoring criteria should emphasize terminal-specific experience. I recently saw an RFQ for a significant terminal project that was clearly based on typical engineering-oriented on-call requirements and placed high scoring value on construction costs of FAA funded projects as a whole, as opposed to terminal projects in particular (whether they received FAA funding or not). Such weighting criteria can produce unintended results. In this case, it created a strong bias toward firms with extensive experience in airside paving, because those dollars are proportionally much higher than terminal projects at regional airports.

I encourage airport management to fully appreciate the impact your terminal has on each passenger's experience. The effect can be much greater than the dollars spent. Quality doesn't have to cost more, but it takes effort to ensure you are getting the specialization you deserve.

Above all else, you and your customers really are worth it!

Industry Insider

2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement

Giving back to the community is central to what Charlotte Douglas International Airport and its operator, the City of Charlotte Aviation Department, is about, and last year was no different. 

Throughout 2022, while recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued our efforts to have a positive impact on the Charlotte community. Of particular note, we spent the year sharing stories of how Connections Don't Just Happen at the Terminal - from creating homeownership and employment opportunities to supporting economic growth through small-business development and offering outreach programs to help residents understand the Airport better.

This whitepaper highlights the construction projects, initiatives, programs and events that validate Charlotte Douglas as a premier airport.

Download the whitepaper: 2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement.



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