The Twists & Turns of Transitioning Terminals

The Twists & Turns of Transitioning Terminals
Jennifer Bradley
Published in: 

Moving operations to a new terminal is a tricky task, to say the least. More realistically, it's a massive, complicated mission for any airport executive and staff. 

John Kish, executive director when Indianapolis International Airport (IND) moved into its current facility, considers the undertaking a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Reflecting on IND's 2008 move, he jokingly cites the old saying: "If you want to make God laugh, just make a plan."

Victor White, director of airports for the Wichita Airport Authority, experienced the challenging process when Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport (ICT) opened its new terminal in 2015. 

While some airports successfully handle moving into a new terminal with internal staff, others hire outside consultants to lead the way. ICT and IND each hired Chrysalis Aviation Solutions to help with their transitions.

Project: Moving to New Terminal
Location: Indianapolis Int'l Airport
Opening: Nov. 2008
Timeline: Chrysalis began work in 2004; stayed 30 days beyond opening 
Transition Consultant: Chrysalis Aviation Solutions
Philosophy: Hire outside consultant so staff can focus on their jobs running the airport
Project: Moving to New Terminal
Location: Wichita (KS) Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport
Program Manager for New Terminal Construction: AECOM
Transition Consultant: Chrysalis Aviation Solutions
Special Events Planner: Wichita Festivals 
Timeline: June 2015 
Chrysalis came onsite 1 year before grand opening & stayed 60 days afterward
Strategy: Hire transition consultant to handle details of move, so project manager can focus on construction issues
Details: Special events planner organized airport tours, VIP reception, media preview, public open house & employee family day to help showcase new terminal 

"We were probably half-way through the construction period of about three years before I finally decided to pull the trigger of bringing Chrysalis in," recalls White. "I look back upon my hesitancy now and think: Wow that was crazy. We couldn't have pulled it off without them, and in so many different areas, too." 

Kish agrees about the value of hiring a firm with experience in terminal transitions. "The airport staff has their regular jobs to run the airport," he explains. "There are so many little details that have to be approached, and you have to understand the psychology of all the people who are moving, so you can focus the training on how to best get the message across." 

Suzanne Phelps, a managing partner at Chrysalis, distills her firm's primary function as "helping the existing team function as it should, without undue stress."  

As such, the company helps thousands of employees understand how their new terminals work, interfaces with airlines and other tenants and coordinates the physical move. But that's just the start. Trials and testing, passenger simulations, internal and external communications, and training and supporting employees are other key aspects, notes Phelps.

"The owner, the staff, the architects, the engineers, construction managers and subcontractors all have specific jobs to do," she explains. "What often happens, though, is that because they're focused on doing their jobs well, there's no one really looking across all of those activities, making sure they come together." 

The Indy Experience 

Because IND's new terminal is physically located a few miles from the old, the airport "drew a line in the sand" and executed its big transition in a single evening. Passengers arriving on flights after a certain time were received at the new terminal, and all outbound passengers the next day and thereafter departed from there, too. "The choreography of that process was something we thought we could handle ourselves, but it turns out we're glad we didn't even try," Kish reflects. "Just the range of things they touched was incredible. We could not have done it with our own internal staff by any means." 

One of the key logistic details Chrysalis handled was ensuring that the airport had operable computer systems ready, with enough time to test and retest them, running operational simulations before traffic began flowing through the new terminal. "We couldn't literally unplug one and carry it across the field to the other terminal. We had to have systems in and running," says Kish. 

On a more detailed level, the consultant helped figure out what equipment and systems from the old terminal could be reused in the new facilities, what had to be purchased, and what would need to be duplicated during the transition. "Then, they managed the logistics," says Kish. "How do you move all the ground support equipment across the airport? How do you relocate people? How do you do the training? We had to give the fire department tours of the building, and I don't mean 'look-see' tours." 

Training airport employees about the new terminal had to occur without diminishing the availability of personnel at the still-functioning terminal. 

To prepare for the move, the airport needed special signage, and eventually barricades, for the facility entrances. During the actual transition, employees were stationed at the new and old terminals to direct passengers. "That all needed to be done too, and Chrysalis was instrumental in coordinating all of that," says Kish. 

His bottom line? Having a transition specialist on board made the airport staff feel very supported throughout the potentially stressful change. "I think people understood the need to have someone whose focus was on activating the new building, making sure it worked and then moving the folks from one to another," he says. "There are a lot of human factors to make it work without a hitch." 

On the first day of operations in the new terminal, one of Kish's employees took a picture of him walking down a long corridor in the new facility. He keeps that photo on his desk. "Believe me, the new terminal makes a great difference in terms of the image of the city," he says. "That was important to us, and it came off without a hitch." 

To verify operational readiness, Chrysalis runs simulations to ensure that elements such as boarding bridges are installed properly before a terminal opens.

What Happened in Wichita

In September, crews were busy tearing down the old 1953 terminal at Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National (ICT); and the airport's new 12-gate, 300,000-square-foot facility was already in full operation. In addition to including the largest installation of glass passenger loading bridges in the United States, construction of the new terminal also encompassed a four-level parking garage and a rental car center with covered crosswalks to the terminal. 

Victor White, director of airports for the Wichita Airport Authority, considers the guidance and support Chrysalis offered during the transition between the two facilities a blessing.

 "I was hesitant in the beginning," he recalls. "But it was the best money we ever spent." 

The consultant's team arrived on scene long before the terminal's grand opening in June 2015, and spent a full year organizing and planning for the transition. Among other duties, it took inventory of all furniture, equipment, etc. in every room of the old terminal, and then planned how and when it would be moved.

While Chrysalis technically reported to AECOM, the firm managing construction of the new terminal, personnel from the transition consultant worked side-by-side with White. He says this was a good arrangement, as AECOM had construction issues to handle and didn't need to worry about details such as where signs should be placed at the ticket counters. 

Consultants helped train airline employees about ICT's new building-how to operate the baggage handling systems, run the flight information displays, use the public address systems and more. 

When signage requirements for the airlines and TSA emerged that were outside the original building specifications, Chrysalis handled the issue.  

It also organized cleaning out the old terminal. "The amount of dumpsters we went through in the weeks before the move was incredible!" White recalls. 

At the new facility, Chrysalis personnel tended to details such as working with tenants and contractors to identify needed adjustments to thermostats and motion sensors for lighting, and ensuring that retail and food/beverage tenants were settled in and trained on new systems and equipment.  

After ICT's grand opening, the transition consultant stayed another 60 days to wrap up training, close out project contracts, etc. 

ICT’s new terminal features glass boarding bridges and a new parking garage/rental car center.

Technology to Training 

White and Kish both consider the broad spectrum of services provided by their transition consultant as invaluable. 

According to Ann Thorvik, aviation practice lead at Chrysalis, many "problems" during airport transitions are simply byproducts of the inherently complicated process. She cites a project where baggage carts were not going to be able to maneuver the winding turns of a new ramp as an example. From design to execution, the development of a new terminal takes years, and details simply get missed as plans change, she explains. Another example she recalls is kitchen equipment not fitting into the new space-it looked good on paper, but just didn't work.

"Sometimes, it's something as simple as working with tenants to determine the best operational location of the eyewash station for an emergency," says Thorvik. Resolving such issues is just one type of help a terminal transition consultant provides, adds Phelps. "Essentially, we are there to observe everything and proactively resolve issues before they have an opportunity to jeopardize the success of the project, or cost money," she explains. 

The Civic Plaza inside IND’s new terminal overlooks the ramp.

Based on his experience at ICT, White says that the timing of engaging a transition consultant is key. "Don't wait until a year into construction like I did," he advises. "Bring them into the process during the actual design of the building, so they can give some good advice on what not to do." 

According to Phelps, most airports begin terminal transitions assuming they don't need an outside consultant. "Then, they reach a point where issues have cropped up no one could have anticipated," she explains. 

The issues that arise aren't necessarily anyone's fault, adds Thorvik, noting that an outside consultant brings objectivity and transparency to the table. "Our ultimate devotion is to the owner," she emphasizes. 

Transitioning to a new terminal also opens the door for new processes, notes Phelps. "It's an opportunity to change the way you do business. Our goal is that when we leave, all the stakeholders know how to do their jobs in the new environment and are 100% self-sufficient." 

Hiring a Celebration Specialist

When Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport (ICT) opened a new terminal in 2015, it was definitely cause for celebration. To make sure the associated celebrations ran as smoothly as the new terminal itself, the airport hired Wichita Festivals, the nonprofit organization behind Riverfest, the city's annual nine-day gathering that draws 455,000 people.

Mary Beth Jarvis, president and chief executive of Wichita Festivals, was struck by the wide scope of ICT's grand opening. "I really respected that the goal of introducing the community to the new airport was to create a sense of shared celebration," says Jarvis.  

Wichita Festivals organized and staged four major events. A media day provided a sneak peek of the terminal to reporters from local newspapers, television and radio stations, and national trade magazines. A formal dedication gala allowed VIPs to mingle and enjoy music and food in the new facility. An open house for the general public attracted 10,000 people; and a similar, but more private, event gave employees the chance to show off the new terminal to their families. "They were really proud of their workplace and what they were a part of," Jarvis observes. 

Leading up to, and during, each of these events, the construction team provided tours of the new facility and told the story of the project. 

While many airports balk at the extra expense of hiring a professional planner for grand openings and other major events, Jarvis encourages them to look beyond costs to the lasting impression they can create: "This is what people will remember, as opposed to whatever bumps in the road they may have heard about during the process." 

Victor White, director of airports for the Wichita Airport Authority, couldn't agree more. "Those kinds of things were really fun," he says of special events that helped showcase ICT's new terminal to the community and other stakeholders. "It was just an amazing experience all the way around." 


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