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Drive Through Airport – Inversion of Procedures

Reducing carbon emissions by two-thirds is the aim of a new concept for the logistic processes at airports. Especially the airport buildings’ dimensions will shrink dramatically.

It’s the revolution in passenger aviation: Instead of bringing people to the aircraft, planes will get to their passengers. Miklos Deri, Amsterdam and Vienna based architect, wants to transform airports into traffic hubs of high efficiency and compact in their scope. The building typology has to be reinvented instead of making little steps in optimizing overcome structures.

How does Drive Through Airport work?
All arriving aircrafts are being sent through a path. Similar to a carwash, the main handling phases are separated into three designated stations: Arrival, Servicing, and Departure. Each station manages only one activity instead of being blocked for all three. The amount of necessary gates can be reduced by two- thirds, making the airport experience for both passengers and crews more user-friendly. Additional space becomes available for other airport related revenues.

New architecture
Processing aircrafts are covered by an elevated terminal. While the airplanes are moving through, passenger processing takes place on a level directly above. Traffic to and from the airport is situated above the servicing stations dividing the terminal into two buildings: Departure Mall above the departure stations, and Luggage Claim Hall above the arriving stations. For transfer passengers and crew there is an underpass connection.

Savings in time and costs
Contemporary airport layouts are determined by vast parking spaces, where aircrafts are laid out endlessly side by side. The time we spend at airports prior to flights is mostly characterized by long walks, queuing and waiting. Especially for short haul flights, time spent at airports often exceeds the actual flight time.

Airport procedures
The prototype of the Drive Through Airport was developed mainly for a dense network of continental or short haul flights of narrow-body aircrafts carrying up to 200 passengers each: ICAO Type B, C, C+ / Boeing 737s, Airbus 320s family, Embraer E170-E190s or lighter.

Based on an average turnaround time of 45 minutes leaving 15 minutes for each activity (arrival, service, and departure) and on current regulations for maximum runway capacity of one landing aircraft per minute, 16 stations were laid out for each handling activity. (After 14 minutes each arrival station is freed for the following aircrafts.) One lane consists of 6 stations (two for each activity). An 8-lane prototype Drive Through Airport can handle up to 48 aircrafts at every 15 minutes, which is equivalent to a 144-gate airport with a ‘traditional’ 45 minute stand block time.

Today, airlines work hard to reduce grounding times and make their time tables more efficient, following the motto: ‘Only a flying plane is a good plane’. Low cost carriers already have 25-30 minute turnaround times outside their home bases. A shorter total turnaround time would make Drive Through Airport even more efficient and could reduce the amount of lanes to a total of five instead of eight.

Further benefits
Besides making the airport more user-friendly for passengers and crews, all stakeholders benefit from the new concept.

With a reduced footprint, airport operators have less capital and operational costs. Contrary to current terminals (e.g. Schiphol), where passengers are required to leave the mall area, in order to walk to their distant boarding gates, Drive Through Airport lets passengers depart directly from a mall. So passengers can do shopping immediately before boarding.

Besides weather proof handling of the aircrafts, taxiing ways are also getting reduced. This saves fuel and increases the capacity for airlines. Transfer time for passengers and their luggage is also reduced, ultimately minimizing the number of passengers missing their connection. Airside tarmac and the energy consuming building footprint is reduced to an ultimate minimum, while the capacity of the terminal is adjusted to the amount of runways.

Case study Amsterdam Schiphol
The following study highlights the potential of densification, applied on one of the largest and busiest airports in Europe. Amsterdam Schiphol has been expanded gradually over the last decades. For Europe it has a unique 5+1 runway system, from which maximum three can be used simultaneously. Currently it processes almost 50 million passengers annually. Pier M & H are used by low cost carrier (LCC), while stands B together with the piers B, C & D are left for network carrier (NC).

Drive Through Airport prototype 1.0 replacing pier B, C & D including its remote stands. Pier M & H are refurbished to service wide-body aircrafts. The new layout allows for over twice the current capacity while the overall footprint of the airport would be reduced significantly.

Conclusion
Within the next decade the amount of aviation passengers could double, Deri estimates. It has been widely admitted that today's airports cannot cope with demand. Future expansion will create additional terminals causing bigger distances to travel, more congestion, pollution and increasingly slower handling times.

The tendency has been to stimulate technology breakthroughs in aircraft design. With this perspective, airports have responded to the airplanes as the primary solution rather than focusing on new typologies or rethinking the notion of the airport itself.

Optimizing passenger terminal buildings is long overdue and requires a new concept. A drastic reduction in the size of airports would not only simplify ground handlings, but would also significantly reduce its environmental impact.

Miklos Deri graduated in Architecture from the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. In 2005 he joined UNStudio. During this period he was working on international projects of all scales, all phases, in a variety of tasks. 2011 he has co-founded ‘Büro für MEHR’. Since then he has been working as an independent architect between Amsterdam and Vienna. He presented his concept of a Drive Through Airport at

  • PTE Conference 2012 April in Vienna, Austria
  • AirRail Conference 2012 May in Stockholm, Sweden
  • airportNEXT! Symposium 2012 June in Amsterdam, Netherlands
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