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Airports that work

All things considered: Delivering the international airport

All things considered

With over 10 years of experience delivering a broad range of projects at Sydney International Airport, George Reid, Technical Director - Buildings, talks about how engineering can support profitable and sustainable airport business models.



George, you have worked with Sydney Airport for nearly 10 years, what have been the most successful upgrade projects you have been involved with there and what made them so successful?

The most successful project I worked on was the International Terminal T1 Departures Redevelopment Project. The project included:

  • The construction of a 7 600 square metres extension to the departures level to provide world class passenger facilities including centralised outbound processing, new retail, new food and beverage outlets and passenger waiting areas
  • The construction at Ramp Level of a new outbound and early baggage handling hall.

The redevelopment works were unique and technically demanding requiring the design team to undertake detailed coordination and planning to maintain continued operation of the airport in an extremely constrained environment. A significant portion of the project works was the design of temporary works and staged works to allow the uninterrupted operation of the Airport. Throughout the project the operation of the International Terminal was not disrupted at any stage through unexpected outage or loss of services.

The positive and proactive collaboration between Sydney Airport, Aurecon, the project managers, architect and the managing contractor, coupled with the advanced use of technology, was the secret to the outstanding success of the project.

Sydney Airport has been extremely pleased with the performance of the new Departures precinct. Passenger feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and the return on investment through the enhanced performance of the retail and food and beverage outlets has exceeded expectations.

In your experience what are the most challenging aspects of keeping airports running smoothly during terminal upgrades and development?


The design of the structure and building services must be carefully coordinated and planned to maintain continuing operation of the existing airport. The challenge is not to disrupt any services at any stage due to unexpected outage or loss of services

A significant portion of the Aurecon design services for the Terminal 1 Departure Redevelopment Project was the design of temporary works to allow the uninterrupted operation of the Airport. A fully functioning temporary outbound immigration hall was designed and constructed complete with a full range of security devices. Extensive temporary retail outlets were provided to maintain passenger services and maintain the commercial viability of the existing retail outlets.

The most challenging aspect was keeping the Terminal fire and life safety systems and essential services operating effectively while the terminal is being reconfigured and expanded. As you change the operation of the terminal the life safety systems need to follow that.

Passenger deviations can have a major cost impact. We work closely with architects to ensure that there is no major impact on services. For example we would advise on routes that avoided expensive relocation of switchboards or duct risers.

Security is another huge issue. Maintaining physical security and electronic security throughout the refurbishment works needs very careful attention from all design team members. On one side of of a hoarding partition you have construction workers with tools and equipment and on the other passengers who have already gone through a security screening. We always ensure that boundaries around the works site can be secured effectively during the design stage.

Way-finding is also critical. International passengers are easily confused and it is paramount that signage and FIDs are modified to accommodate the changing building hording lines.

With any refurbishment project in buildings which have been in operation for 20 or more years, there is often a lack of good “as built” documentation. Surveying existing services and structure within ceiling spaces and other confined areas is difficult and time consuming especially within an operating airport. One way to mitigate this is something we‘ve done recently, is a point cloud survey – a 3D survey of all the services in the ceiling space that we’re working on, which is then transferred into a BIM model. This type of laser scanning is proving invaluable, allowing us to identify all sorts of things, including services, in a spatial 3D image – and reducing the number of unknowns and therefore the risk during construction.

Sydney Terminal Retail outlets
In your experience of international airports across Australia, what are the key aspects of engineering successful terminal upgrades?


These assets have a long lifecycle, are expensive and need to be durable and low maintenance. Most international airports operate 24/7 and have limited time available for focusing on maintenance in public spaces. There’s also a growing emphasis on providing a really high standard of comfort and convenience for passengers that creates a great traveling experience.

Airports are no longer the domain of the airlines; they are being transformed into service centres for passengers. They have to deal with a wider range of airlines and aircraft. They have to be flexible to handle both domestic and international passengers, as well as budget travellers and first class passengers. This new business model means more retail, more variety in food and beverage, more specialist lounges, .

The terminal structure and building services need to ensure that can support this dynamic change. For structural and services engineers this means we must pay attention to:

  • Data and telecommunications infrastructure that is future proofed as much as possible – making sure there are sufficient communications hubs for expansion and changes in equipment; the ability to run new cables and services to new locations, without ripping open ceilings and finishes. Incorporating fast changing technologies into this passenger experience is also becoming vital.
  • Sufficient power to serve the changing retail mix, especially the greater range of onsite food preparation and cooking. Flexibility to be able to add smaller speciality retail outlets when require and special events.
  • Lighting - good natural lighting during the day with energy efficient lighting; not too many special fittings to reduce maintenance requirements;
  • Good energy efficient air conditioning, which is able to track the ebb and flow of passengers. Positioning of air intakes is important to minimise fumes and odours resulting from kerosene based jet fuels.
  • Structural flexibility for future change of use and tenants in the terminal – slabs must have sufficiently flexible to allow for varying load demands in the future, as well as one of events such as Motor Vehicle displays.
  • Sufficient power at ramp level to serve ground power units, pre-conditioned air units and all the back-of-house engineering functions.
  • Facades – effectively taking account of jet blast; hot air form auxiliary outlets.

Why do you enjoy working in the aviation sector?


Airports have a bit of each building type or sector in them, transportation, hospitality, retail, commercial and engineering all housed in a generally iconic building. All building services are intensively required, large power reticulation, large heating and cooling plants etc. In addition one has the specific aviation overlay of baggage handling, aerobridges, ground power, pre-conditioned air.

There are very few building projects where there is such a breadth of engineering required and this is why I enjoy working in the Aviation sector.

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