Innovative infrastructure:

how technology is changing airport construction

From component tracking systems to building information modelling, airports are increasingly turning to new technologies to facilitate the construction of major projects. Ross Davies takes a look at five recent case studies.

New global airport construction projects are springing up like never before. According to a recent report from Business Wire, the value of projects at the execution stage totals $377.6bn, while those in the planning stages account for $215.8bn.

The aviation industry should be applauded for its forethought. With global passenger numbers expected to hit 8.2 billion per year by 2037, airports cannot afford to let themselves buckle under the strain of such an inordinate swell in custom.

Constructing an airport – like any architectural undertaking – is a complex business, involving a whole host of stakeholders, from designers and contractors to construction managers and executives. 

Increasingly, airport operators are turning to large-scale technology to make sure projects run as efficiently as possible and – most important of all – are completed on time. Below are some hubs that are looking to harness state-of-the-art tech to their advantage.


Heathrow Airport: innovative component tracking

According to its latest masterplan, Heathrow – Europe’s busiest airport – aims to have a third runway up and running by 2026. The airport operator is hoping the introduction of a new pilot component tracking system will help it attain this goal on schedule.

Using technology developed by Siemens Digital Logistics, the system will track millions of vital construction components destined for the site of the new runway in real-time.

Image: EQRoy /

Heathrow is currently in the process of weighing up four logistic hubs, which will be connected by the centralised system. Acting as a kind of ‘nerve centre’, the system will link up off-site construction centres, allowing for the seamless delivery of parts to the hub outside West London. It will also serve to provide regular updates to the construction sites.

Glasgow Airport: betting on a digital toolset

Glasgow Airport might be a fraction of the size of Heathrow but remains an important cog in the Scottish economy. Welcoming 9.7 million passengers last year, it generated in excess of £1.44bn, while supporting more than 30,000 jobs north of the border. 

As part of its 2040 masterplan, which is aiming to increase its passenger share to 17 million within the next two decades, Glasgow – which recently introduced its first A380 service to and from Dubai – is betting on digital technology as part of its future expansion efforts.

Image: Bruce Burt /

According to Glasgow head of capital Gordon Bain, digitisation, including the likes of automated communication and real-time data on project performance, will provide clearer, more up-to-date information for engineers on-site. 

“We are in the process of developing a digital portfolio and programme management toolset that will enable us to track project performance and KPIs in real-time and improve interfaces with the business,” said Bain, writing in an op-ed in BIM+, a Chartered Institute of Building publication. 

“This will allow us to reduce feedback loop delays between what is happening on-site and the key decisions that need to be made by the business to ensure the smooth delivery of projects.”

Los Angeles International Airport: going big for GIS

As the second-largest airport in the US behind Atlanta, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) saw an astounding 87.5 million passengers squeeze through its doors in 2019. Little wonder then that it is in the process of expanding, with two new terminals and several gates expected to be ready in time for when the West Coast city hosts the Olympic Games in 2028. The facelift has been costed at around $14bn.

Image: Santiparp Wattanaporn /

Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the airport’s governing body, has deployed a geographic information system (GIS) in order to better streamline the workflow of multiple on-site projects while minimising disruption to day-to-day operations. 

The GIS platform also includes 3D modelling capabilities, geared towards aiding engineers in the optimisation of space and surfaces. LAWA is reported to have used 3D simulations in the design of everything from passageways to baggage claim areas and ticketing counters.

Copenhagen Airport: virtual reality meets BIM

Serving as the busiest hub across the Nordic countries, Copenhagen Airport is planning to be able to handle up to 40 million passengers a year in the near future. This has necessitated the construction of a new pier – Pier E – which covers 36,000m2, marking one of the biggest building projects at the airport for a number of years.

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Partially opened in June, Copenhagen has gone about construction using building information modelling (BIM) which it believes will benefit workflows during the duration of the project. This includes the creation of BIM process standards, which comprises a specification of a level of detail required for new construction projects.

As part of the design phase, the airport has also made use of virtual reality and 3D modelling based upon drawings, surveys and field inspections.

Hong Kong International Airport: digital modelling at the forefront

In January, TDS, a UK-based structural steel and architectural metalwork design office and consultancy, was awarded a $5m contract to help in the construction of a new 9,000-tonne roof structure at Hong Kong’s Terminal 2.

Working directly with the Hong Kong International Aviation Association – which falls under the management of Airport Authority Hong Kong – TDS is set to provide digital modelling of the roof.

Image: Lee Yiu Tung /

Speaking at the time, TDS CEO Daniel Leech explained: “The most exciting and radical element of the story is that this digital modelling is taking place right at the beginning of the design process, providing an open and collaborative digital workflow for all those involved at each stage thereafter.”

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