The ‘green’ future of sustainable airports

Delays and lost luggage rank near the top of airline passenger complaints. However, few think to complain about an airport’s carbon footprint.

At a recent mid-June conference about New York City area airports, sustainability ranked near the top of the conversations whether in terms of the use of public transportation to access the local airports or how airports can alter its physical space and technology to become more environmentally friendly.

Now, to accommodate the dramatic increase in volume – and shift – in how passengers utilize airports, the architectural firms that design the future JFK and LaGuardia (LGA) airports will consider the new technologies available to them.

“What people consider a great airport experience today,” said Marion Kromm White, an airport design project manager at architectural firm Gensler, which designed the JetBlue’s Terminal 5 at John F. Kennedy (JFK) Airport, “are alternatives to getting to the airport, ability to check-in at home or kiosk, they want hassle-free security and they want free Wi-Fi.”

New airport design factors in larger security and gate areas. Kromm White explained that before, a trip to the airport “use to be a social event,” with large ticketing halls and restaurants with seating. But times have changed.

Security areas will become more like “concierge type check-in” in the front of the building and with more retail and food at the gates, according to Kromm White. The use of already available mobile technology to scan items for self-service functions like ticketing and baggage check-in will also become the norm.

New facilities at LGA and JFK could include natural lighting, wind energy and solar energy that can be implemented as part of the architectural design. Also, larger scale recycling of materials and pavement, rain and waste water, and the use of green materials – like bamboo – would be considered.

Through a process called building information modeling, architects and developers can construct a building off-site, “which is more sustainable, [creates] less waste, [and means] on time delivery,” said Tom Rossbach, the National Director of Aviation Architecture. Rossbach said now they can reduce air emissions by changing the equipment and using fewer vehicles on-site.

Both Kromm White and Rossbach believe that green airports are not only good for the environment but also for reducing costs.

However, renovation to the existing structures of LGA and JFK must include gutting the airports since both are landlocked, according to Kiran Merchant, aviation planning manager at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

“Our airports are almost 100 years old and are near the end of their life cycle.” said Merchant. “We could either patch things up or gut and rebuild.”

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