With air travel becoming more accessible than ever to regular Filipinos, it’s becoming clear that airports can no longer be just assessed by the number of flights they handle or the size and modernity of their terminals. Rather, they also need to be assessed as the vital public goods that they are, with attention paid to sustainability, access, and benefits for travelers and local communities alike.
Here, we’ll briefly delve into the specific elements that make an excellent airport in the current setting.
Sustainable Technologies and Management Practices
With the Philippines now under threat from environmental degradation, airport operations development projects are now being reconfigured to include sustainability as a core goal. Recently updated gateways such as Mactan-Cebu International Airport are now making use of sustainability best practices that were pioneered overseas as well as a few that were innovated domestically.
These developments are especially welcome, given the country’s vulnerability to climate change. Given that the aviation industry accounts for about 2.5% of the world’s CO₂ emissions, assessing airport quality according to environmental impact is a critical step in the right direction.
High-Quality and Locally Relevant Architecture
Airports are now also increasingly about giving visitors a unique visual experience. As they are often the first and sometimes the only place air travelers experience when they travel to a certain location, a visually striking or emotionally compelling design can give visitors a favorable impression that also reflects the unique character of a given place.
Local airport architecture now often evokes specific qualities or products that are associated with a region or locale. The Puerto Princesa International Airport, for instance, features biomimicry in its design, referencing the biodiversity of the surrounding area. Clark International Airport, on the other hand, features an undulating roof design that was inspired by the mountain ranges of Luzon. The ability of an airport to evoke its surrounding environment and culture not only helps elevate visitor experiences but also helps airports become a more important part of the communities they are located in.
Functional Yet Comfortable Interior Design
Interior design can have a major influence on how efficient and pleasant an airport is. Many older airports often featured confusing layouts that occasionally caused passengers to miss their flights.
Better interior design at airports can reduce confusion, delays, and frustration for passengers, positively influencing their impressions of the airport as well as of the surrounding community. When given a choice, many passengers would also choose airports with efficient and comfortable interior spaces, as they can help reduce the risk of missed flights and make traveling a more pleasant experience.
Economic considerations are often the main driver for airport construction. However, choosing an ideal civilian airport location is a fine balancing act that requires planners to consider a wide range of variables.
First, airports need to be located close to a suitably large population center but not so close that they cause excessive noise pollution and limit the height of buildings in vital commercial areas. Next, they also need to be situated in areas where the environmental impacts of high noise and fossil fuel combustion are minimized, which means they should not be placed close to important wildlands. Lastly, they should be situated in a place where the geography and weather are reasonably favorable for year-round airport operations.
Convenient Local Transportation Links
Unfortunately, many airports throughout the world are inaccessible to people without access to private transportation, forcing passengers and even staff to rely on expensive airport taxis and shuttles. The added expense involved in simply accessing or leaving an airport can major hindrance to travel, which makes the presence of convenient local transport links important for assessing airport quality.
Philippine transportation policy planners are increasingly becoming cognizant of the problems presented by additional airport linkages. Today, a variety of mass transit systems are being explored to link the country’s major airports to nearby population centers, including scheduled buses and rail, among others.
It’s one thing to have world-class architecture but it’s another thing to maintain it. Airports can be very busy places which means that the facilities can easily deteriorate if not properly cared for. Passengers that pass through an airport with dirty surroundings, a lack of functioning toilets, and inadequate food and rest options are probably going to view the experience in a negative light, regardless of anything else the airport has going for it.
Today, many airports are making facility maintenance as seriously as they do other aspects of airport operations. In the Philippines, private entities such as Aboitiz InfraCapital are working to update, elevate, and maintain facilities and amenities at many of the country’s busiest airports. The result of these efforts has, so far, been an improvement in passenger experience at many of the country’s regional gateways.
Airport development projects are risky, incredibly expensive, and easily affected by external forces beyond anyone’s control. Disruptions such as health crises, political turmoil, or even sudden economic prosperity can easily affect an airport’s operations and earning potential. Given how rapidly the world can change, flexibility is now often considered to be a requisite for a great airport.
The ability to quickly reconfigure airport facilities and operations to suit external conditions may not always directly impact travelers’ perceptions, but it can make a huge impact on stakeholders, including the communities served by the airport. As the recent COVID-19 pandemic showed, being able to easily modify an airport’s functions can determine just how well it can serve passengers and surrounding communities in trying circumstances.
There are a lot of elements that separate unremarkable airports from truly excellent ones. More than size or prestige, it’s elements like sustainability, architecture, interior design, location, transport linkages, maintenance, and flexibility that define today’s standards for airport excellence. When designed with these elements in mind, airports in the Philippines can create a positive experience for travelers and create numerous benefits for the communities they serve.