Airport regions are developed as a ‘brand image’ also attracting non-airport linked business. This multi-functional development is often referred to as an airport city. A city in general is multi-functional, but the crucial difference is that the airport city often has no inhabitants and focuses primarily on economic functions.

Potential for an airport city

An airport’s growth prospects and economic impact are determined by the development and size of its hinterland, the regional economy and the number of international connections. The potential and economic and spatial impact of a small airport, for instance Sint Maarten in the Caribbean, differs from that of a large airport such as Heathrow in the United Kingdom. The greater the size, function and importance of the airport, the more possibilities there are for a variety of functions. Based on the relationship with the airport and the cost of land, different airport zones can be distinguished (see figure 1 below). The extent to which living quarters are permitted will be dependent upon legal regulations (especially with regard to environment) and the size of the development. Avoiding an airport city becoming deserted after business hours is one argument to allow for residential areas.

Important centre of economic activity

Rapid commercial developments at and around airports makes them leading urban growth generators. Airport regions are becoming a place to work, shop, trade and do business. It is therefore important to coordinate this process in an orderly manner. Market analysis, concept development, master planning and strategy are all important to make an airport city a success. Properly planned development will achieve positive effects, such as: generating new economic activities and expanding existing ones expanding the economic activities and related turnover, creating multiplier effects that enhance the regional and even national economy providing extra revenue for the airport company and local government, for example through taxes and lease of land and floor space. According to the current experience, non-aeronautical revenue can constitute up to and sometimes more than 50% of the airport’s total revenue adjusting the airport’s image as a transport hub into that of an important centre of economic activity, linking the airport region and the nearby city with the world.

Challenges

However, these positive effects coincide with various challenges that need to be tackled:
the environmental impact of the development and the increase in (air) traffic (regulations and policies) the presence and involvement of many stakeholders and their different roles (requiring consultations and negotiations) lack of clarity about the different roles of the parties involved and the distribution of costs and revenue considerations about where to locate functions: in the nearby city or at the airport (city). In a way, city and airport could become competitors.

These positive effects and challenges are present at the airport and its wider surroundings. Combining these two geographical levels in a development strategy offers a cumulative advantage for the airport and its region.

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This blog was prepared in close cooperation with my colleague Pauline van Heugten MSc (Royal HaskoningDHV) and my colleagues from NACO. Thanks to Mirjam Wiedemann (WiedemannConsultants GmbH), Pieter van der Horst (Amsterdam Airport Schiphol) and Berkay Ekim (Antalya International Airport) for their comments.

Consultants of NACO (Netherlands Airport Consultants) and Royal HaskoningDHV are experts in long term strategic planning, known as airport master planning, for new and existing airports whether domestic, regional or international. Our services cover airside planning, which includes runways, taxiways and aprons, and landside planning, including access and egress roads and parking. We also plan airport cities, the area close to the terminal and in the airport’s vicinity, and all facilities such as terminals, cargo buildings, hangars and control towers. Our capabilities encompass other airport-related studies including strategy development, process optimisation and aeronautical studies. Among others, we are or have been working on airport cities at the international airports of amongst others Mauritius, Zhengzhou (China), Xiamen (China), Shenzhen (China), Schiphol (the Netherlands), Viracopos (Brazil) and Frankfurt-Hahn (Germany).