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What business are airports really in?
Most airports have an elevated vulnerability to aviation market fluctuations, which was emphasised during the coronavirus disease-2019 pandemic, when most airports experienced traffic downturns in excess of 90 per cent. This led them to batten the hatches by cutting operational costs to the bone, shelving major capital programmes and shuttering swathes of terminal infrastructure. Worldwide, terminals became ghost towns, and there were rumours of airport bankruptcy. The crisis made it patently clear that airports typically had very little alternative income with which to keep the wolf from the door during such events, leading the authors to ask the question whether the airport business is not too specialised and whether it might not benefit from diversification. In considering this question, it became apparent that the airport business as we know it today might also be in danger of major disruption within the next decade. This paper argues that it might be time for airports to reassess their business model by asking the question: What business are we really in? The proposed answer might be surprising for many airport authorities who have focused on aviation as their core business for the past century. The paper offers a range of provocative thoughts and ideas aimed at encouraging airport authorities to reassess their strategic plans and innovate towards a more resilient and sustainable business model that is integrated with their surrounding communities and regions, while staying ahead of the evolution of the mobility market.
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Rian G. Burger is a aviation architect, airport planner and programmer. He leads Stantec’s Toronto-based integrated aviation practice and has been focusing on airports since 2005. Rian has designed facilities for the full range of airport stakeholders, including various types of airport and retail operators in Canada, the United States and internationally. His current focus is the reconfiguration and enhancement of Denver International Airport’s Great Hall. Rian’s project experience includes large expansion and enhancement programmes in both Terminals 1 and 3 at Toronto Pearson International Airport; the new international terminal for Santiago Arturo Merino Benitez Airport; the 18-gate expansion of Edmonton International Airport; the implementation of innovative new processes for aviation security, self-service check-in, automated border clearance, and US preclearance facilities at Vancouver and Toronto International Airports; and a wide range of capacity enhancements and terminal upgrades at Vancouver International Airport.
Brandon Orr has over nine years of professional planning experience in the design, development and analysis of Regional and Municipal Transportation and Transit Master Plans, which has exposed him to various multimodal challenges at the micro, meso and macro levels. Brandon’s experience includes working in both urban and rural settings, designing commuter and recreational facilities (and being able to combine both in a single network) and leveraging transit network design to help communities across Ontario provide broader mobility options. Brandon has led several Transportation Master Plans (TMPs) through the Municipal Class Environmental Assessment process, including four TMPs in the past three years for communities across Canada. Beyond these projects, Brandon has also been involved in provincial goods movement/crossborder movement studies and the development of regional and large metropolitan TMPs.