A look at the super-airports of the future

Future cities – the “aerotropolis” – could be based around central airport

Passenger air traffic is forecast to double by 2030 as 12 billion of us take to the skies. So what will the massive airports of the future look like? One theory being discussed is that the future city will be an “aerotropolis”, with the airport at its heart rather than stationed far away from the centre – important if the city is to connect effectively to the global economy. In much of the western world, airports were developed years ago, when air travel was a luxury form of transport for the privileged. Now, of course, it’s a mode of mass traffic, requiring different capacity solutions.
Songdo, South Korea, is an example of a city built from scratch at a cost of $40 billion with an airport in the centre. Dubai is rapidly expanding its airport for A380 traffic, where first-class passengers on the building’s upper level will be able to transfer direct to the upper level of the A380 aircraft. Nearby in Dubai, another gigantic airport, Al-Maktoum International, will eventually have five runways and enough capacity to make it double the size of the biggest airport around today. The first runway is already operational for cargo and passengers will be able to fly there by the end of 2011.
But developers are wary of building a future airport that is too big, creating long distances for passengers to walk between flights and concerns over the logistics and security of having large numbers of people crammed together. The key to this is to arrange connecting transport links such as trains or cars to be as close as possible to the plane.
In the Middle East there seems to be an airport capacity race. In Europe, it’s the contrary; it is extremely difficult for many airports to develop enough capacity to handle the forthcoming explosion in air travel. Projects like Berlin Brandenburg Airport, due to open next year, are few and far between. China, by contrast, plans to build 78 new airports by 2020. In Europe, there are plans for five new airports by 2030.
[pictured: Al-Maktoum International]