Airports operate by utilising numerous processes and interdependencies to deliver efficient, secure and highly reliable service. They are a critical part of modern society and allow people to travel in a very expedient and economical way.

Whilst airport terminals are essentially buildings, they do require tailored and specialised services in order to provide the functions inherent in aviation travel.

So what are the key performance criteria that must be considered when it comes to the design of airport terminals?


Security plays a key role in airport services design and in most cases will take precedence over the other key factors being considered as part of the building design. It is therefore important to consider security when considering any of the services design elements.

For example, the HVAC plant should, wherever possible, be in an area which can be readily accessed without the need for excessive procedures to ensure security clearance, yet it should still be well-secured such that it cannot be tempered with.

Essentially, the major plant should be located in a lower security area to simplify service and maintenance activities, yet locating the plant in a public area should be avoided to minimise interaction between service personnel and the general public.

Reliability and availability

Airports normally have long operating hours, and the unscheduled failure of an HVAC plant can cause significant disruption to business as usual operation. When designing a plant, consideration needs to be given to selecting high quality equipment to ensure higher reliability and longer service and replacement intervals.

Certain parts of the airport will be more critical than others. In critical operational areas, consideration needs to be given to providing back-up systems, such as back-up power, cooling, and communications.


Communications systems play a key role in modern airport operations. The flow of information from the numerous airport systems ensures the efficient operation of the airport and maintains security. There are many systems required, including a communications backbone network, security systems, baggage screening and handling system controls, check-in systems, flight information display systems, aircraft gate parking guidance displays, wayfinding systems, a telecommunications mobile network, data and Wi-Fi and more.

The successful design of the telecommunications systems is best undertaken via close liaison with the airport operational staff and in particular via briefing and review with the various key systems leads/stakeholders.

Operating efficiency

Due to the extended hours of operation at airports, equipment operation costs play a big part in the overall cost of running the facility. Selecting an energy efficient plant and high quality automatic controls can provide high levels of return on investment. The adoption of a centralised high efficiency thermal plant is common for these types of facilities as it reduces the overall number of plant requiring maintenance, allows the use of larger higher quality cooling and heating equipment, provides better levels of reliability and availability, and optimises overall capacity by allowing for the overall diversity inherent in the airport operation.

It is important to note that airport terminals face diverse demands due to the transient nature of the building occupants. Unlike commercial office buildings, peak occupancies may occur early in the morning and late at night, with significantly lower occupancy during the daytime. The design of thermal infrastructure should consider the diversity of the spaces.


Safety is a top priority at airports. Incidents which may occur can create significant disruption to operations and public safety. Whilst airports employ a large trained workforce, the environment also includes a lot of temporary maintenance personnel, goods and services delivery personnel, and the general public.

When designing services and building elements for airport environments, safety needs to be closely looked at to ensure the design elements and systems do not create undue hazards, both in normal operations and during system failures. Designers should also ensure equipment can be serviced and maintained safely, and can be isolated or shut down should there be a catastrophic operating fault.

Customer experience

Airports rely on customers for their revenue, and the list of customers includes the general public, commercial tenants and the airlines themselves. Modern airports earn significant revenue from other non-aviation activities such as retail, car parking, transport, leasing of commercial space and other activities.

There is a strong focus to ensure that an airport provides a positive and pleasant environment for travellers and workers alike. Airports compete on a domestic and international stage for airline business, and they therefore place significant emphasis on ensuring that they do not receive criticism for poor operational performance. A strong focus is given to ensuing that upgrade and development works do not adversely impact the customer experience. Designers should consider this when developing designs for upgrade works. It is important to consider how the construction of the works can be implemented with minimal operation impact to the airport.

The next time you are travelling through an airport, look around for some of the key elements outlined above and consider whether you feel the design has been successful in delivering these, and in providing you with a positive airport experience.