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Heathrow Airport’s recently released record passenger figures for 2018 came as no surprise, as the number of people travelling from the UK’s aviation hubs continue to climb, writes Entec Si’s Eman Al-Hillawi and Matthew Garrett.

With figures set to increase over the coming years, airports should consider potential expansion strategies alongside overall efficiency improvements if they are to keep up with demand and ensure that they do not compromise on customer service.

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The long-term impact of Brexit on the aviation industry remains to be seen. However, it currently shows no sign of dampening the enthusiasm of holidaymakers, who continue to take advantage of the availability of low-cost flights.

Furthermore, improvements to key transport links in recent years have made the UK’s leading airports more accessible than ever before, meaning that it is essential that steps are taken now to address this growth in passenger numbers. 

Restrictions on the frequency of aircraft movements within a particular period means that a failure to adapt to increased demand could have implications both for passengers’ choice of destinations, and overall experience, and could ultimately result in airports losing out to competitors.

Developing a comprehensive expansion strategy, like that recently published by Birmingham Airport, is one way in which aviation hubs can ensure they are able to cope with ever-growing demand for aviation services in the years ahead.

Where space allows, this can be an effective method of enhancing the customer journey, however, before forging ahead with an investment, it is vital to ensure that the expansion project is financially viable. 

In order to build a strong business case and provide reassurance to stakeholders that planned expansions are cost-effective, airports should focus not only on one-off peaks in demand, but their long-term growth projections.

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Moreover, rather than simply investing in new infrastructure for the sake of it, it may be worth conducting regeneration or improvement work on existing assets instead, for example, repurposing outdated hangar space.

Ultimately, any successful expansion plan should ensure that new developments work seamlessly with existing infrastructure, as well as considering the long-term picture. For instance, technological innovations in areas such as X-ray security equipment, is likely to make such machinery more efficient in the future.

Aviation has traditionally been an asset and infrastructure-focused industry, however, it is important to bear in mind that many airports are space-constrained.

As such, driving improvements to overall efficiency and customer service levels may prove the best solution to moving large numbers of passengers through check-in, bag drop, security, and onto aircraft.

Getting people through the check-in and security processes quickly also has significant commercial benefits, with concessions representing around 30% of non-aeronautical airport revenues internationally.


By monitoring short, medium and long-term capacity forecasts, implementing a capacity planning team and process can help to drive internal decision-making, allowing airports to rank the importance of a number of business changes and put targeted solutions in place.

For example, peaks in demand over the summer holiday period could be mitigated by flexing staff rotas more efficiently or, where airports are runway constrained, it may be possible to utilise the airfield more efficiently by improving processes across areas such as aircraft loading and unloading and taxiway layouts.

In order to be truly effective when introducing business change activities, it is essential to adopt a fully joined-up approach, considering any potential knock-on impact to people, processes and systems.

When introducing new self-service technology, for example, additional training is likely to be required to ensure staff can assist passengers where required and avoid any negative impact to the customer journey.

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And when implementing any expansion and service improvement project or programme, a portfolio management office (PMO) can help to enhance visibility, facilitate effective communication and improve prioritisation on an airport-wide basis.

By driving intelligent decision-making, management are better equipped to optimise use of budget, preventing mistakes from being made in project delivery which could prove costly in the long-term.

When considering strategies to manage growing passenger numbers, it’s worth remembering that there’s no one size fits all solution.

Before embarking on any expansion drive, airports need to carefully consider their individual capacity forecasts, budgets and available space, as well as considering a range of improvements to the all-important customer journey.

Airports that plan carefully and get this right can ensure services operate smoothly as demand continues to grow whilst ensuring that passengers return to fly time after time.

• Eman Al-Hillawi is a principal consultant at business change consultancy Entec Si where colleague Matthew Garrett works as a programme manager,


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