For years the commercial aviation industry has been approaching projects — whether it’s as expansive as building a new terminal or as small as updating the baggage claim system — with the same project delivery process. The traditional method of tackling these projects has served the industry well, but it is quickly becoming clear that a change will be needed in the future.

Facing the realization that passenger experiences are not always meeting expectations — and the fact that technology is beginning to overtake the measures being utilized to develop today’s airports — the industry will need to make a turn toward the use of emerging technologies to take the place of the tried-and-true design methods.

Traditional Design Approach

The traditional project delivery method for airports begins similarly to those for many industries. Depending on the client, the team may have the opportunity to hold multiple meetings prior to winning a bid or request for proposal and signing a contract. The purpose of these scoping meetings is to determine the client’s overall needs, from requirements of size and function to defining the budget and parameters of the project timeline.

Designers then evaluate these requirements, perform site surveys of the intended site and collect as-built drawings of existing structures and systems for proper integration with new expansions or materials. Then, once an understanding of the existing space is gained, the design team holds a set of charettes to develop design criteria. 

This is just the beginning of the design process. Many hours and significant resources are invested in this step alone, not to mention the many hours spent by the team in developing three or four concepts to present to the client for review.

Future Design Opportunities

New, emerging technologies that, in some cases, utilize already existing data will reduce the design time by taking a portion of the responsibility of design out of human hands. Digital twins of airports spaces, built from data collected on a space to measure human interaction for the purpose of finding efficiencies, will be used to feed artificial intelligence (AI). By bringing the two together, machine learning will enable computers to solve the design issues facing humans today.

In this way, designers will be able to utilize a process known as generative design, in which AI does the design work for a design team. This process is much more streamlined than the traditional approach. It begins in much the same way, but once the project-specific information is collected, it is then fed into an AI software that produces as many design concepts as the user wishes. 

Generative design is useful for many reasons, chief among which is the fact that using AI to develop designs means that certain human biases or potential blind spots inherent to human designers can be avoided, thus offering more viable design solutions for any given project. Additionally, generative design will save designers time, which translates to money for clients, opening new design opportunities.

Better Passenger Experiences

When developing airport spaces, perhaps the most prevalent benefit of utilizing generative design tools is the software’s ability to produce so many design solutions. By considering all factors, constraints and limitations to the client’s needs, it will create more efficient and effective spaces. These new spaces, in turn, will provide more seamless travel experiences by giving passengers more of what they want.

Airports and AEC firms will need to consider this moving into the future and learn when and where generative design can be most beneficial. Only in this way can commercial airport system and facility designers begin to provide the next-generation spaces that will keep air travel relevant into the future.


The airport of the future must continue to find new ways to offer better passenger experiences. See how generative design is already being used by checking out our white paper, “Transforming the Future of Airports With Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Generative Design.”

Read Our White Paper

Mike Zoia is a business development manager for Burns & McDonnell with more than 20 years of experience managing security and technology consulting and engineering engagements. He has worked on capital development programs worldwide, providing a unique technical perspective and understanding of global trends in technology, security and innovation.