When the COVID-19 pandemic first struck and dramatically dampened commercial aviation traffic volume, some people wondered if the industry would ever bounce back. But many airport authorities and airline leaders recognized those impacts were a short-term pause in the industry’s long-term upward trajectory. Those who could move forward large capital improvement projects sought to do so.

In light of a resumption in growth, combined with new funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, aviation leaders are scrambling to define, develop and implement those capital improvements that were not already in progress before the pandemic. Expanding capacity will be essential as passenger volumes are accelerating ahead of original forecasts. Coping with a tight labor market and limited internal resources further complicates the challenges.

Efficient project delivery is vital to remaining competitive. Design-build, and specifically progressive design-build, is an increasingly attractive option to alleviate project pressures and provide speed-to-market advantages.

In contrast with the traditional design-bid-build process, design-build delivery gives owners an integrated package for an overall fee named upfront. By streamlining schedules and minimizing change orders, design-build results in faster project execution with fewer surprises. It is fairly common in contexts like institutional campuses, where owners typically have a good idea of what they want built.

In aviation, especially for North American airports, this concept has been further refined with the development of progressive design-build. Projects delivered in this way are developed through a multistep process with collaboration between the owner and the professional services provider in order to carefully establish the guaranteed maximum price. This tight collaboration helps minimize the risks and optimize the costs for all parties.

For airports and airlines alike, design-build offers some significant benefits:

Supplemental resources: There is incredible demand for experienced talent across the architecture, engineering and construction industry, extending far beyond the aviation sector. A lot of airports are having a hard time getting qualified, experienced project managers to run these multibillion-dollar capital improvement projects.

Aviation construction and engineering are somewhat unique — terminal buildings and runways are a little different than standard commercial office buildings or highways. Add in the federal government component for funding and regulations, and it becomes clear that these projects demand specialized knowledge. Design-build enables a contractor’s experienced professionals to integrate seamlessly with the owner’s staff, serving as an invaluable extension of the in-house team.

Team integration: Design-build brings together all components of a project, from design and engineering to subcontractors and owners. Working side by side creates a collaborative environment that nurtures better working relationships. With fewer siloed solutions being developed behind closed doors, transparency enables all partners to come together faster, saving time.

Put another way, the more time that professionals spend working alone, the more back-and-forth that will be needed for requests for information and dedicated meetings to come back to the table, adding time and cost to a project. When the team is fully integrated and working on problems concurrently instead of in a schedule or ladder format, decisions get made faster. That results in a reduction in time, which translates directly into cost savings.

Speed to market: Fast is good, but it is not good enough unless accompanied by quality. The streamlined schedules and transparent, collaborative environments enabled by design-build delivery make it possible to produce and deliver high-quality projects in a reduced amount of time.

Any major capital improvement effort will take time, and the pressure to complete the work quickly is high. The quality controls incorporated in the design-build process see that no essential corners are cut merely for the sake of expediency, all while minimizing costs and optimizing reviews. Having all stakeholders pulling in the same direction lets justifiable efficiencies emerge.

Passenger and traffic volumes and forecasts are rapidly rising again as the nation emerges from pandemic pressures. Commercial airports and airlines are hard at work planning and building the near-term and long-term additional capacity they will need to maintain competitive advantages. Leveraging the advantages of design-build — and working with partners experienced with that delivery model — will set them on the route to success.


From redesigned spaces to entirely new airports, stakeholders must collaborate on innovative solutions that prioritize the travel experience and focus on long-term efficiencies.

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