The skills behind an airport

This week is generally the busiest week in winter for travel, as people head home or away for the Christmas holidays. In these busy periods for airports, clever engineering and innovative technology are both crucial in managing the footfall of passengers through the terminal and onto the plane, and facilitating their journey to their onward destination. With this in mind, we’ve considered what skills it takes to design and run an airport and reflected on the technology which helps get passengers and their luggage from A to B in the most safe and efficient way.

Arriving at the airport

Airports rely on a robust local infrastructure involving power networks, waterways, transport links and buildings. But as passengers, we only really worry about having somewhere to stay the night before or somewhere to park a car for the duration of our trip, rather than how all of the roads and buildings came to be designed in a way that helped us get to the airport in an easy, convenient way.

So how are airport buildings and local networks designed? And what kind of skills are involved?

Stuart Minchin, Divisional Manager – Water & Buildings, tells us more:

“The kind of considerations construction companies have to think about are how many passengers the airport is hoping to accommodate and how they will safely and quickly get to the correct terminal, how much cargo the airport will process and where the runways can be located in conjunction with the terminal buildings. In the case of the upcoming Al Maktoum International airport expansion project, which is anticipated to cost $32bn, the main priority of the design is to cut the time it takes for travel between different parts of the airport grounds by creating a compact terminal design.”

“A range of skills are therefore vital in the planning stages of an airport build or expansion, including highways engineers to support the local road networks, water engineers to ensure the airport has the right access/capacity to water supplies and wastewater facilities and construction engineers to build the terminal buildings.”

Check in & baggage handling

Over the past 20 years, check in and baggage handling systems have advanced considerably and new technologies are emerging all the time. One of the most notable advancements made within recent years is the introduction of online check-in services and self-serve check in kiosks. Not only does this technology save passengers time but it also saves airlines money by cutting down on the amount of passengers that check-in staff have to manually process. Self serve systems are just one example of technology which has been utilised across multiple industries. Another is scanning and tracking technology which is crucial within the shipping industry, as well as in airports. 

The main form of baggage recognition currently used is barcoding but this does have its limitations, for example, if a barcode tag becomes wrinkled or damaged in some way. More recently though, some airlines, like Delta, have introduced Radio Frequency Identification (R.F.I.D), which works in a similar way but uses a chip embedded into a bag tag which can be more easily scanned.

Tim Carling, Divisional Manager – Engineering Technology, describes the shift in baggage tracking technology and what this means for jobs:

“The IOT connectivity evolution is having a significant impact on both the baggage handling service offering as well as the skillset demands coming from the sector. Technology is helping to drive down the key traveller issues of baggage loss, delay and damage, through the emergence of RFID and robotic loading but it’s also providing customers with improved services such as baggage tracking via smartphone technology. Our automation recruitment team are experiencing increasing demand, not only for traditional PLC engineers who programme the handling systems, but also for higher level software developers with network security and cloud experience.”


Despite the fact we know that security measures are designed to keep us safe, airport security is one of the least popular aspects of travel, according to a passenger survey conducted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). But how can airports create a security process that is both thorough and as seamless and stress-free as possible for passengers?

Over the past ten years, full body scanners have become a staple part of airport security but their introduction hasn’t been without controversy. A few years ago a certain X-ray scanner was introduced, which produced full, in-depth body outlines of people, making them appear almost nude. With significant concerns raised about privacy, these scanners were promptly removed and replaced by millimetre-wave machines, which have been designed with smart detection and privacy in mind.

Whilst security scanning processes continue to be evaluated, workflow analysis is being undertaken to ease the passenger experience through security. A combination of cameras, sensors and data analysis can help with this. Tim Carling explains the skills behind this work:

“As with baggage handling, the skills required within security management are evolving. This evolution is defined by an increased need for electronics and software skillsets from the key suppliers delivering this technology to airports.”

The flight

From a passenger perspective, a good flight is defined by speed and comfort. From an airline’s perspective, these two factors are also important. In an increasingly competitive market, providing passengers with a comfortable, enjoyable experience is key to remaining a preferred choice of airline – multiple airlines may offer a flight between two destinations on a similar frequency but clearly the one which offers a better onboard experience will have the upper hand.

Speed is also a critical factor as passengers demand shorter journey times. Just this month, Australian airline Qantas announced its intention to offer the first direct route between Europe and Australia from 2018. Currently, the shortest stop over service means that journeys between London and Perth are over 19 hours but the direct service will bring the journey time down to around 17 hours. The non-stop flight will be facilitated by the ‘Dreamliner’ Boeing 787-9.

Senior Aerospace Consultant Lee Reid, shares his thoughts on the choice of aircraft for the world’s longest flight and how airlines are competing to offer passengers the ultimate flying experience:

“Whilst the giant A380 could be seen as a more luxurious option, the Boeing 787 is a popular choice amongst airlines because it is lighter, cheaper to buy and costs less to operate from a fuel perspective. From the viewpoint of passenger comfort, its carbon-fibre structure means that the cabin doesn’t have to be as highly pressurised and subsequently, the low pressure it creates increases humidity and reduces fatigue – two factors which contribute to a more comfortable flight.”

“Ultimately though, it is the interior of the plane which is the most important factor in creating an enjoyable flying experience and that is why airlines are largely investing in new aircraft interiors and retrofitting existing aircraft. The design and fit out of an aircraft relies on a variety of skill sets including Design Engineers, Manufacturing/Quality Engineers and Project/Program Managers, as well as Mechanical and Electrical Technicians. It is therefore these people passengers can thank for their pleasant flight environment.”

Airport experiences can be both exciting and stressful but passengers should feel assured that each aspect of their journey to the airport, in the terminal and their experience onboard has been designed and manufactured to be as safe, efficient and enjoyable as possible.

If you’re interested in any of the jobs mentioned in the above article, you may like to browse the available jobs on our website.

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