Carlos Amigo, Ineco project manager for the Kuwait International Airport development plan, discusses project management in airport development.

Much has been written on project management as a discipline. It has evolved from something many have done without naming it to a fully comprehensive set of principles, tools, techniques and good practices that must have to either be learned or relearned to be a professional project manager.

Project management as a discipline relates, generally speaking, to the ‘how-to’ a project should be initiated, planned, executed and closed. To that end, best practices include models to define, plan and manage the scope, the time and the cost of the project, and all that is performed under a comprehensive management of communication and people – whether ‘internal’ people like the team or ‘external’ people like the customer or the suppliers. Dealing with changes in all those fields while taking care of risks and embracing opportunities is truly the key to success.

That said, developing an airport (expansion or upgrade for example) is undoubtedly a project. Can one manage it as a regular project? Can one apply project management best practices in a straightforward manner? It is very common that airport owners/managers hire the services of a project-management consultant (PMC) to deal with such a project. Definitely, this is a recursive matter and a sort of tongue-twister – to manage the application of project management to a project-management project.

The airport as a system

First and foremost, an airport is a system; that is, a set of inter-related elements that work together for a single purpose, and that is none other than managing aircraft operation. Irrespective of all the spin-offs that one may want to consider arising from aircraft operation, it all comes down to that, as without it we have nothing – no passengers, no revenues, no ancillary business, just nothing. Aircraft operation binds all airport elements together.

When a system is expanded, whether the original decision is to expand only one element (say the passenger-terminal building) or several elements, the whole system shakes and it needs a check-up. Aprons or taxiways are commonly affected infrastructures, but also air-navigation facilities and systems, and then utilities and other services, particularly power supply and IT. Not to be missed are the new staffing requirements for the expanded airport, including hiring and training.

Add to all that the revision of the airport certification manual, the revision of airspace and aeronautical procedures, and business development (business opportunities arisen from an expanded airport), and you have the full picture. Project management for the expansion of a terminal building is certainly needed, but one also needs something else to address the impact on other elements.
To try and adapt the discipline of project management to that complexity, there needs to be a term for it; programme management does not fit (all airport projects are tightly intertwined; they are more than just a group). Let us keep it simple and name it airport project management (ApPM).

Airport project management

ApPM spins around two topics: integration and coordination of all concerned projects. Along with the straightforward management of the major projects, it makes up a three-tier approach, where all the project-management knowledge base is to be applied to each of them:

  1. First tier – integration: There are a number of projects in the airport; some being ‘hard’ projects (construction of infrastructures and facilities, or installation and testing of equipment), and others being ‘soft’ projects (consultancies for planning and design, implementation of IT solutions, certification procedures, airspace and aeronautical procedures or staffing). Hard and soft projects need to be perfectly aligned in terms of scope and time – what to do and when. This is necessary for the airport system to function. Integration means ensuring the integrity of the contracts to be tendered; therefore, it has to do with initiation and planning stages of all projects. Integration requires the ApPM team to have skills in contracting (particularly local regulations and jurisprudence) but, above all, it requires knowledge on airport design and operation – unless you know how your airport operates, you will be unable to successfully integrate all development projects. Hard and soft projects converge in airport operation, which is directly and tightly related to aircraft operation – the single purpose of the airport as a system.
  2. Second tier – coordination: Whereas all airport projects must be integrated, during the implementation of the projects, the interfaces between them should be identified and addressed. That is the goal of coordination – to monitor the progress in terms of scope, time and cost of all contracts; therefore, it has to do with execution and closing processes. Interface management is key for success. Whereas integration is performed on paper, and paper holds everything, coordination occurs in reality. It requires the ApPM to have skills in construction, as another discipline, but knowledge on airport operation is the only guarantee for successful coordination, as to a greater or a lesser extent the interfaces are related to it. Another important matter is that integration can be done in full by the ApPM or partially by the airport owner and the ApPM, but ideally coordination should rely 100% on the ApPM. This is because integration starts long before implementation, and it is likely that the ApPM is not on board that long in advance, and also because the airport operator defines their need many times in an ‘integrated’ way from their knowledge.
  3. Third tier – management of major projects: Coordination by a ApPM is typically done involving the management of major projects; that is, the ApPM team getting first-hand data from major projects as its direct manager, and that means to manage scope, time, cost and quality, as ‘regular’ project management, individually, for each of those major projects.

In conclusion

There are three tiers in the application of project-management discipline at an airport. The first tier is the integration – a wide-ranging project of which the management ensures a successful delivery of the airport by setting the system up. Coordination represents the second tier, and it consists of a project where interfaces between all airport projects are managed, binding them all together. And last, the third tier is the direct management of the major development projects, the driving force for airport development, where in-depth involvement to get first-hand data is required.

Three tiers of a single discipline are necessary to turn an existing airport into a new one. To expand the system but keep it running at the same time – a big challenge and a test for project management as a discipline.

Ineco is a global leader in transport engineering and consultancy. For over 40 years, its expert team of 2,500 employees has contributed to infrastructure development in the aviation, railways, roads, urban transport and ports sectors in more than 40 countries.

The challenge of optimising air transport to improve civil mobility is one of the areas where Ineco has a great level of expertise and successful references. As an expert in transport infrastructures, it is able to provide every service its clients need in all phases of a project along the life cycle of transport infrastructures, and has a high level of qualification not only in airport planning and infrastructure design, but also in systems and aeronautical navigation. Airport planning, design and integrated project management are the three main pillars of Ineco’s activity in the airport business.

Ineco also helps customers to draft laws, regulations, programmes, plans and technical standards, and advises aviation authorities on restructuring and institutional strengthening. As a pioneer in airport infrastructure development in Spain, it carries out civil works projects, terminal construction, track repair and upgrades, aerodrome certification, safety studies and air traffic optimisation. Ineco also supports environmental management and internal audits at several airports worldwide. Two of the most competitive solutions offered by Ineco are operational readiness and airport transfer, which guarantee timely and efficient commissioning of air transport infrastructure.

Experience gained as the leading engineer for Spanish airport operator Aena during the expansion and modernisation of its 47 airports and two heliports in Spain has given Ineco the impetus to expand abroad, enabling it to win major contracts including:

  • Kuwait International Airport expansion project management
  • London Heathrow Airport winter resilience programme, UK
  • Civil aviation and national airport plan, Nepal
  • Casablanca Airport, Morocco
  • Eldorado Airport, Colombia.

Ineco is also an expert in air navigation planning, and participates in many projects, such as:

  • air traffic development strategy in Egypt
  • the restructuring of Moroccan airspace
  • GIANT 1&2: GNSS introduction to the aviation sector, European Commission
  • performance-based navigation procedures, Singapore.