On day two of Passenger Terminal Expo & Conference, Marios Sentris, program director and practice lead for aviation at Parsons Corporation, presented a session titled ‘Airport design, planning and development – Middle East and Asia’. Following his talk, Passenger Terminal World caught up with Sentris live at the event to find out more about his insights into airport design, planning and development.

When seeking funding and investment for an airport program, what are the key factors, post Covid, that encourage or cement investment?
Until the pandemic, airports were considered low-risk investments. Unless you had some geo-political or large technical failures, it was almost certain your business project would be achieved, as would the project’s return on investment (ROI) and the reselling value.

Post Covid, people, especially investors, were very cautious about decisions regarding investment. There has been a shift in the airport investment decision-making process; investors now want to see specific mitigation plans that will enable them to prepare for situations like the pandemic, where quick actions and decisions need to be made. Before the pandemic, it was only about numbers and profitability; business plans had the capacity to increase, regarding freight and passengers, and it was accepted within the airport industry that passenger traffic was expected to double in 20 years, which, with the view of the overall long-term profitability, had the effect of attracting private equities.

Post Covid, it is now also about maximum flexibility and constant re-assessments. Investors are now also interested in maximum flexibility in liquidity when it comes to construction phasing, and they are also interested in the technical aspects of the projects. That’s where me and my team at Parsons Corporation come in. We establish flexible construction models that are more ‘context’ aware. Our team analyzes short-term or low-intensity capital expenditure (capex) as part of the overall investment. This gives an added level of reassurance to Parsons’ investors that it has accounted for all the different scenarios and developed mitigation plans for them.

The second element has to do with the technical aspects. Previously, investors were much more interested in the ‘wow’ effect of the airport. Now, post-Covid, I believe we have added the space element in the flexibility: we need more space but we are not sure we are going to use it. This requires certain building agility where the purpose of the space is adapted to the need. This space can change from food and beverage (F&B) to a temporary art exhibition or to additional space for passengers if social distancing is re-instated.

Parsons has learned to work in this new ecosystem by developing new forecasting tools with more accurate cost estimation taking into account various economic fluctuations, such as commodity price, shortage in containers, workforce shortage, etc. An example of one of these forecasting tools is a white paper the company developed for the Middle East, analyzing the different ‘next day’ scenarios that will be applicable to a future pandemic.

These included a pessimistic ‘protected’ mode, where the company will face reduced traffic due to regulatory restrictions; a baseline ‘optimized or agile’ view, where social distancing restrictions will need to be maintained, but with pre-Covid or current traffic numbers (in this case, the buildings are under stress, and this is where you need to have sufficient agility to accommodate such procedures); and an optimistic ‘smart’ view, where we need to add to the baseline elements that are of interest to the new generation (Generation Z), such as sustainability and well-being.

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