IATA policy insists airport cities should not distract from the core business of the facility nor pose any risks to its sustainability.
Seoul Incheon’s airport city, for example, is a separate company from the airport.
Airport cities could be good for the industry. However, a neighborhood containing aviation-dependent businesses and transportation hubs, that has the potential to reduce costs though a single till and improve revenue by attracting both cargo and passengers, must still be treated with caution.
But developers should not be given carte blanche. The obvious concern is that land use must first consider the growth potential of the airport itself. “You don’t want a warehouse where you could put a runway,” says Colin Spear, IATA Assistant Director, Airport Development. “With expansion plans often quite difficult anyway, an airport’s strategy must be to develop to its full capacity first and foremost.”
Manchester Airport in the United Kingdom has prepared an airport city masterplan. John Atkins, Airport City Director, Manchester Airports Group (MAG), says the aim is to create an offer that builds on the international connectivity of the airport, making it attractive to a mix of businesses. “These could be in the aviation sector such as airlines, airport-services, and air freight-related businesses and also in non-aviation sectors such as advanced manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and health or professional services.”
Abu Dhabi based airline Etihad has already decided to locate its European contact center at Manchester Airport and MAG is in talks with a number of other potential occupiers. “The masterplan has been designed with maximum flexibility in mind,” says Atkins. “So for example, if a business—be it a major international airline or otherwise—approached us with a requirement to create a bespoke training and regional headquarters facility, this is exactly the type of opportunity that the masterplan has been designed to facilitate.”
Atkins sees no conflict with the development of an airport city and efficient operations. He says a functioning airport with the capacity to grow passenger and cargo volumes effectively is fundamental to the airport city concept. “The airport city will complement the future development of the airport and, sitting alongside forecast growth in passenger and freight volumes, will potentially help to underpin new routes,” he suggests. “For example, if a major Chinese or Indian business opts to open a European headquarters at Manchester Airport City, a new direct route to Mumbai or Beijing becomes a much more attractive proposition to an airline looking to operate that service.”
In the long term, he believes, it becomes a virtuous circle. New, direct air services potentially attract more businesses requiring access to that particular market or destination.