How NACO became China’s preferred airport designer

NACOChina plans to build 66 new airports over the next five years, raising the number of airports in mainland China from 206 to 272. NACO, a world-leading airport consultancy and engineering firm, aims to excel in a number of them. “Preferably the most complex of these assignments. We have a strong track record in China, leading to a strong position on airport planners’ shortlists”, says Piet Ringersma, NACO’s Senior Airport Architect.

NACO, short for Netherlands Airport Consultants, is part of Royal HaskoningDHV in The Netherlands. It boasts over 65 years of experience in the aviation and air transport industry – from major landmark designs to smaller domestic airports. “Since we were founded in 1949”, Ringersma offers a lecture, “we have provided integrated and full-service planning, design and development services to over 600 airports in more than 100 countries, including Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.”

NACO delivered the winning scheme for the master plan of the Beijing New International  Airport , the capital’s new gateway that – capacity up to 130 million passengers per year, launch in 2019 – may become the largest airport in the world. Ringersma: “Earlier on, we were leading the design joint venture for the expansion of the city’s existing airport, Beijing Capital International Airport for the new Terminal 3 project, a one million square meter terminal building.”

It starts with a competition
In China, NACO is represented by local employees that work from the offices of Royal HaskoningDHV in Shanghai. Designing a terminal building or planning an airport often starts with a competition between different consultants. NACO was chosen as the award winning master plan team for New Beijing airport, based on its competition entry. Ringersma emphasizes that his team paid special attention to the landside accessibility. “It is a very vulnerable aspect of any mega airport. Apart from extensive road access, we incorporated various modes of public transport including high-speed trains, the metro, local buses and inter-airport trains. These will all be processed in a Ground Transportation Centre which will be situated in front of the new terminals. By spreading traffic flow as much as possible, congestion can then be avoided and accessibility guaranteed.”

Access is key
Landside access is the key word in almost all airport developments in China, says Ringersma. “Careful attention to this important detail wins competitions, although I must stress that careful planning of terminal buildings which cater for more than 200 aircraft stands can also be a daunting task. A clever and creative solution to handle people coming to and leaving the airport defines the future quality for its users. In tying all different modes of transport it is important to manage the various stakeholders. For example, China’s railway system is managed by the government Department of Railways, which may result in a railway station outside of the airport terminals. It takes diplomacy to reach the optimal solution in which all different modes of transport are integrated”, says Ringersma.

Strong roots: Jiang Zemin
NACO has strong roots in China, as the first assignment was in the early eighties of the 20th century. “It was Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport and the man who hired us was the then mayor of Shanghai, Jiang Zemin; he later became president of the Peoples Republic.  For a long time, when we presented a proposal to Chinese airport clients, we started with a photo of a ceremony related to this assignment, with Mr Jiang Zemin on it. This approach immediately broke the ice!” The story also underlines the importance of long relationships and trust in the airport development business.

Tried and tested
“Our strong international expertise is our competitive edge. Our creative solutions for the airports in China have often been tried and tested elsewhere. This helps generate business, as our Chinese counterparts are generally in favor of ‘proven solutions’ to problems. Especially when these solutions offer more effectiveness or efficiency – or simply save money. We see it as our job to always find the best solution to every airport challenge - and go one step further. I believe that our way of building flexibility into Beijing’s new airport, allowing it to adapt to new needs in ten to twenty years from now, was the basis of our winning scheme. This shows our trademark: we know about airports and about the challenges that China’s airport managers face.”

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