TechFlesh Blog

9 of the World s Most High-Tech Airports

When it comes to modern amenities, some airports go above and beyond the standard fare.

Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport

In 2007, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) received a Voluntary Airport Low Emissions grant of nearly $5.1 million from the Federal Aviation Administration to reduce operational emissions at its new 824,000-square-foot North Terminal, one of the first airport complexes completely designed and constructed after 9/11. North Terminal has hydrants that can fuel planes directly, to cut out the need to gas up a fleet of fuel trucks, and units to deliver temperature-controlled air and 400-Hz electrical power units to planes parked at boarding gates, decreasing the reliance on diesel-powered portable ground power units. In addition, the terminal’s streamlined design allows taxiing planes to follow a more efficient path from runway to gate.

Düsseldorf International Airport

Constructed this past fall in just eight weeks, the advanced 8400-panel solar array at Düsseldorf International Airport in Germany covers an area as big as six soccer fields. It’s the largest ground-mounted solar-power plant within the security zone of a German airport, and it is easily visible for passengers in flight arriving at or departing from Düsseldorf. Beginning in 2012, the plant is expected to generate 2 megawatts of energy per year—not nearly enough to meet all the airport’s energy needs, but a start. And just so air travelers appreciate the array; the airport has a large monitor that displays how much energy the panels are creating and the mass of carbon emissions they are preventing.

Sacramento International Airport

Sacramento International Airport’s three-story Terminal B, which opened in November, was designed with energy efficiency in mind at every turn. It includes a heat-reflecting cool roof, high-efficiency boilers, and energy-efficient evaporation and convection-based cooling to keep travelers in the baggage-claim and ticketing areas comfortable. There’s also glass that lets in light while minimizing heat, a cogeneration plant (fueled by natural gas) that uses reclaimed heat to produce heat and power simultaneously, and dimmable fluorescent and LED lighting. The terminal is expected to reduce CO2 emissions by 793 metric tons per year—equivalent to taking 165 cars out of commission.

Melbourne International Airport

To streamline the enormous amount of baggage (up to 20,000 pieces daily) that comes through its three busiest terminals, Melbourne International Airport uses a high-speed, tilt-tray baggage-sortation system. This system sends luggage through the airport on individual trays before “tipping” each bag off at the correct loading location. It’s equipped with an energy-efficient linear synchronous motor (LSM) that reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 75 percent while also eliminating contact between moving parts. That minimizes wear and tear and lets the machines run quieter.

Incheon Airport

Consistently ranked among the world’s top airports, Incheon Airport in Seoul, South Korea, is also one of the few airports in Asia to use the ILS Cat-III B system. This category of instruments provides precision guided landings for planes when the visibility is as low as 150 feet, using a combination of radio signals and high-intensity lighting. As the flight crew supervises, ILS executes a series of predetermined maneuvers to land the plane; the radar altimeter scans the ground and measures altitude, telling the system when to start the landing flare, nose up the plane, and slow the descent. However, the system is currently available only to planes with a fail-operational landing system (a system that will continue operating even if one of its components stops working) and a qualified crew.

Pittsburgh International Airport

With its advanced snow- and ice-removal system, Pittsburgh International Airport is at the top of the heap for battling harsh winter weather. Working directly via radio with the air traffic control tower, workers clear each runway at 35- to 45-minute intervals using eight PSB (plowing, sweeping, and blowing) machines that can move up to 3,000 tons per hour. The machines drive side by side, followed by a snow thrower—a single-stage snow remover that has no fan, so it’s less likely to freeze and can move a larger amount of snow more quickly. If needed, a chemical truck then comes along and sprays antiskid agent on the runway. Once the process is complete, a friction-test vehicle tries each runway’s surface to determine skid resistance. It’s then up to an aircraft’s pilot to decide whether the runway is suitable for landing.

Adelaide Airport

Australia’s Adelaide Airport is poised receive a new suite of technology, known as the Integrated Tower Automation Suite (INTAS), when its new $16.9 million control tower opens later this year. The hub of the 144-foot-high concrete tower takes after the “glass cockpit” concept on modern jetliners, featuring digital instruments and large LCD touch screens. These screens will provide controllers with flight and operational information, terminal details, surface surveillance (radar) data, weather information, and more. Air traffic controllers will be able to control functions such as airport ground lighting from the same console.

Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport

New in 2010, Terminal B at Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport has 200-foot-long skylights and a glass curtain wall to let in natural light, and a solar photovoltaic system on the roof to generate energy. The terminal is also known for its passenger seating areas, which feature specially designed Zenky Air Chairs. The chairs are actually part of the building’s ventilation system—they’re the diffusers for the air but provide fresh air only when a person is sitting in them, and only up to about 8 feet (rather than all the way to the ceiling), making the whole system more efficient.

Kuwait International Airport

Expected to open in 2016, the shiny new terminal at Kuwait International Airport is set to transform KIA into a regional hub—and to take advantage of the intense sunlight that beats down on this nation. The design by architects Foster + Partners includes glazed windows that let in light but deflect solar radiation, and a roof topped with photovoltaic panels.