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Scoop from the Summit

Q+A with Bill Hooper from the front lines
Gensler On Cities editor Leah Ray interviews Bill Hooper, one of our Aviation + Transportation Practice Area Leaders, on his perceptions of the recent Airport Project Delivery Systems Summit V.

Q: Where are you now?
A: I’m at the Airport Project Delivery Systems Summit V in Indianapolis, Indiana. It’s a conference that’s hosted by the Airports Council International ;(ACI), Airport Consultants Council ;(ACC) and the Association of General Contractors of America ;(ACG).

Q: What are people talking about?
A: Everyone is talking about how to deliver successful projects today. Airports are really struggling to find the best ways to get work done and delivered. They’re talking—in great detail—about what works and what doesn’t. They’re debating which alternative delivery methods offer benefits, from design build, maximum guaranteed pricing, and integrated delivery, to good-old-fashioned design/build/bid. Airports are working overtime to assess their options, yet they don’t have the same options. Each faces a unique set of legal and governmental restrictions.

Q: Have there been any surprises for you at the conference?
A: Within the world of airports, it’s surprising to hear how many alternative delivery methods are being discussed. In many cases, we’re hearing about options that have existed in the private sector for 10 or 20 years, but they’re only now finding their way into the airport toolkit. I was also surprised by how many airports believe that design build’s benefit lies in its simplicity, even as they hear stories of how contentious it can be.

Q: What was the consensus on the pros/cons of the various alternative delivery methods discussed?
A: For design/build, the reports were remarkably consistent. The advantage is that airports get an integrated team that presents fewer opportunities to make claims against the owner. Clearly, that appeals to the owner. The down side is that clients who’ve done design/build projects feel that they’ve lost a little level of control in the design, or even some phasing. That’s disadvantageous and challenging.

Integrated Delivery—where true—creates a fully integrated contract with far more disclosure between all parties. The owner, architect and builder all comprise a seamless team. There’s a recent ENR article that describes this in detail.  Yet the jury is still out on this method because there are lots of questions about insurance. There is general skepticism over such loose contractual relationships. That said, European models show integrated delivery as a natural outgrowth of public/private partnerships. Gatwick is one great example of that.

Overall, there is a general acceptance of alternative delivery techniques, which is quite a shift for airports. The reason they’re making this change is that they’re challenged by how to procure work, and they’re pinched between regulations for federal grants and aid, and local restrictions on what they can do. They’re tentative about alternative project delivery, yet forced to consider all options available.

Q: What airports was everyone talking about?
A: The summit was in Indianapolis, so everyone was able to experience the new terminal there. HOK designed a handsome, well-spaced airport, and it’s a strong example of the direction of new terminal design. People were also excited to hear about our progress on SFO’s T2. The SFO airport representatives are very proud of the quality of the design there, and it’s a very visible, high-profile design/build project. SFO T2 may reset expectations about what design/build at an airport is. Gatwick was another project everyone was talking about; I think we’ll hear lots more about investment there. I didn’t realize it, but it’s the busiest single-runway airport in the world. Everyone will be watching what happens there.

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