Once considered something of an outlier in the Pacific, Auckland Airport is rapidly becoming an aviation hub – one Airbus predicts will be welcoming over 10,000 long-haul passengers a day by 2030.
In its most recent figures, the airport reported a 12% year-on-year increase in international passenger numbers, with some nine million international passengers coming through the airport over the last year. This includes over 90% of all long-haul visitors to New Zealand.
A couple of years ago, the airport laid out its strategy to accommodate this growth with a 30 year vision to build the ‘Airport of the Future’ (www.airportofthefuture.co.nz) – one that will see the domestic and international terminals combined and a second runway built to the north of this expanded airport terminal.
The first major project outlined within this vision is an upgrade and expansion of the international departure area. This is now well underway and will deliver, in stages over the next two years, an enhanced security screening process and a world-class airport lounge and retail space, more than twice the size of the existing layout.
The design of the new space is inspired by a uniquely New Zealand journey from sea to land to sky. Architects are Gensler, with support from New Zealand’s Jasmax.
The journey will begin at the entrance to passport control as passengers step through a water wall portal to an expanded new passport control and security screening space.
This includes a post-screening lobby, where passengers will be able to relax, refresh and gather both thoughts and belongings in comfort, before continuing through to the main lounge and shopping area.
On leaving the lobby, a stroll through the new duty free stores and retail high street will not just evoke the colours, sounds, shapes and smells of big city shopping, but the unique magic of the New Zealand landscape.
Interpretations of Kauri forests, volcanic craters and native plants will make passengers feel unmistakeably in Aotearoa, while indulging in some of the best shopping opportunities and street food available anywhere in the country.
Floor to ceiling windows on the airfield side of the terminal will also provide stunning views across the runway to the surrounding natural environment of the Manukau Harbour and the hills beyond.
The main lounge space, set beneath the famed long white cloud and migrating birds that fill New Zealand’s sky, has been designed to provide a variety of seating options to suit groups of all ages and sizes.
From here passengers will also be able to access the new mezzanine level, with more areas to relax and a range of bars and restaurants in which to enjoy the best in New Zealand modern cuisine.
Transforming the space is a huge undertaking, complicated further by the need to keep the airport operational throughout. To enable this to be carried out safely and efficiently, the upgrade comprises three consecutive stages.
Through these stages, to ensure all construction activity remains out of view, the lounge space will shrink and contort before it springs out to its expanded final form.
Stage one of construction will see the new post-screening lounge open, along with the first half of the new store layouts of duty free retailers, Aelia and The Loop.
Their full stores will be revealed in stage two, along with a number of new tax free stores and elements of the new passenger lounge, with the full lounge transformation scheduled to be completed in mid-2018.
Construction has not been without its challenges. Like another New Zealand icon, the classic Kiwi bach, the airport terminal has been tinkered with and added to over its 50 years.
Efforts to accommodate the changing demands of air travel had left behind a maze of structures, rooms, corridors and even a ‘bridge to nowhere’ that have needed to be removed to make the most of what space is available.
This unpicking has now largely been completed, and the expanded new form is quickly taking shape.
In addition to the two giant tower cranes that sit above the airport, the construction team recently made use of the largest mobile crane in the country to help lift the steel truss for new roof into place.
In all over 1,000 tonnes of steel will need to be lifted across the duration of the project.
The international terminal is also being expanded with an additional two gated stands along Pier B to the west of the airport. These will both be in place by March 2018.
More immediately, by the end of 2016 two additional Code F MARS stands and a new Taxiway (Echo) will be in operation.
These have been delivered over an accelerated timeframe to ensure the airport is in good shape to accommodate the traditional summer peak season.