Flying High

Author: Michael Vogel

Dec 21, 2022

Airports are impressive in and of themselves. But some have that special something that makes them quirky or unforgettable.

The question of how many airports there are in the world has no easy answer. There are too many criteria. Are we talking about commercial airports, military airports, cargo airports, or all of the above? What is the threshold between an airport and an airstrip? One thing is certain: Airports have a special atmosphere and a certain privilege. After all, most people rarely fly; in fact, the overwhelming majority of the world’s population has never flown. Umbrella organization Airports Council International has some 720 members operating nearly 2,000 airports in 185 countries. Among them are airports both large and small – and some that stand out because of their architecture, services, location, or sheer size.
Passengers landing at Singapore Changi Airport for the first time, for example, are likely reminded more of a hotel than a technological infrastructure. Carpeted floors in large parts of the buildings, an outdoor swimming pool on the roof, a butterfly house, a cactus garden, a waterfall, cinemas, adventure playgrounds – sometimes there is not enough time before departure to experience everything.
Atlanta is the world’s busiest passenger airport
In 2019, the year before the corona pandemic, 68 million passengers used Changi Airport. While that is an Asian record, it is not a global one. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport recorded nearly 111 million passengers that year, making it the busiest airport in the world – as it has been for decades. Only in 2020, during the corona pandemic, did it temporarily lose the title to Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in southern China. At the time, the latter recorded just under 44 million passengers, while Hartsfield-Jackson had “only” 43 million.
Another Chinese airport offers a special sight to behold: Beijing Daxing International Airport in the country’s capital. It only started operating in the fall of 2019, basically on the eve of the pandemic, which is rather inconvenient for an airport. The building’s unusual shape is best seen from the air: a six-armed starfish whose outer shell is colored orange.
Then there are the two airports that offer a special thrill for onlookers, one in Greece and the other on the Caribbean island of St. Martin. The regional airport Alexandros Papadiamantis is located on the island of Skiathos, and has a runway bordered at both ends by water. As a result, the planes taking off and landing thunder directly above the heads of people on the access road in the immediate vicinity of the airport – an experience somewhere between amazing and frightening. The situation is similar at Princess Juliana International Airport in the Dutch part of St. Martin. There, the planes’ flight path runs directly over a beach, with flight altitudes of only 10 to 20 meters. A nearby beach bar provides information about all takeoff and landing times. Such low flyovers are not without danger. On several occasions, people have been injured when they were caught in an engine’s air jet and thrown to the ground.
Thrills during takeoffs and landings
Another thrill, especially for airplane passengers, is the Tenzing Hillary Airport in Lukla, Nepal. Built under the direction of the first Everest climber, Edmund Hillary, and named after him and his sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, the airport was made famous as the “most extreme airport” by a US TV show. The weather conditions here at 2,800 meters change rapidly. Often it is foggy or cloudy, sometimes strong winds blow. The combined runway ends abruptly at a precipice and is only 527 meters long, so only small propeller planes can approach the airport. It is very busy during hiking season because long-distance hiking trails start there, including to the Mount Everest base camp.
By comparison, Gibraltar International Airport doesn’t seem wild at all. Nevertheless, it boasts a worldwide unique feature: Due to the British overseas territory’s limited space, the runway had to be laid out to cross the road that serves as motor traffic’s only connection to Spain. Therefore, the road is closed every time an aircraft takes off or lands – just like at a railroad crossing. This became a problem with the increasing number of flights, which was identified in the early 2000s. A road tunnel is supposed to solve the problem for traffic, but the construction project is massively behind schedule. Originally scheduled to open in 2009, the local press now expects the tunnel to open in late 2022 or early 2023. However, the airport will not lose its attraction completely: People traveling on foot or by bike will continue to cross the critical zone above ground.
Interview: Secure supply chain for the aviation industry
Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, the European Union also massively tightened aviation security regulations. DEKRA Aviation Services supports companies in establishing and implementing European and national aviation security standards. Specialist coordinator Fereschta Kokar explains what aviation security training is all about in an interview.
Ms. Kokar, who needs aviation security training?
Kokar: It’s actually a lot more people than you would generally assume. The EU Implementing Regulation 2015/1998 specifies who must undergo aviation security training. In Germany, this is additionally specified by the German Federal Aviation Authority’s regulations concerning the “Secure Supply Chain Germany”. In general, anyone who works for a company in the secure supply chain and performs tasks in accordance with European regulations requires appropriate aviation security training.
Along the entire supply chain?
Kokar: Yes, it starts with manufacturers who want to send air freight, continues with logistics companies that bring these goods to the airport, and ends with the personnel who carry out freight, mail, passenger, and baggage checks at the airport. In these companies, all employees who have access to air cargo, for example, require training. This also applies to the drivers of freight forwarding companies who transport air cargo, or to cleaning staff who clean rooms in which air cargo is stored.
Sounds like the bulk of aviation security training doesn’t even affect people who work directly at the airport.
Kokar: Exactly, I estimate that this only accounts for a quarter of the people. The vast majority work for companies that are not directly involved in airport operations.
What do they learn in security training courses?
Kokar: It depends on the particular group of people. For cleaners, the issues are different than for employees who perform cargo, baggage, and people screening. Cleaning staff, for example, learn that they must always keep the doors closed when entering a security area or that they must not let anyone into a security area. People who work at the aforementioned security checks, on the other hand, are also trained in the use of technology, like the operation of X-ray machines.
How long does the training take?
Kokar: The two groups of people mentioned show the range: For people who only have supervised access to identifiable air cargo, like cleaners, it is currently three 45-minute lessons. For passenger screening personnel, it takes about six and a half weeks full time.
And that’s it?
Kokar: All of them have advanced training requirements. In addition, security staff who use technology for inspection must be re-certified every three years. The EU regulation is not a static entity, but is regularly adapted to new developments. One example is the issue of IT security, which is also becoming increasingly important in this context.