Contrary to popular opinion based on often-skewed reporting, the Denver International Airport (DIA) has been a tremendous success on many levels - going far beyond the reputation of its much-maligned automated baggage system. DIA is the first new airport built from the ground up in over 20 years. Ground was broken for this massive project in September 1989, and the City and County of Denver managed its construction. Built to replace an aging Stapleton International Airport that opened in October 1929, DIA occupies 34,000 acres of what was formerly (and today partly still is) wheat farms and cattle range.
It’s no secret that Denver International Airport has been the subject of numerous investigations since opening on Feb. 28, 1995. All of the investigations that have been resolved so far have found no evidence of wrongdoing or malfeasance. What isn’t as well known, however, is that hundreds of other types of investigative visits to DIA also have taken place – by aviation professionals, government officials and airline representatives from around the world based on the successes of the facility. Thousands of such officials have visited DIA since opening day to learn about the high-tech systems, management practices, and operating procedures at the world’s most technologically advanced commercial aviation facility.
"DIA has been a magnet for the world aviation industry," said Jim DeLong, DIA’s manager of aviation. "The people who operate or build airports, together with the airlines and other tenants that use those facilities, want to see the state-of-the-art technologies, systems and procedures that we are using to make DIA one of the world’s most efficient airports."
DIA consists of five 12,000 foot runways. Designed and configured as something of a pin-wheel, landing patterns can be changed in a matter of minutes as wind and weather dictate. With three outlying concourses, access to the gates is from an underground subway system. One of the concourses also has a glass and steel bridge connecting it to the terminal—the only bridge in the world certified to have planes taxi beneath it.
Designing DIA naturally incorporated enormous use of computer systems. From project management to computer-aided design, DIA was and still is one of the largest municipal projects ever designed, built, and operated using computers. Meticulous planning went into the design of DIA to make it the most efficient facility possible for travelers and aircraft.
Over 30 million passengers passed through DIA during its first 12 months of operation. DIA has the capacity to expand to accommodate 110 million passengers by 2020, making it the busiest airport in the world. DIA currently ranks as the sixth-busiest airport in the United States in terms of passenger traffic and the ninth-busiest in the world.
The DIA terminal building is designed to minimize a traveler’s horizontal movement as much as possible. The airlines’ parking, ticketing, and baggage facilities are located directly beneath each other on different levels, making them readily accessible by elevator or escalator. More than a quarter mile of counter space helps minimize ticketing congestion. Denver International’s 1.4-million-square-foot terminal has three modules, and the design plan allows for three more modules to be added to double the terminal’s size to meet future passenger traffic needs.
The concourses presently contain 94 gates, and expansion to approximately 240 gates is possible by lengthening the existing concourses and building two new ones. DIA planners also put enough distance between the concourses to allow free movement of aircraft. The detached concourse design also allowed planners to lay out the runways in a more efficient configuration.
Each of the concourses is built around a 360-by-370-foot, four-level "core" that contains a variety of retail stores, restaurants, newsstands and shops. A series of moving walkways give connecting passengers speedy access to the shopping areas or to other gates in the same concourse.
Designed, Built, and Operated Using Computers
Denver International Airport is billed as an "airport for the 21st Century." And without the use of the latest computer technology, the $4.2 billion facility might have taken that long to build. Denver International Airport was the first airport in the world to be totally designed, built, and operated using computer technology. DIA planners cite efficiency and accuracy as two main reasons for the extensive use of computers at the new airport.
Computers allowed DIA’s facility-management (FM) system to manage the project’s development, construction and operation by the originally scheduled opening in October 1993. Planners used computers early in the design phase to analyze virtually all aspects of DIA operations.
To make runway-taxiway configuration as efficient and economical as possible, computer models were used to analyze taxiing distances, fuel consumption rates, and arrival and departure patterns. Computer models also helped planners study wind and weather patterns to determine the most efficient airfield configuration. Computers were indispensable in keeping track of all the contracts, construction companies, drawings, blueprints and other documents involved. The state-of-the-art CAD and computer-aided facility management (CAFM) systems selected by planners gave them a way to gather design information, track construction operations and manage administration, maintenance and personnel. The systems allowed engineers and planners to feed all graphic information into the computer and then isolate any section of any structure they chose.
The City’s multimillion-dollar investment in the CAD/CAFM system will ultimately be repaid many times over through lower operating costs at DIA.
"If you didn’t use computers on something this big, you couldn’t manage it in the short period of time that we had to get the project developed, under construction and in use," said Charlie McClure, head of the facility management system at DIA. "Either you use a computer, or the amount of manpower that you’d have to put on the project would be staggering."
Computers played a vital role in the development of this massive project since day one.
The sheer size of the DIA project created an obvious need for a system to keep track of the scores of contracts, dozens of construction companies, 40,000 drawings and hundreds of thousands of other documents used to build the facility. With over 1000 contractors and subcontractors working independently, the DIA team was the central repository for gathering and coordinating all the data. City officials selected a state-of-the-art CAD system for all the design and specification work. Pairing the CAD system with a computer-aided facility management (CAFM) system gave planners a comprehensive way of gathering the design information, tracking construction operations and managing related aspects such as administration, maintenance and personnel.
Some of the specific hardware and software used in the Denver International Airport project included:
- Auto-trol Technology Corp. Series 5000 graphic system
- Empress fully relational database management system (RDBMS), Facility Series software
- Hewlett-Packard Co. DN 3500 workstations, Apollo Domain network
- CalComp 5835 color electrostatic plotter
- Data Products LD-600 printer
- IBM 9370 mainframe
- Artemis software
- AutoCAD software
- Intergraph software
- Oracle RDBMS.
Planners also devised a set of standards to ensure that design documents submitted by various contractors were compatible with the airport’s computer systems. The standards essentially guaranteed that all computer information involved with DIA development could be translated into the airport’s CAFM system.
DIA’s insistence and purpose in requiring all CAD drawings to be submitted in a prescribed format was centered around the need for using the data for CAFM as the airport began operation. The FM system was centered around accurate data and the link between graphic drawing information and non-graphic facility information. DIA’s planners were convinced that accommodating FM early on, during design, would eliminate at least a sizable portion of retrofitting drawings for FM after construction was complete. They also realized that having the data during design and construction would be especially beneficial when engineering changes were effected.
Digital CAD files had to match the hardcopy drawings submitted. Because of inherent differences in CAD systems, DIA established "levels of acceptability" in comparing the supposedly same data contained in the different media. Though there was some slight latitude in this area, adherence to the established standards and requirements was mandatory. Any deviations from or exceptions to the established standards required little less than an act of God.
In writing the standard requirements, DIA planners and outside consultants tried to be all-encompassing in what they included. The agreed upon final list of standards was quite exhaustive and included everything from electronic submittal requirements, to standard symbols, to line types and weights, to title blocks, among many other things. There were those close to the project that feared the collection of all this data up front would hinder progress and throw the project off schedule. These fears, though, largely proved false. Most of the problems encountered in adhering to the standards revolved around getting the myriad contractors and subcontractors set up. Once done, however, most of the parties involved quickly saw the utility in collecting and maintaining good data as the project progressed.
According to Dave Dixon, an application analyst for DIA, resistance to the standards came almost exclusively from the larger contractors, primarily because most of these firms had established their own standards and were used to working with them. However, most of the small firms actually welcomed and embraced DIA’s set of standards, because most of these firms had none or few in-house.
Once the standards were established and DIA’s insistence that they be followed to the letter became known, a cottage industry sprouted up in the Denver area to assist engineering firms set up systems and translate data to comply with the data format and submission standards.
Throughout the design and construction phases of the facility, DIA officials looked at the data they were receiving not as a service, but a product and they wanted constant assurance that they were getting what they were paying for. They wanted this data reviewed. Based on just the sheer volume of data, an internal program was written that enabled computers to perform as much of the standard data compliance review as possible. However, very complex data, such as that found in layered drawings could not be handled by the computers alone and heavy human intervention was called upon. In the end, though, most companies submitting data for review regarded the automated review process as fair and objective.
Standards The Key To Success
In Dixon’s view, "Establishment and adherence to standards were the keys to success for the design, engineering, construction, maintenance, and general operations of DIA." He also attributes a large measure of the CAFM success to the support it has received from management from the outset.
Because many required software applications did not exist commercially when DIA was being designed and built, they were often coded in-house. Today these legacy products are quickly changing, however, as the DIA CAFM team migrates toward more commercial, off the shelf, easy to use products, such as ArcView, said Dixon. "We are really trying to get away from products that require a technical specialist," he said. "I personally want to get to the point where I can teach someone how to use a new software package in a couple of hours —not change someone’s job description. And while we have tired to make UNIX as transparent to users as possible, it is still there. Knowing this, we are also moving slowly away from UNIX to Windows NT to promote further ease of use."
Designers and contractors were encouraged to use their native CAD systems to increase design efficiency. However, they had to make their CAD files compatible with DIA’s, and standards were written to facilitate the translation. All graphic information, such as floor plans, was fed into the system. Today, this two-dimensional graphic data can be extruded into a three-dimensional model of the whole airport, providing ready access to information on any aspect of airport design, as general or as specific as needed. Engineers and planners can select and view any part of any structure and isolate any section they require.
The facilities data is presented in two basic forms:
- A Graphical Airport Model that lets users access information contained in the computer model of DIA. This model, which is approximately 12 GB in size, includes all facilities displayed through a map/graphic interface. User maps are automatically updated with the latest facility data. With the model, users can interact with the graphics and perform simple queries on the data with virtually no training.
- As-Built Data comprises the majority of the data available in the electronic document management system (EDMS). Data is displayed through a browser that accesses the as-built data from an optical server (jukebox). As-builts are available on all facilities contained in some 40,000+ documents (approximately 50 GB of data) through a map/graphic interface.
As much as possible, the model and data were structured as objects and components so non-specialists can easily use them.
To users with the appropriate permissions, the following GIS/CAFM applications are available on CAFM workstations and PCs:
- Computer-assisted mapping
- Computer-assisted lease management
- Computer-assisted space management
- Plan/map builder
- Work order generator
- GIS pavement management
- GIS/land data tiling
- GIS emergency response
- GIS environmental
- GIS utility location
From the CAFM system, there are two basic types of information available—civil/land and building data. These two basic information types then contain a wide range of specific information—everything from drainage and noise contours, to space usage and leases, to the installation locations of artworks in DIA’s art program.
The basic intent of all this data, of course, was to help manage DIA. This intent seems to be working very well, as more and more people use the data for more and different purposes everyday - many that the DIA CAFM group admits they never envisioned.
You literally pick the area you want to see and then you tell the computer what kinds of information you’re looking for. For example, if you only want to look at the water lines in a particular area, that’s all the system will show you. If you want more detailed information, such as the type of valve at a certain spot in the line, the system can tell you that. It can even show you a parts inventory for a particular valve.
Any design changes that were made as construction progressed were stored in the computer system, providing an "as-built" record of the airport. Another computer system also can be used to figure what impact those changes might have on the overall construction schedule or cost of the project.
Looking back, maintenance crews at the old Stapleton Airport didn’t always have accurate blueprints to show the location of pipes or wiring within walls. But the DIA CAFM system can provide a complete 3-D semi-transparent layout of all the routings for gas, water, electricity, and communications utilities. The savings in time and money from that knowledge alone should be significant.
All information on budget-ing, construction scheduling and cost-tracking went into another part of the CAFM system, allowing development of a critical path network (CPN) to keep track of all ongoing project activities. By consulting the CPN, officials could quickly determine if a particular aspect of a project was behind schedule or over budget.
A spokesman for DIA said it was well worth the three years it took to write programs for the FM system. "Quite frankly, I don’t know how we could run the airport without them," he said.
The computer systems that were used successfully at Stapleton were improved and incorporated into all facets of Denver International’s daily operations. Computers do everything from administering concessionaires’ leases and analyzing airport noise contours to implementing preventive maintenance schedules. A complete archive of equipment vendors -- including parts serial numbers, warranties and maintenance histories -- are be kept in the computer, which automatically generates work orders for repair or maintenance of any component within the facility support system.
The city will recoup its multi-million-dollar investment in the CAD/CAFM system through lower operating costs during Denver International’s lifetime. It’s difficult to predict how much money will be saved, but most officials agree the savings could be well over $100 million over the facility’s life.
"The actual operational and maintenance costs of the facility will equal at least five times what the original facility costs," a DIA official said. "Where computers come into play is to minimize the manpower it takes to keep up with the facility."
How DIA’s Cost Stacks Up
As the number of airline passengers increases worldwide, demands on aviation facilities also increase. Several cities, in Asia, Europe and North America, are building new airports so they can keep up with this expanding industry. Other airports are adding capital improvements to existing facilities because there is no surrounding physical space for expansion—a scarce commodity for most airports or cities that would like to expand aviation capacity.
Denver is unique because it could acquire 34,000 acres of sparsely populated land for DIA within 35 minutes of its downtown. Currently in its first phase, DIA has the capacity to handle 50 million passengers and 640,000 flight operations per year. This current passenger capacity ranks DIA second in the world, and the facility has room to do something no other major airport can do–double in size.
The total cost of Denver’s airport—approximately $4.2 billion—compares very favorably to what other cities in the United States and abroad are spending on expanded facilities at existing airports and new airports. Once construction on those airports is complete, DIA’s cost-per-passenger will seem something of a bargain, especially in light of DIA’s operational infrastructure and associated services available to airlines; things that the airlines usually provide for themselves.
Consider the following examples:
- Miami International Airport expects to spend more than $2.5 billion for terminal, concourse and parking garage expansions or refurbishments, and 11 new cargo buildings. It is conducting an environmental impact study to build a fourth runway. Without the fourth runway, its ability to expand the number of operations could be severely constrained.
- The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has announced plans to overhaul Kennedy International Airport at a cost of $4.3 billion. In addition, the Port Authority would like to build a $2.5 billion railway line linking Manhattan with JFK and La Guardia airports. While the improvements will facilitate passenger movement and convenience, the Authority is not adding new runways for additional flights.
- Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority estimates that a construction program for National and Dulles International airports will cost nearly $2 billion. Although the money is slated for a variety of airfield and building improvements, none of the money is going to new runways.
So, while these major U.S. airports are improving facilities, spending at least two-thirds what it cost to build DIA, little additional capacity will be available to the nation’s aviation system.
Abroad, several cities are planning for the future and building facilities that can handle more flights and more passengers:
- Kansai International helps reduce the demands on Narita and Haneda International airports in Tokyo and Osaka International Airport. Although it cost $14 billion and has landing fees of $9,673 for a 747-400, Kansai has only one runway.
- Youngjongdo, by comparison, also will have only one runway when it opens this year. Korea Airports Authority says it will be able to handle 27 million passengers annually. The airport’s first phase cost is estimated at $4.25 billion. Even at final build-out, Seoul’s new airport will have one less runway than DIA.
- Also scheduled to open this year is the 11,000-acre Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia. Its first phase calls for two parallel runways, one main terminal, and satellite terminals, costing $3.8 billion. Passenger capacity will be 25 million passengers a year.
- Finally, Munich, Germany’s new Franz Joseph Strauss Airport, which opened in May 1992, has two parallel runways and one terminal large enough to handle 15 million passengers annually. Cost was $7.1 billion.
In none of the world’s current airport projects are there plans for a larger facility than DIA. In the United States, few major airports are able to add operational capacity with new runways. Yet, capital improvement costs surely will add to the fees airlines pay to use these airports.
So all things considered, DIA is quite a success story.
Interesting Side Notes Regarding DIA
- The total area of Denver International Airport is approximately 53 square miles, twice the size of Manhattan Island in New York City.
- The surface area included in the first design phase (six runways, ramps and taxiways) is equivalent to a single lane of highway from Denver to Chicago.
- The airport site, though relatively flat, was lowered in some areas and raised in others, requiring the moving of 110 million cubic yards of earth. 110 million cubic yards is approximately one-third the amount of dirt moved during the Panama Canal project. This amount of earth, if dumped into a single pile, would cover 32 city blocks to a depth of approximately one-quarter mile.
- A 120-foot-high, peaked roof of translucent, Teflon-coated fiberglass covers the terminal, bathing the grand atrium in diffused natural light. The Teflon-coated fiberglass roof of the main terminal building covers 376,332 square feet. It is 126 feet from the terminal floor at its highest point. The roof is supported by 10 miles of steel cable suspended from 34 masts. It weighs about 1.5 pounds per square foot, for a total of approximately 400 tons.
- Runways are built in layers, beginning with six feet of compacted, non-expansive soil. Then there is a rototilled 12-inch layer of soil that is treated with lime to form a subgrade. Eight inches of a cement-treated base goes on top of the soil, followed by 17 inches of concrete. Approximately 240,000 cubic yards of concrete were used to pave DIA’s runways and taxiways.