You are here:

Architecture/International airport design.


QUESTION: Dear Richard

What are the factors/parameters contributing to the number of terminals required in a international airport design?


ANSWER: Prashant,

I am assuming that your use of the word "terminal" describes a long building extension with several gates located on each side.  I think it is important to clarify because some airports have groups of gates that resemble terminals.  But those same airports designate only the main taxi drop off and pick up area as the "terminal".  According to my definition, any airport shaped like a hand would have five terminals.  The palm of the hand would be the main concourse.  Obviously, airports have different configurations and different terminology.

An airport that services international flights will have no less than two terminals.  An international airport with only two terminals will have one terminal dedicated to international flights and the other terminal will be used entirely for domestic flights.

Another factor for airport design will include surrounding site constraints.  How many different flight path directions are possible?  Two, three, or four?  Is the airport located on the edge of the ocean or within a high mountain range?  Is there another airport nearby?  These are practical considerations that determine how a new airport must function.

How many take offs and landings occur each year?  As you know, there are many gates distributed along each terminal.  There should be approximately one gate for every 3,000 take offs and landings within one year.  The more gates, the less congestion.  The more terminals, the less congestion.  The more gates and terminals, the higher cost of construction.

Based on my analysis of population and scale, there should be one airport terminal for every 1.5 million people.  For example, the city of Sydney Autralia with a population of 4,920,000 should have at least three terminals (which it does).  Tokyo has only two terminals which is not enough.  Dubai has eight terminals which is too many.  Tokyo has severe site constraints which Dubai does not have.

Thanks for the interesting questions.  Keep them coming.

Richard Burton, AIA
Registered Architect
ICC Certified Plan Reviewer
NFPA Certified Fire Plan Examiner

[an error occurred while processing this directive]---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Dear Richard


If the number of flights are increased to 30-50 or more in a day, what could be the ideal solution?

1 Increasing number of terminals in the existing airport infrastructure.
There could be a space constraint?
2 Construction of a new building for the new terminals?


1) You will want to add one additional gate for every four planes coming and going each day.  For 50 additional planes pulling up to a terminal, unloading, refueling, loading, and taking off again, there should be no less than twelve additional gates.  The easiest way to accomplish this is to extend one of the existing terminals.  I doubt that there should be a space constraint but that depends on the existing configuration.

2) For an existing system of runways, there should be only one control tower and only one building.  Having multiple buildings that comprise one international airport is never a good idea in terms of control, flow of passengers between connecting flights.  One international airport and one building and one system of runways.  There is no problem with having a private airport adjacent to an international airport.  But two different airports should be no less than one kilometer or more apart and function entirely separate from each other.

I hope that makes sense.

Richard Burton, AIA
Registered Architect


All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Richard Burton AIA


A combined total of 25 years experience with construction, architecture, and building code enforcement. Ask me about residential and commercial design. Ask me about design aesthetics, structural methods, and building something that will withstand severe weather conditions. Ask me my opinion about YOUR design ideas and I will tell you the merits of good design and challenge your thinking about practical issues. Ask me how to best find and work with your local architect and approach general contractors to get the most value for the least amount of headaches. You can ask me about improving your energy efficiency and things that are both green and practical. But don't ask me about solar panels and wind turbines unless you are currently paying your utility company 35 cents per Kilowatt. Otherwise the math does not justify the initial cost and return on investment. Ask me any building code question and how to get a building permit from the most difficult enforcement agencies.


Here in the midwest, we design and build "green" in ways that make sense. My construction methods prioritize weather resistance, ease of maintenance and durability. While a graduate student in San Diego, I taught drafting and history of architecture. After working ten years for other architecture firms, I have started my firm Arrow Architecture in 2008. More than half of my work involves commercial office buildings. But my portfolio of work also includes custom homes, residential additions, home remodels, and second story additions.

President-Elect of American Institute of Architects - Lincoln, NE

B.S. Architecture - (Interior Design) University of Nebraska Lincoln 1997 Master of Architecture - (Urban Design and Professional Practice) NewSchool of Architecture - San Diego 2004 Graduated Summa Cum Laude ICC Certified Building Plans Examiner

Awards and Honors
AIA Henry Adams Medal and Certificate

©2017 All rights reserved.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]