Stansted: First phase of £80m airport terminal investment nearing completion

A computer generated image of the reconfigured layout at Stansted Airport. A computer generated image of the reconfigured layout at Stansted Airport.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013
10:00 AM

Passengers arriving to catch a flight at Stansted Airport are about to get their first experience of the new facilities being created as part of an £80million refit of the main terminal building.

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A relocated security check area, with a total of 22 lanes compared with the present 18, is due to be fully operational by Christmas, with the first lanes coming into use later this week.

However, the new security area is just part of a major investment by Stansted’s new owner, Manchester Airports Group (MAG), to enable the airport to handle increased numbers safely and efficiently as its traffic builds towards its increased authorised capacity of 35m passengers a year.

The reconfiguration reflects two major changes which have taken place in air travel since the terminal opened in 1991 − the increase in security checks in response to the threat of terrorism and the reduction the proportion of passengers checking in luggage due to the growth of the “low cost” airline model.

In response to this, the security lines at Stansted are being relocated from their current “land-locked” position at the centre of the terminal to an area almost twice the size to one side of the building.

Besides the increased number of security lanes, the lines are also longer, so giving travellers more “preparation time”, to repack their bags, place their hand baggage on the conveyors, put their metal items into trays and get any containers holding liquids ready for inspection.

Besides getting passengers through security more quickly, it is hoped that the extra space and natural light will also help reduce the stress of the process. There will also be a dedicated portal for wheelchair users and other travellers with special needs, and another for “fast track” clearance of passengers with minimal baggage.

Neil Banks, terminal transformation manager for the project, says: “The overall result should be a calmer feel all round within the security area.

“Passengers will start using the new space from December 6 and we are working 24/7 at the moment so that all 18 of the existing security lines have have moved by December 20. We will have staff on hand all through the change over to help people find their way around.”

The transfer area beyond security will also be substantially larger than at present, adding to the more relexed feel.

In contrast, the number of check-in desks − which in the era of online check-in are now largely baggage-drop facilities − will be reduced but this should not create any pressure on space or capacity.

With around half of Stansted’s passengers now only carrying hand baggage, utilisation of check-in desks was only running at around 64% before work started. Even with the new lay-out in place, this will rise to only around 90%, so still allowing a comfortable margin.

The relocation of security to one side of the check-in area, rather than beyond it, as at present, will benefit all passengers by helping to spread the flow of people on foot, says Mr Banks.

“At the moment, everyone has to pass through the check-in area, even if they have checked-in online and are only carrying hand baggage,” he says.

“In future, they will be able to turn left when they enter the terminal and go straight to security while only those with baggage for the hold will have to go to the check-in lines. The new layout means we will achieve a 50-50 split in passenger movement through the terminal straightaway.”

Work on the transformation actually began several months before passengers using the airport would have noticed that any change was afoot.

The first task was to install new luggage conveyor belt lines on the level below the main floor of the terminal building to allow for the relocation of the Ryanair baggage drop area above, which previously occupied the area where the new security lines are being constructed.

This work was, in fact, already in progress when MAG chairman Mike Davies and Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin announced the company’s investment plans on June 20.

The first change visible to passengers followed just four days later when some “land-side” catering went “air side”. Some retail units were also removed to create new walkways required for construction work to begin.

However, once the tranformation is complete, the area dedicated to retail and catering will be substantially increased and all units will include screens giving depature details to help passengers relax in the knowledge that their flight is not yet boarding.

This will include a duty free area which, it is thought, will be the biggest at any single-terminal airport in Europe.

Other features of the reconfiguration including improved toilet facilities and a relocated baggage reclaim area for passengers arriving on domestic flights, served by a dedicated corridor which now takes them direct to the front concourse without them having to go through the main part of the terminal for departures.

Martin Lyall, the transformation director. says the new lay-out reflects the findings of customer research.

“It is designed to be a self-service walk-through experience rather than a ‘queue through,” he says. “Passengers should not hit a queue and they will be kept informed how long it should take them to get through security.

“Customers tell us they want to get through security more quickly and to have more retail choice, and that is what we are doing.”

The £80m terminal project, which involves a £40m investment by MAG and a further £40m spend by commercial partners, is part of a wider £250m plan to improve the airport over the next five years. This will include work on the “satellites” from which passengers board their flights, which are not part of the current terminal transformation.

Once the new security search area is opened, attention will turn to the extension and development of the enlarged departure lounge which will be constructed and opened in planned phases to ensure business as usual is maintained for passengers. The final completion date for the terminal project is towards the end of 2015.