Construction logistics in the aviation sector

6th November 2017

By John Spottiswood, Heathrow Logistics Integrator 

Construction in and around any airport gives a unique set of challenges and problems. In most cases an airport can be considered to be a small city in terms of scale but with a far more demanding infrastructure. And this is before you add travellers! For example Heathrow airport where I am based will see some 75m passengers traveling through its terminals a year with peaks of 250k on a single day.

It is within this context of a live airport that major construction projects have to live and operate. The success of such build programmes is measured by preserving the all-important passenger experience as much on achieving project mile stones. Indeed some of the build and expansion projects at Heathrow’s terminals were once described to me as building in your garden while holding a family BBQ, or an extension to your kitchen while cooking Christmas dinner. However airports have little choice but to accept this challenge and it is here that modern construction logistics come into their own.

In the case of Heathrow the airport chose to embrace the construction consolidation concept where the full range of construction operations are orchestrated from a central logistic hub. Heathrow also strictly regulates the movement of certain types of vehicles at certain times to minimise impact on passengers, making intelligent coordination of goods and movements even more of a priority. In terms of simple consolidation at Heathrow, heavy goods vehicles deliver to the centre with one consolidated load going to the airport a reduction rate of 71%.

While this reduction is important to traffic flow, the ability to make a positive impact on emissions today takes centre stage. Heathrow is probably ahead of the curve in making the use of a construction consolidation centre mandatory and demanding zero emission vehicle airside by 2025. I would predict that London will inevitable have to follow this lead. The future could reasonable see a series of construction consolidation centres perched on the M25 and electric delivery vehicles used for the last 10 miles to the construction site.

The days of the onsite construction manager with his mill board is long gone; today it is replaced by tablets and cell phones. Driving the success story of modern logistics is the availability of live data, enabling managers to put data-backed decision making to the heart of all their processes. Wilson James has developed a bespoke logistic management tool which provides this technological driven core function. Such tools will continue to make logistics the key enabling function for challenging construction programmes. However, whether an airport or a traditional build site the goal is the same: the delivery of goods and materials on schedule, responsibly managed and with as little disruption as possible.