Community Engagement
The Rise of Airports as the New City Center
Mark Bickford
Mark Bickford

President,

Corporate Services

Sodexo North America

On Dec. 17, 1903, the Wright brothers successfully flew the first powered, manned airplane. The flight lasted only 12 seconds and covered just 121 feet. By the 1950’s commercial aviation took off. The increasing availability of affordable air travel considerably expanded aviation’s role in sustaining society. What was once a luxury commodity is now essential to tourism, trade and commerce. In fact, according to the International Air Transportation Association more than 8 million people travel by air every day.

The first airport opened in Bremen, Germany, in 1913. A century later, airports have evolved into giant business magnets—regional accelerators that drive business outward for many miles. These airport cities, referred to as aerotropolis by Airport World Magazine, are changing the way that travelers connect to get work done. Designed with comfort in mind, they help travelers enjoy a better experience and allow employees to work more conveniently and efficiently.

Airport cities have developed for a number of reasons, including the availability of land, surface transportation access and consumer demand. Some of the largest aerotropolis clusters are found in Amsterdam, Chicago, Hong Kong and Paris, with tentacles reaching out from the airport core for up to 20 miles. These airport-edge cities have attracted a remarkable number of businesses to the area, generating huge economic returns. Aerotropolis Graphic

Corporate functions, like hosting meetings, are now moving to places like the Grand Hyatt in Terminal D in the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, which serves as a fly-in virtual corporate headquarters for many U.S. businesses. With major hotel chains located across from the arrival gates, people fly here not to sleep, but to meet, a great advantage for geographically dispersed corporate staff.

Airport cities also offer different services, like the world’s largest airport clinic in Frankfurt, which serves over 36,000 patients yearly. Beijing Capital Airport tenants include banks while Stockholm Arlanda Airport features a chapel where hundreds of weddings are conducted every year.

On top of improving quality of life for business travelers, the employment scale and industry mix surrounding an aerotropolis produces significant job clusters of its own. Chicago O’Hare has 450,000 jobs within a 5-mile radius, while Dallas Fort Worth spawned 395,000 jobs and Washington Dulles International has 240,000.

Aerotropolis development is accelerating on a global scale. The 2015 Workplace Trends Report identifies 80 airport cities around the world that are either already fully functional or in early stages of development. That includes 38 in North America, 20 in Europe and 17 in Asia-Pacific. Future development will be driven by the need for global integration and speedy connectivity.

Airport cities are increasingly part of the future business landscape as comfort and convenience for employees becomes a factor that drives performance for individuals and organizations. Those with the vision to leverage opportunities created by this massive aerotropolis movement will thrive.

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