Five airports of the future, in pictures

By John Walton, April 23 2012
Five airports of the future, in pictures

Mention some airports to frequent flyers and you'll receive a sigh or a groan. Most business travellers have a list of airports they actively avoid, whether it's Los Angeles' LAX, Paris' Charles de Gaulle or London's Heathrow.

We're always interested when new airports and new terminals are planned. After all, newer terminals mean an easier, more pleasant journey.

But what's ahead for your travel over the next few years? We've taken a forward look and rounded up some of the most interesting airports of the future.

Heathrow's pop-up London 2012 Olympics terminal

Here's one you'll only be able to travel through if you're competing in the London 2012 Olympics this year -- the temporary, custom-built Games Terminal at Heathrow.

It's the newest building at one of the world's least-loved airports, although an even newer terminal is under construction to replace the demolished terminal 2.

With 31 check-in desks and seven dedicated security lanes, the Games Terminal will be 3.9 square kilometres in size, and you'll spot it near Terminal 4.

If you're one of the over 10,000 athletes and "members of the Olympic family", you'll get in-town bag drop at the Olympic Village in Stratford before being bussed across town to the airport.

Taking 10,000 passengers out of the equation in Terminals 1, 3, 4 and 5 should help Heathrow avoid grinding to an absolute standstill, but be prepared for delays and take every opportunity to avoid the busiest days this summer.

We reckon that the "pop-up" terminal is an excellent idea to take some of the strain of big events away from the main terminals -- although we're even more interested in upgraded airports that regular travellers get to use too. 

Dubai's A380 terminal

Flying to Dubai on one of Emirates' Airbus A380s? You'll likely be arriving at the dedicated superjumbo terminal -- officially named Concourse 3 -- when it opens in January 2013.

It'll be the first all-A380 terminal in the world. Emirates has a whopping ninety of the double-decker jets on order, twenty of which will be able to park directly at the terminal, with a further thirteen on the tarmac (what airlines call 'remote stands').

At each gate, you'll find separate boarding airbridges for business and first class, together with A380-sized waiting areas. And, naturally, all the usual range of terminal services.

When the terminal opens in January 2013, Emirates will fly two A380s daily from Australia to Dubai, with a new A380 Melbourne flight added in October this year to the existing Sydney service.

London's Thames Estuary Airport

Travellers flying through London might rejoice at the chance for a new airport to replace Heathrow (plus Gatwick, Stansted and Luton).

That's the idea with the Thames Estuary airport being mooted by London's government, to be built out on reclaimed land the shallow waters off to the east of London.

Think of it as a British version of the reclaimed land that Hong Kong's "new" Chek Lap Kok sits on -- with some really stunning architecture.

Plans are for four runways (twice as many as at Heathrow), plus a high speed train connection into London.

But the current UK government is once again looking at building a third runway at London Heathrow -- so will the Thames Estuary Airport ever be built?

Spaceport America

With personal space travel longer firmly in the realms of futurists, you'll find Virgin Galactic's Spaceport America as a model for the spaceports of the future.

It's just a single terminal so far, but since it's bang in the middle of the New Mexico desert there's more than enough room to expand.

In terms of design it's a real stunner -- check out our full article for even more gorgeous shots.

And Virgin takes the long view -- after all, former Virgin Blue boss Brett Godfrey reckons that by the 2020s a Virgin Galactic ticket from Sydney to London could be $20,000.

There are certainly people for whom saving the twenty hours to get there soonest makes economic sense, and for those travellers it'll be spaceports all the way.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Five airports of the future, in pictures