I'm trying to design an airport for a city, but have been having trouble with scale and layout. The city in question has heavy air traffic, equivalent to that of London, but when I look at airport designs such as Heathrow I just find them extremely confusing.

What buildings/areas do I need for an airport? And how big does everything need to be? I plan on having more than one airport for the city, but this airport will be the largest and will help in the design of others.

  • $\begingroup$ Reminder to close-voters... $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 19:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I initially thought this could be a too broad question, but what the heck, an airport is not as big a thing to design as a whole World. I'll try to answer this one later, and even get ideas from everybody else's answer to see if I can make a "sim-airport" game. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 19:06
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I'm not voting to close, because its a valid worldbuilding question, but you might do better by having an admin migrate this question to Aviation.SE. While we can come up with some ideas, they are likely to provide a whole lot more! Nothing breeds excitement quite like asking an enthusiast a question! $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 20:18
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon -- yes, airport design is definitely on topic at Aviation.SE; also, there are several FAA ACs that talk about nothing but airport design, and are recommended reading for the OP. $\endgroup$
    – Shalvenay
    Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 22:36
  • $\begingroup$ An airport design is just as valid a concern as any other port of congress design (local tavern, sci-fi spaceport, wharves): if it's liable to be integral, even as a background concept, then it carries some non-zero requirement to be addressed. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 16, 2016 at 5:03

2 Answers 2


Passenger handling areas, cargo handling areas, plane maintenance areas, runways and taxiways, and a place to bring them all together.

  • Many passengers will have to go through immigration/customs, and these days there are intensive security checks as well. Think of it as a slice of the pie (or pizza) which goes from the outer rim of the airport to the center. Hallways, concourses, restrooms, stores, ...
  • Security barriers go from initial searches for bombs and weapons, to luggage check-in and identity checks, to ways to separate incoming, outgoing, and transit passengers. The "pizza slice" is divided into rings.
  • Somewhere there will be parking garages, bus stops, train stations. Logically they will be at the outer rim.
  • There will be a large aircraft parking area, the apron or ramp. A modern airport has bridges to allow boarding without lost passengers wandering around. Since aircraft are large, that leads to buildings with thin, widely separated "wings" or "tentacles".
  • Wide concrete taxiways lead to the runways. Around the runways there is a large safety area, often grass.
  • Also next to the apron are a hangars for aircraft maintenance and storage. They need access to the outside, too, and of course to the apron. There are security barriers as well, but with fewer stages. People with the right pass can move relatively freely inside, subject to safety concerns.

Look at this map of Frankfurt airport, especially the northern and southern terminals.

Los Angeles is slightly different from my description because the terminals are "wrapped around" the parking lots, not the other way around.

  • $\begingroup$ I would like to point out that the design should/would likely be based on a well selected location, i.e. away from urban center far enough to not overlap airspace restrictions, the same for any military bases or government installations. It should have reasonable proximity to Interstate-type highway systems as well as both light passenger and freight rail systems. Providing construction with geographic boundaries can help with long range planning, such as building next to a river, lake or ocean, and perhaps most importantly is that with these considerations, enough space left for the design. $\endgroup$
    – Joe
    Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Joe -- joint civil/military airports are possible (and surprisingly practical, too) $\endgroup$
    – Shalvenay
    Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 22:24
  • $\begingroup$ One thing that is missing from the answer here, though, is a facility for things other than scheduled commercial flights -- if the OP's airport is the only airport in the area, it will need to handle not only airliners, but everything else from students in Cessnas to business jets with VIPs aboard, cropdusters coming in for an annual to medevac and police helicopters topping off their fuel, and even military aircraft on ferry or training missions. $\endgroup$
    – Shalvenay
    Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 22:28
  • $\begingroup$ Most airports in the US NAS (even some of the busiest in the country such as JFK and LAX) provide at least one Fixed Base Operator (FBO) that provides fuel, minor repairs, briefing facilities (where one can get weather forecasts, Notices to Airmen, etal), and other miscellaneous services and facilities for both based and transient general aviation. (I'm not sure how that's handled in the rest of the world, though...) $\endgroup$
    – Shalvenay
    Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 22:31
  • $\begingroup$ Of course, in busy areas, having the GA operations move to another airport is always a possibility, and the norm as well -- these satellites are called "reliever airports" and are critical for preventing busy metro areas from turning into aerial gridlock, or worse yet, leaving the airlines high and dry with no supply of pilots as nobody can learn to fly because there's nowhere to fly a small plane. $\endgroup$
    – Shalvenay
    Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 22:33

Essentially - at the beginning all you need is a nice straight runway (And for that matter, its not all that different from a highway). Taxiways to get aircraft in or out of the runway(s), and a hut somewhere to seat people. 2 runways would be a good minimum (one in and one out) I'd say 4 would be sane - heathrow had 6 back in the day, and struggles with 2 nowdays

Large covered garages for storing vehicles or aircraft maintenance would be awesome.

Aerobridges are nice, but many aircraft can be boarded through internal steps or a mobile staircase.

While traditionally ATC's a tower, many airports have large towers as a 'showpiece'. Radars are often regional, but having a small 'local' radar would be useful. These are not that large - military radars are often vehicle mounted.

London's main airport, heathrow's actually a pretty bad example. They have trouble getting an additional runway approved for example.

Terminals are all about people processing. A minimal, people processing terminal is no different from a regional bus station. Luggage is a problem - you need to get it in and to the right plane and the right way. Then of course, customs and immigration, holding people to and boarding. Assume enough capacity for one average airplane in each stage and you're good. Add some space cause people would not be happy being treated like cattle.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .