An airport is but a runway

I landed in Dublin Airport the other week and was ushered through the doors of the original terminal (the old bendy building to the right of the “new” terminal). I don’t believe I have been through the old terminal before – it must have been pressed back into service.

There’s a couple of remarkable things about the old terminal. Firstly, it was finished in 1940 and is considered one of the finest pre-war pieces of architecture in Ireland. And secondly, its concept is exactly the same as the new terminal that everyone is arguing about.

Don’t you ever wonder why can’t someone has come up with a better idea than the terminal idea that was obviously just copied from the ocean liners and railways a century ago.

Suppose we build another terminal at Dublin Airport. This will draw car traffic from all over the city and all over the country to just one spot. We’ll have to build new motorways and new carparks. And the present car parks are getting progressively further away from the terminal.

The contribution that the airport makes to the city is concentrated in just one spot, as is all the downsides.

Why does the terminal have to be at the airport anyway? Why do we need just one terminal? These questions beg the bigger one, which we should consider before we spend millions on a terminal that we will be saddled with for fifty years: what is a terminal for anyway?

A terminal is the space that you dwell in after you get out of the vehicle that brought you to the airport and before you get on the plane. In an ideal world, you shouldn’t need a terminal at all – you should be able to step from one mode of transport to the other.

The airline industry has plans to eliminate all forms of fixed check-in in the next few years. You will be able to check in with your mobile phone and receive your boarding pass as a text message or a screen bar code.

So effectively, a terminal is a security check and a waiting area (because planes are always late). And also, I suppose, it is a place to ‘meet and greet’. However, an airport terminal is a very poor place for this, because it concentrates a huge amount of people into a single place.

There’s no reason why these functions need to be carried out in the vicinity of the airport. An airport is just somewhere for planes to land. Just a runway.

Here’s my proposal. Build seven or eight smaller terminals on the periphery of Dublin intersecting with the main roads and rail lines into Dublin. Then build a dedicated roadway, a simple two-way roadway, to link them all to the airport. All of them would be less than a half-hour bus ride to the airport (most would be less than 15 minutes), about the time it takes to park your car and get to the terminal in the present arrangement.

This would spread the economic benefits, and disperse the problems around the city, while dramatically reducing the need for car journeys crossing or skirting Dublin.

The Government could build the roadway and private interests could build the terminals (probably near the shopping malls).

There must be a better solution to transport problems than copying the last solution.