Collaboration builds future of aviation

When it comes to rebuilding and modernizing U.S. airports, a focus on collaborative working and inclusiveness is producing impressive results for all according to aviation industry specialist Frank Wengler.

Modernizing and repairing U.S. airports could cost up to $100 billion over the coming five years. That’s according to ‘Airport Infrastructure Needs 2017–2021,’  a report from the Airports Council International–North America.

There’s no doubting it’s an epic challenge. And to complete the task successfully, we need to embrace a fully collaborative approach to the work.

Integrated and diverse teams operating collaboratively are critical to delivering these large and highly complex projects. Unifying stakeholders – from clients, consultant and subconsultants through contractors and the local workforce – is essential in bringing these projects to life.

Six steps to collaborative working

The first step to achieving a seamless team is to use a collaborative approach to team formation and management. Project leadership needs to take an active role in setting the tone and establishing an integrated unit from the top down. By ensuring project leaders are experienced working in an integrated team environment and, most importantly, committed to collaboration, it is possible to begin building a foundation of mutual trust and respect.

In my 35 years of experience working on large, complex aviation projects around the globe, I’ve identified six key steps to building collaborative team environments.

  1. Establish and document shared principles and core values for all team members. Setting up principles and values early on and developing them as a team forms a critical first step to developing common goals.
  2. Develop common policies and procedures. Create these in collaboration across stakeholders and most importantly, use them consistently.
  3. Operate on a single, integrated information technology platform. Standardize your IT platform to ensure seamless and consistent reporting, document control and communication.
  4. Establish clear roles and responsibilities. Match project needs with individual talent and project goals. Create a path that links each individual’s success with the success of the project.
  5. Foster teamwork through co-location and create venues for collaboration and discussion. Outfit participants with key project materials, goals and objectives so that everyone has common ground on which to collaborate.
  6. Establish the mantra of ‘check your business card at the door’. Promote this mindset among all team members by emphasizing their role on the project team, rather than their title or position with their employer.


Diverse teams are successful teams

Collaboration is not the only key factor in creating teams capable of delivering complex airport projects. Diverse expertise and innovative ideas are also important elements bringing aviation projects to life. Partnering with small/minority/women/disadvantaged businesses (S/M/W/DBE) firms opens opportunities to bring in a broader range of capabilities. These firms often hold specialty expertise and local knowledge, skill sets that allow the larger project team to be responsive to changing project needs and demands.

As we strive to sustain the growth of existing successful partnerships, it’s important to continuously identify new small and diverse firms to support aviation work across North America. Companies, including AECOM, engage in robust outreach programs to identify qualified, talent-filled firms. Clients are helped to create procurement strategies that encourage broader participation by small businesses and minority-owned firms. These efforts expand opportunities for S/M/W/DBE companies in areas such as concessions, construction, supply and professional services. Also, within local communities there is work to maximize opportunities for firms that are potentially eligible but not yet certified.


The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Collaboration, integration and diversity: Assembling teams that incorporate these principles can be as difficult as the challenges they seek to tackle. But the positive results are well worth the effort. Teams developed through these principles work together better and listen to one another. They establish a culture where talent from all sides is nurtured, ideas are heard and innovations are developed – regardless of their origin. These teams make good airport projects better and help better airport projects soar. These teams strengthen businesses, communities and even regions, and are a testament to the success that awaits airport projects if those who work on them are willing to check their titles at the door.

Case study: collaboration at Chicago O’Hare

Extensive modernization projects at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, the world’s second busiest airport, is an example of a project where team commitment to a collaborative environment is leading to success. O’Hare’s intersecting runways are being reconfigured into a more modern, parallel layout that already has significantly increased efficiency and capacity while reducing delays, especially during poor weather conditions. The project’s success continues to exceed the original modeled estimates and the program has an exemplary track record. In spite of the adversity of legal challenges, working on one of the busiest active airfields and site constraints, the program is delivering three new runways, extending an existing runway, and will be completing multiple other large airfield development projects – an investment with significant benefits for the city, the airport and the airlines. As managing partner of the joint venture, AECOM is serving as an integrated partner and an extension of Chicago Department of Aviation staff, providing program management services for the multi-phased airfield modernization.

Case study: diversity delivers success

Providing educational and networking opportunities, an ‘Aviation University’ event was held in Houston for local S/M/W/DBE firms. Featuring subject matter experts from the Houston Airport System and from AECOM, it was possible for the local firms to meet and talk with key project leadership. Such events are part of a successful development effort nationwide and recent participation levels for S/M/W/DBE firms in major programs in Dallas and Chicago have exceeded 50 percent contract participation, while programs in Atlanta, Denver, Houston and Los Angeles have exceeded 40 percent. In 2016 AECOM’s industry-leading efforts led to the contractual award of more than US$179 million to disadvantaged businesses and US$198 million to woman-owned businesses. This work continues to be recognized with local and national awards, most recently the 2017 Airport Minority Advisory Council Corporate Diversity and Inclusion Award.