Airport Urbanism

Max Hirsh

  • What is AU?

    • Download the summary

    • Airport Urbanism is a people-focused approach to designing airports, and to planning urban developments around the airport. Focusing on the needs and desires of the people who use the airport on a regular basis--passengers, employees, and local residents--AU advances development strategies that deliver long-term benefits to both the airport and the city that it serves.

      Both a design philosophy and a practical model for implementation, AU is based on two core principles:

      Focus on people: Successful airports focus on the needs and desires of their customers. That includes not just passengers, but also the people who live, work, and own businesses at the airport and in nearby communities.

      Growing together: Successful airports coordinate airside, landside, and off-airport development in a holistic and mutually beneficial manner. Why? Because airports and cities grow best when they grow together.

      Click here to read more about AU

  • About Max


    • Max Hirsh (PhD, Harvard) is a professor at the University of Hong Kong and a leading expert on airports and urban infrastructure. His research focuses on passenger behavior, airport-led urban development, non-aeronautical revenue, landside real estate, and emerging ground access patterns.

      He is the author of Airport Urbanism: an unprecedented study of airports and air travel that incorporates the perspective of passengers, airport and airline operators, urban planners, developers, and travel retail professionals. Based on 10 years of research conducted at more than 50 airports around the world, the book sheds light on the exponential increase in global air travel and its implications for the planning, design, and operation of airports.

      Passionate about airports and air travel, Max works with airport authorities and urban planning agencies around the world to help shape the future of airports and the cities that they serve.

  • Services


    • Max provides thought leadership for the aviation community through a variety of formats, including:

      Keynote speeches


      Guest lectures


      Airport Urbanism workshops
      (½-day, 1-day, 2-day formats)


      Research studies


      Expert witness/third-party review of airport master plans and airport-area development plans


      Recent clients include:

      Aéroports de Paris
      Benoy
      City of Vantaa (Finland)
      Cushman & Wakefield
      Hang Seng Bank
      Harvard University
      HOK
      Landrum & Brown
      Singapore Aviation Academy
      Smart Airports
      Stockholm Skavsta Airport

  • Speaking


    • Recent Keynotes & Invited Lectures


      "What is Airport Urbanism?" Arup, Hong Kong (2018)


      "How Can We Build New Neighborhoods Around the Airport?" Stockholm Skavsta Airport (2018)


      "What's the Future of Aviapolis?" Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport (2018)


      "Airport Urbanism in China." Beijing New Aerotropolis Holding Company (2018)


      "Airport Dreams." Skanska Pavilion, Almedalen Week, Visby (2018)


      "Airport Urbanism in Asian Cities." Project Chambers, Hong Kong (2018)


      "How Can Airports and Cities Grow Together?" Passenger Terminal Expo, Stockholm (2018)


      "The Future of Airport Design." Architecture+Design Museum, Los Angeles (2017)


      "Master-Planning the Airport Area." Charles de Gaulle International Airport, Paris (2017)


      "Istanbul's New Airport: How Will it Change the City?" SALT Galata, Istanbul (2017)


      "The Architecture of Air Travel." Chicago Architecture Biennial (2017)


      "Big Data and the Aviation Industry." Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (2017)


      "Airport Urbanism." Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport (2017)


      "Moving Beyond the Aerotropolis Model." Passenger Terminal Expo, Amsterdam (2017)


      "Airport Infrastructure and Urban Design in Asia." University of Queensland, Brisbane (2017)

  • Media


    • Max is a frequent commentator on the future of airports and air travel. Recent interviews and editorials have appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Australian Financial Review, China Daily, Exame, Foreign Policy, Helsingin Sanomat, Hyperloop One, Nikkei Asian Review, Passenger Terminal Today, San Francisco Chronicle, Site Selection, The Possible, Wall Street Journal, and Wired.

      For media requests, please click here.

Featured article

What is a Smart Airport?

  • Smart cities, smart airports: these are buzzwords that we're hearing more and more. It’s clear that technology is changing how we design and operate airports, and it’s clear that tech is transforming the passenger experience. But the actual benefits for airports and airlines—and for customers—are often much less clear.

    So what is, actually, a smart airport?

    To answer that question, here's the first article in a series about what makes an airport "smart." Today's topic: technology.

  • Smart airports embrace new technologies that deliver
    a clear return on investment—and avoid the ones that don’t

    Going to an aviation conference can be an overwhelming experience. Hundreds of companies offer a dazzling array of devices and software applications that—so they claim—will reduce labor costs, raise profits, and improve the passenger experience. With so many vendors offering high-tech “solutions” for every imaginable task, it’s easy for airports to lose track of the big picture—and of the bottom line.

    Less successful airports risk investing in pricey new gadgets, many of which do not have a proven track record. Smart airports focus on their own priorities, not on helping tech firms meet their sales targets. They’re open to adopting new technologies, but they're not afraid to ask tough questions. Is the high cost of this device/this software really justified, or is there a cheaper, low-tech alternative? Is this talking robot/VR goggle/interactive tablet just a gimmick, or is it a useful amenity that will enhance the customer experience? Is the interface user-friendly, or will it frustrate my passengers and employees? How long will it take for this new technology to deliver a tangible ROI? If we’re talking five or ten years down the road, will it be obsolete by then?

  • Some investments in technology are a no-brainer. At a recent SMART Airports conference in Singapore, Zurich Airport’s Daniel Bircher pointed out that free, unlimited wifi has basically become an industry standard. Passengers expect to get online with a single click. If your airport has spotty wifi, or if internet access requires some kind of weird registration process, it drives down customer satisfaction. It reflects poorly on the airport, and on the country that it serves. This is true anywhere in the world.

  • But when it comes to most new technologies, smart airports evaluate the local context before deciding whether to invest.

    In an advanced economy with high wages and high levels of technical literacy, new technology can make airports easier to navigate and cheaper to operate. Tech investments can be a smart way to reduce your staffing needs. But in developing and middle-income countries—where much of the growth in aviation is taking place—wages are low. There are also plenty of infrequent travelers who are unfamiliar with things like biometrics, self check-in, and app-based procedures. They’ll need a lot of help from ground staff. In that kind of environment, it’s difficult to justify the big capital expenditures that new technologies entail.

  • In advanced economies, on the other hand, experienced travelers welcome the convenience of digitalized procedures. But they’re easily annoyed by buggy apps and dysfunctional e-gates—and aren’t shy about voicing those complaints on social media. To avoid bad publicity, smart airports partner with firms that focus on the customer experience. They introduce user-friendly interfaces that are easily operated by all passengers, not just road warriors and engineers.

    Finally, tech-savvy travelers are increasingly asking pointed questions about how airports and airlines are using their data. To protect themselves against expensive legal actions, smart airports develop a sound data protection policy that clearly outlines how passenger data is captured, stored, and analyzed, and explains how customers can opt out of those processes.

    Embracing new technologies that deliver a clear ROI is an important aspect of what makes an airport "smart." But it isn't the only one. In the coming weeks, we'll be looking at other key features of smart airports. Stay tuned!