It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that contemporary airport facilities have reached a high level of performance and operational optimization, and numerous flights can be served at the same time. However, such achievements are usually a result of multiple historical changes in the design and planning of airports. These changes are justified with technological progress and external factors that affected a certain airport facility. It is necessary to be explicit about how historical changes in airport designs have influenced their current state and the structure. One such peculiar examples are Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport, which is comprised of several smaller airport facilities, and, owing to Houston urbanization, has become one of the most important airport facilities in the entire world. Thus, the following paper provides an account of the historical review of Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport’s design and structure in regard to the basic necessary components.

To be more specific, the paper includes a brief description of the airport, discussion, and recommendation remarks concerning the outcomes of the discussion. The study evaluates and analyzes the historical changes and their impact on the airport design so that a particular concept or group of concepts is outlined. It is informative to note, however, that the study does not involve any subjective evaluation of a certain constraint of the airport at any of its historical period. A choice of Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport is justified with the fact that this facility has been formed as a result of a merger of multiple airports and its significance to the world’s infrastructure. Also, the presence of moderate systemic risks makes this case particularly important for the study and analysis. Since the thesis, structure, and key terms of the paper have been outlined, it is necessary to proceed to the next section.

Airport Description

As it has already become apparent, the airport for discussion is Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport. The airport started its performance in 1937, and it was one of the most powerful airports in history, from the very beginning of its operations (Houston Airports, 2016). The airport presents a long-haul international facility for transcontinental flights, large-weight cargo flights, and special governmental, charter, and specially ordered flights. In October 2015, the airport also opened the additional facilities for operating flights in the Caribbean area and Latin America (Houston Airports, 2016). In such a way, the airport has become a vital transportation facility of international, economic, military, and even scientific importance, as the airport is connected to NASA spacecraft transportation facilities. The airport is capable of serving any aircraft, including Antonov 225 and provides runways longer than 12, 000 feet, so that any air transportation purposes can be addressed throughout Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (Houston Airports, 2016).

It is worth saying that the Airport contributes to the local economy, as long as it established its economic sustainability, which allows the airport to cover all maintenance, support, and other expenses with its self-sufficient budget. The airport operates approximately 200 flights for non-stop destinations for 29 passenger airlines, including cargo and special governmental/charter orders (Houston Airports, 2016). It is becoming increasingly apparent that the airport has been formed through years of Houston urbanization, technological progress, and space science achievements so that an enormous growth can be traced. Nonetheless, the airport is also reported to face minor and moderate systemic risks often referred to as technical disruptions related to flight delays and inadequate baggage department informatics system. Lost or inappropriately delivered luggage is a frequent complaint of many passengers, and the airport still fails to cope with this problem, in spite of its drastic changes in facility and design planning.


To start the discussion, it is necessary to mention the fact that the airport has been created, as a result of a merge of multiple smaller airports, which is why certain historical developments in the design were omitted. It is becoming abundantly clear that the airport started as a simple-unit terminal system, which accommodated no more than two airlines (Wells & Young, 2004). Nevertheless, the basic design progressed to combined units, as long as the 1950’s were associated with a growth of air transportation and, hence resulting in the need for a more sophisticated hosting of aircraft. In such a form, all nearby Houston airports merged, and a need for linear terminal design has emerged for a number of reasons (Wells & Young, 2004). First of all, the provision of additional space between vehicle curbs and aircraft parking enables relatively small and medium aircraft to come closer to terminals, thereby simplifying the boarding and loading time (Wells & Young, 2004). By the same token, the linear terminal structure enabled the airlines to locate ticket/check-in counter closer to boarding facilities, so that passengers can access their planes through gates that are adjoined to the boarding bridges.

As a consequence, the linear terminal system has become the most effective design for the airport. Nonetheless, various historical parts of initially different airports include specific construction patterns and, therefore, the allocation of facility powers, and this issue has caused different approaches to linear terminal design within various parts of the airport (Wells & Young, 2004). In such a way, Terminals A, C, and E have a pier finger terminal structure with direct linear access to gates (Figure 1). This design ensures simplicity and relative simplicity of accessing a certain gate, as well as provides more optimized space for regular civil aviation spacecraft. Such terminals are usually equipped with Automated Passenger Movement Systems, which shorten the path to the desired gate and include decentralized facilities with access to common-use resources and infrastructural units (Wells & Young, 2004).

The Terminal B is presented with a remote satellite design, which also includes independent facilities and leads passengers directly to the barding gates but presents aircraft parking with a curb or even round so that more aircraft can be parked within the smaller area. The main advantage of such a design is based on the fact that linear and independent terminal involves four sub-independent units, so that allocation of facility resources and passenger flow are placed in a distinct framework, which is easy to trace (Wells & Young, 2004). The terminal has a parking lot, adjoined separately and shared parking area with the Terminal A so that the Terminal B can access from both sides (Figure 1). Moreover, one of the remote satellite piers has some additional concourses for hosting and parking larger aircraft with cargo on an increased number of passengers, so that the area and functionality are optimized in that regard.

As for mobile and lounge transportation design, such a need has become apparent at the end of the 1970s when the airport has reached international importance, and multiple flights with various purposes and types of aircraft were supposed to receive appropriate accommodation (Wells & Young, 2004). The Terminal D obtains such a design, in which the boarding gates lead to busses, which transport passengers to remote parking areas (Figure 1). Such a structure is justified by a need to host more aircraft, and additional spacing was of paramount importance. Time spent for transportation to the aircraft is compensated with the two-stored check-in/boarding facilities: check-in counters are located on the first floor, and the boarding zone is on the second floor (Wells & Young, 2004). That enables the passengers to pass check-in, air security, and boarding within a smaller area so that they do not have to walk long distances in order to get to the necessary boarding gate.

Taking these factors into account, it is relevant to say that Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport deployed a hybrid terminal geometrics at the end of the 1970s, owing to the fact that airport system has become an important infrastructure component for multiple international purposes: civil aviation, cargo, political events, and spacecraft transportation (Wells & Young, 2004). Therefore, the airport had to start performing inflexible and frequently changing environments, and the appliance of multiple terminal designs was not only a natural result of airport merger but also an adequate reaction on external factors, which the airport was expected to address (Wells & Young, 2004). Since flexibility and fast ability to adapt to the airport facilities were particularly vital, hybrid terminal geometrics are present for the same purposes even nowadays. However, the hybrid nature of the terminal layout and, hence, the allocation of facilities resulted in a communicational disruption and systemic risk: loss of baggage and its inappropriate delivery after passengers’ flight changes are the most widespread complaints concerning the airport’s quality of service.

It is also informative to note that airside/land-side concepts are not present within Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport, owing to the fact that the airport has been formed because of a merge of smaller airport facilities and, hence, no specific need was present in that regard. Furthermore, such a concept of the airport design would worsen the communication between facilities and related service agencies. Nowadays, a requirement for centralized communication becomes more realistic, since information technologies enable the airport to establish flexible and contextualized communication without changes to the structure of terminals and facility placement (Wells & Young, 2004). Deployment of a centralized global information system is much more cost-effective and, thus, optimal solution and any structural changes will not address the given problem. That is why such a practice of airside/land-side concepts is inapplicable to the facilities and functions of Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Still, the airport involves an off-airport terminal facility, which is not included in the terminal system for civil aviation purposes. This terminal addresses governmental, military, scientific, and other special requests, which is why it is located independently with sharing common-use facilities of the main airport system (Wells & Young, 2004). This element is not a historical development of Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport, as long as it was created as a separate facility with an initial intention to serve the special aircraft hosting requests. In spite of its detachment from the central facilities, the terminal addresses numerous important functions for military and NASA operations, and its significance should not be underestimated. Its off-airport design is largely determined by the fact that such serious operations require independent support, and involvement of civil facilities can potentially thwart the terminal from appropriate performance (Wells & Young, 2004). Also, such a small terminal is provided with greater space for aircraft and assets to be transported.

Eventually, ground facilities and transportation developed together with the changes to the terminals’ layouts, and the airport includes the following in-situ transportation services:

  • The Terminal A provides taxis, bus, and rental cars, hotel shuttles, parking shuttles, limos, private cars, pre-ordered ground transportation services, taxis, as well as TNC/Uber services (Houston Airports, 2016).
  • Terminal B has ground transportation, parking AB, Houston Police Department, pet relief area, and valet parking (Houston Airports, 2016).
  • Terminal C offers taxis, shuttle buses, limos, metro access, rental cars and shuttles, taxicabs, and TNC/Uber services (Houston Airports, 2016).

It is hard to argue that Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport obtains a developed ground transportation facility, and its creation is generally associated with the merger of local airports and related urbanization of the Houston area. This and aforementioned historical developments have been provided a profound account, which is why it is necessary to suggest several recommendations regarding the airport’s functionality on the basis of the above discussion.


Considering all of the aforementioned arguments and findings, it is necessary to say that Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport does not need any structural changes and updates in terminal layout conceptualization. Instead, the airport is required to deploy a centralized communication system between its facilities, since the independence and heterogeneous nature of various terminals cause the frequent incidence of systemic risks related to the loss of passenger baggage and confuses with flight changes. Implementation of a unified information technology system will resolve the problem, since every single passenger will be traced, and any changes in departure or destination will be instantly reported to the baggage departments. These technological disruptions are often caused by unexpected weather changes, so that bad weather prediction system requires minor updates. However, the systemic risk is not a matter of structural error, but a result of organizational incompetence of the airport’s governance.

That is why further historical changes in the airport’s design should provide sufficient space for data warehousing and wiring in order to sustain a custom and independent information system. This recommendation is sufficiently justified, as such an important element of international infrastructure has to operate without the drastic neglects in communication. Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport is environmentally and economically sustainable, which is why the technological advancement of inter-terminal communication will be reflected in enhanced social sustainability and better flying experience of the passengers. Needless to say, a present state of knowledge and expertise allows the airport’s governance to launch such a modernization campaign, since the integrity of terminals is quite high, regardless of the differences in types of piers. Eventually, it is relevant to recommend a systemic thinking framework for support and maintenance of the terminals, once they comprise a large airport facility, and their independent sourcing does not necessarily mean that the terminal should not coexist as a unified facility.


All in all, the paper has been focused on the discussion of historical developments of Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport’s terminals design and structure. The paper has provided a brief description of the airport and discussed the basic constraints of historical designs. Hence, the study has provided a meaningful account of the type of terminals, their pier designs, and issues, related to spacing, as well as comforting passengers’ flying experience. The airport has been described as the facility with hybrid terminal geometrics, as long as finger piers and satellite remote piers are largely present within the airport. Also, mobile and lounge transportation design have been discussed, as it addresses the considerations of additional spacing for the facility with flexible operational environments. The airport’s off-airport terminal has also been discussed, and an explanation for its deployment has been given. Therefore, these historical developments suggest that the airport is a pivotal element of the international infrastructure.

It is appropriate to make a general comment on the fact that Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport is a sufficiently developed airport system facility, which has been formed on the basis of a merge of several local airports. The airport renders social, economic, scientific, military, and political value, which is why it’s hybrid terminal geometrics are justified, as they address multiple purposes of the facility. Thus, Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport is recognized as an important element of infrastructure, and its historical developments of the design were always congruent with such considerations. Even though the airport is facing moderate problems with inter-terminal information exchange and systemic risks during bad weather periods, it does not need any major improvements in the structuring and design of its terminals. Therefore, addressing this gap is quite a feasible objective for Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport, considering the expertise in a timely modernization of its facilities.

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