Engineering Fabric Structures for Airport Facilities

Airports in the United States are facing many challenges to meet the ever-changing demands of today’s travel and transportation requirements. There is a growing gap between aging airport infrastructure and utilizing green building technologies as well as designing airport buildings for quick and easy expansion. The unmatched ability to create multipurpose spaces for future travel needs has reached a tipping point.

According to a Statista report, there are more than 19,500 airports throughout the U.S. Considering the majority of primary airports were constructed in the ‘60s, many airports are in need of being remodeled expanded, or completely rebuilt.

Building any airport is an incredibly complex and costly undertaking, especially given the fact that these vast, interconnected networks of structures, surfaces, and work spaces must be built according to the stringent safety and security guidelines established by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Unfortunately, rebuilding or renovating airport facilities can put additional strain on already struggling and busy airport operations, as well as negatively impacting businesses, workers, and travelers. To keep airport operations moving smoothly during construction, tensioned membrane structures can serve as temporary airport facilities during lengthy airport remodeling projects. Or for more permanent building solutions, engineered fabric structures can replace airport buildings altogether - providing a superior and green building alternative to conventional airport construction methods which are costly and time-consuming. Given the massive rise in the cost of building materials used to construct airports domestically and internationally, fabric structures create opportunities to control costs and to maximize flexibility.

Custom Build Fabric Buildings for Airport Operations

Since opening their doors in 1975, Alaska Structures has provided state-of-the-art airport facilities to more than 70 countries. All engineered fabric buildings from Alaska Structures are custom build structures to meet the specific demands of supporting all aspects of airport operations, including:

Choose from the largest selection of fabric building models and options to custom design an airport facility to meet the immediate and future needs for ticketing areas, security gates, airport terminals and waiting areas, restrooms, as well as energy-efficient space for shopping, dining, and entertainment areas.

Avoid putting airport operations on hold with instant fabric structures. Alaska Structures allow airports to quickly expand or replace existing airport infrastructure in a fraction of the time when compared to more conventional construction methods.

Engineering Fabric Structures for Airport Operations

When considering fabric structures to replace or upgrade existing airport infrastructure, it is important to discuss engineering for the safety of airport personnel, travelers, as well as for the safe storage of airport equipment.

Quality fabric structures specifically engineered to meet the building code requirements of a particular location offer a greater degree of safety and durability when compared to non-engineered tensile fabric structures. In many cases, engineered fabric structures can outperform buildings made with traditional construction materials.

Alaska Structures utilizes the latest engineering principles combined with strict manufacturing protocols and the highest quality materials to create the longest lasting fabric buildings available. All our custom-designed fabric structures are engineered to meet current building codes for safety and offer a proven track record for rugged durability. Alaska Structures is the world’s leading provider of engineered fabric buildings. Since 1999, more than 65,000 tensioned membrane structures have been produced. No other fabric building company comes close to matching our level of experience or expertise for creating engineered fabric buildings designed to create instant structures capable of withstanding extreme weather conditions.

Airport Building Solutions Designed to Last

The airport building solutions from Alaska Structures are made with our proprietary architectural membranes, engineered to a greater level of durability than other tensioned fabrics. It will not rot, is mold and mildew resistant, is UV stabilized for prolonged exposure to high solar loads, and is designed to exceed the fire safety regulations outlined in the California Code of Regulations for membrane structures. Our fabric membrane structures have been extensively tested to withstand temperatures as low as -80˚F and as high as +130˚F.

Engineered fabric buildings from Alaska Structures employ a high-strength frame system. Depending on the model and airport building size, the frame system can be produced with galvanized steel or lightweight aircraft-grade aluminum. For airport locations near the sea or areas with high humidity, Alaska Structures offers powder coating to further improve corrosion resistance from salt air, rust, humidity, oxidation, or exposure to corrosive chemicals.

Engineered Fabric Structures Offer Shorter Construction Times

The 1.3 million square-foot airport terminal at LaGuardia airport, originally built in 1964, is being completely renovated at a cost of $4 billion. This airport construction is part of a larger plan to completely rebuild the airport at an estimated cost of $8 billion. The first half of airport renovation projects, aren’t expected to be completed until 2022. The remaining airport renovation projects are scheduled to be completed in 2026. Travelers departing from LaGuardia airport are being asked to arrive 2 ½ hours ahead to compensate for increased delays due to airport construction.

An estimated $70 billion is expected to be spent on modernizing aging aviation infrastructure in the U.S. over the next three years. Expect some turbulence and bumpy pre-flight experiences as most airport construction projects are expected to take 10 years to complete.

Airport authorities and designers looking to reduce construction schedules need to consider investing in constructing airport buildings and airport terminals using high quality engineered fabric structures like those from Alaska Structures. Engineered fabric structures are designed for rapid installation, drastically reducing airport construction schedules to a matter of weeks or months, depending on the building size and customization.

Engineered fabric structures offer airport authorities a means of designing and building airport terminals with expansive interiors that can be built out just as you would the interior of a conventional building. Nearly every facet of an airport building from Alaska Structures can be customized to meet the specific design requirements for airport construction and renovation projects.

Unlike typical construction methods which require lengthy and expensive remodeling, airport infrastructure made using engineered fabric buildings can be easily relocated, quickly expanded, or reconfigured to account for rapidly changing airline service trends and incorporating new technologies as they become available.

Eco-Friendly Building Solutions for Green Airports

There is no hiding the fact that airport operations, air travel and air freight are carbon-intensive industries, even with improved fuel-efficient technologies. Whether aircraft can meet the environmental goal of becoming zero-emissions within 50 years remains to be seen. An area of airport operations that can be improved to become much more ‘green’, especially in light of the recent boom in airport construction and remodeling projects - is in the design and construction of airport infrastructure.

Fabric buildings provide many ‘green’ benefits when compared to conventional construction methods. Engineered fabric buildings from Alaska Structures have minimal foundation requirements, allowing them to be securely anchored to nearly any level surface with less site preparation. The benefit of shorter construction schedules means less construction equipment running 8 hours a day, week after week, for years on end to complete airport terminal construction or remodeling projects.

Alaska Structures utilizes lean manufacturing methods to reduce waste. Any extra materials produced during the manufacturing process are recycled. By design, engineered fabric buildings from Alaska Structures are used to create green airport terminals with far less materials compared to conventional construction methods. From a logistics standpoint, this provides a drastic savings in transportation costs and fuel.

In addition to unmatched durability, once installed, an Alaska Structures airport building is virtually maintenance free – saving both time (and money) for airport maintenance departments while reducing the need for equipment necessary to maintain airport infrastructure.

Building Solutions for Increasing Airport Energy Efficiency

Alaska Structures realizes the importance of its commitment to creating long-lasting, environmentally responsible, and energy efficient building solutions.

Engineered fabric buildings from Alaska Structures can be insulated and heated or cooled with commercially available HVAC systems. Alaska Structures offers proprietary insulation systems designed to seamlessly integrate with all our building solutions and are capable of meeting any R-value for increasing energy efficiency, even in extreme low or high temperatures. For airports located in areas that experience extreme high or low temperatures, as well as dusty conditions, Alaska Structures manufactures the Alaska ECU™ - a MIL-SPEC designed HVAC system available in 2.5-, 5- and 10-ton configurations. The Alaska ECU™ is designed for portability, rapid deployment, rugged durability, and provides a greater energy efficiency while maintaining a comfortable interior space in harsh weather conditions.

Save money by reducing electricity usage, and lower the airport’s carbon footprint by incorporating skylights into the design of upcoming airport building construction or terminal renovation projects. Skylights from Alaska Structures employ a translucent fabric that is designed to diffuse sunlight, creating a bright and inviting interior.

Types of Fabric Buildings for Airport Facilities


It can be a difficult management challenge for airlines to construct hangar facilities that serve their current needs but are also destined to meet the needs of the future as well. Airlines have a need to continually update their fleets of aircraft as well as responding to new routes and changing passenger demands. The size and capacity of airplane hangars need to keep up with these changing demands, as well. At Boston’s Logan Airport, United Airlines recently upgraded its hangar to a fabric structure, saving construction costs and including the added benefit of incorporating translucent building materials, which allow in natural light, to help illuminate the interior spaces.


In hub airports or those that serve as major cargo transportation centers (including Hong Kong International Airport, which has been ranked the busiest airport for international air cargo since 1996; and Honolulu International Airport, which serves as the premier international gateway shuttling cargo between the United States and all Pacific Rim countries), is critical both logistically and economically to construct ample cargo storage facilities that are weather-proof, secure, and efficiently navigated. They also have to be adaptable to the fast-changing needs of today’s consumer as well as to the airline industry. Fabric offers the added benefit of flexibility and portability as well as allowing in natural light, which can save lighting energy costs in the massive cargo storage buildings that need to be navigated quickly and efficiently.


In any airport design and construction project, it is critical to consider the movement of people and vehicles safely and efficiently from curbside to terminal buildings and from baggage claim and arrivals areas to waiting vehicles, buses, and other ground transportation. In climates with extreme rainfall or intense sunshine, shelters increase the comfort level of arriving and departing passengers as well as speeding the movement of people and bags to and from vehicles and interior spaces without requiring travelers to stop and search for umbrellas or sunshades.

At the Edinburgh Airport, Parr Architects chose to use a fabric structure to cover the walkway connecting the new light rail station and the terminal. This construction was part of a nearly $225 million dollar renovation project to upgrade the airport and increase its terminal size, with aspirations of making it one of the finest airports in the United Kingdom.

In 2014, as part of a one million dollar renovation project, the San Diego International Airport installed a fabric-covered Smart Curb to protect passengers from unbridled sunshine while waiting curbside. Similar fabric structures were used to shelter long-term parking facilities as well.


With the advent of advanced fabric membrane technology, more airports are able to use tensile fabric membranes in their terminal buildings as well as in cargo, storage, and curbside shelter areas. A notable, dramatic example is the passenger terminal complex at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand. Fabric structures can also be used to house food courts or dining and shopping areas in domestic and international airports as well as baggage handling and storage facilities.


Newer, state-of-the-art airports are starting to be built using smart building and technology systems that enhance coordination and increase energy efficiency and safety.  Automatic systems integration is the key to these new methods, where a fire detected in one part of an airport, for example, automatically triggers a series of responses, including increased ventilation, fire containment, raised blinds to enhance visibility, and the activation of emergency lighting.

Newer airports can also be designed to be energy efficient, making use of carbon dioxide detectors, for example, to automatically power down heating, cooling, and ventilation systems to meet reduced demand during low travel times.

At Denver International Airport, there has been a new focus on building information modeling (BIM), which makes use of integrated building design systems to integrate systems such as HVAC and electrical before construction, so there are fewer surprises and changes needed during construction or maintenance.

Benefits of Fabric Buildings for Airport Infrastructure

While traditional building materials and construction methods are more commonly used by airport designers and regional or international airport authorities, all should be considered permanent. Considering how quickly airport service trends are changing, future expansion or changes in airport operations will require disruptive, expensive, and timely remodeling projects.

New building technologies, like engineered fabric structures from Alaska Structures provide many benefits over airport buildings made with traditional construction materials. Read “Why Fabric Buildings?” for an in-depth review of advantages of engineered fabric buildings compared to wood construction, brick and block buildings, prefabricated metal or steel buildings, concrete tilt-up or tilt-slab buildings.

Contact Us Today to Discuss Your Airport Renovation Project

Engineered fabric buildings allow airports to create instant structures to support all aspects of airport operations. Call +1-907-344-1565 to discuss your upcoming airport renovation project, custom design an airport building, or speak with a knowledgeable building specialist to learn how constructing an airport building using Alaska Structures can reduce construction schedules and overall construction costs.

Or submit an inquiry by using our online contact form.


1 Response

  1. Gary

    This is the most comprehensive article I’ve read related to this subject. Airports should be constructed in way that ensures safety of all the people. And as you mentioned that most of the airports in the U.S. were constructed in 60’s, the responsible authorities should get them renovated as soon as possible. We can’t afford any compromise on safety when it comes to airports. This idea of quality fabric structures is a great one!

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