Airports must seek high design, comfort, smart shopping, all built to be green

Fulvio Fassone, Head of Commercial Services at Aerorporti di Roma, spoke with Infrastructure Channel about what makes the new Area E tick.

Q: Fiumicino’s new Area E for long-haul extra-Schengen flights is a quite dazzling open space, with a huge sky window and three floors full of shops and gourmet-themed restaurants, not to mention the giant red sofas in the open-space lounge area. What three words would you cite as the inspiration of this layout design?

First, modern design – married naturally to the artistic and historical heritage of the city of Rome. Second, comfort and high-quality ambience – consider the illumination, which thanks to the huge skylight create a natural link between the inside space and the outside and renders the passenger’s travel experience pleasant from their first step. Third, this is one of the most attractive and important shopping streets in any airport in the world, thanks to 10,000 square meters of retail space gathered under the unifying flag of “Made in Italy” with the main luxury and fashion brands and food offerings geared to highlight Italy’s regional excellencies without forgetting the tastes and preferences of international passengers moving through this ex-Schengen area.

Q: One notices that the 10 eateries are by no means “All-Italian” in nature, as Asian cuisines are represented, as are gourmet burger joints, although both of these are also increasingly popular even in Italian cities. How did you balance the clearly very diverse tastes and preferences of millions of travelers – going to more than 90 destinations around the world -and the natural instinct to leverage Italy’s status as a gastronomic heaven with magnificent “territorial” characteristics?

Aeroporti di Roma’s main goal, always, is to satisfy passengers and meet their needs for comfort. This is the aim that guided our strategy in the choice of what gastronomic products to make available in the new departure area. It’s based on result that emerged in market research done with passengers who indicated their desire to freely taste Italian specialties, with a particular interest in organic, vegetarian and gluten-free menu options. There is quiet a variety embedded in the culinary format of the E departure area, able o satisfy an array of heterogeneous preferences. There are 10 restaurant nodes. At the top is “Attimi,” the new format conceived with the multi-starred chef Heinz Beck, and flanking that are a host of menus with international flavor and top quality, from the Asian cuisine offered by Ajisen Ramen – one of the most popular eatery schemes in contemporary China – to the gourmet hamburgers of BeerCode, the upscale wine bar Assaggio and the Ristorante Michelangelo, which is dedicated to the home specialties of the Lazio region. All of these spaces are managed by the main players in the Retail Travel space, including MyChef-Areas, Autogrill, Lagardere and Chef Express of the Gruppo Cremonini.

Q: We live in interesting times, when “luxificaiton” is often synonymous with localization, and that’s especially the case in Italy with its strong regional cultures and specialty products. It’s remarkable and very welcome that travelers can now choose to pick up a fresh mozzarella near their departure gate instead of choosing between processed foods and candies. What is your guiding idea regarding what suppliers and stores to recruit? Has the success of Eataly influenced you? And were there lessons to be learned from Autogrill, which in Italy has also made a big push into having local DOP products available at their roadside retaurants and shops?

Eataly has the considerable merit of having introduced a new way of selling food products that weds the act of purchasing to the the pleasure of discovery and tasting, all intimately linked to the principles and values of the territory from which the products hail. The food itself becomes a storyteller and conveys the identify of craft and tradition that accompanies most Italian products. The focus is on high quality and taste, concept that are embedded in the Slow Food philosophy. While we sought to give maximum leeway to this model of success, we also sought to create an airport food court which both displays these principles and has its own specific identify, strongly linked to the overall context of the Mall’s commercial proposition. Because, while Eataly and also Autogrill have admirable business models, our clients tend to have a more variegated profile – they are more international, often willing to spend more than others, and Italy and its specialties exercise a strong draw on them.

Q: Can you share any initial data on how many people eat a meal in Area E each day? What are stores reporting about sales volumes?

We have created a unique vanguard space and allow me to make an analogy that in no way is irreverent: IT’s a Ferrari with a new engine and so will have to do a set of test drives before its full performance is realized. To be sure, we built it to win the world championship and early results show we’re on a good course to do so. That said, we’ll have to wait until the first quarter ends to have a better sense of how it’s working out.

Q: Area E also has sensors to determine how many people are in a given area, to help determine air-conditioning, heating and other climate-control needs. Can you elaborate on elements that make the new terminal a “smart building”?

Throughout the design and actual construction of this “smart building”, our ongoing theme has been to adopt the most advanced infrastructure technologies and to give maximum attention to environmental considerations. Particular attention has been given to the energy networks and the raw building materials, all with a strong green focus. The climate control systems use radiating floor panels which allow a serious reduction in energy usage, further helped by the fact that sensors automatically measure how many people are in any given space. External surfaces have been built with semi-reflective glass, which gives both high degrees of insulation and soundproofing while also curbing the brute power of the sun. we have also installed the area with beacons that measure traffic flows, information that we integrate with detailed sales trends of each store, for which an apposite software information-exchange system has been set up.

Q: What do you imagine will be the elements of a futuristic “genius building” for, say, the year 2050?

The future can never be known but what I can say is that I think the airport of the future will be increasingly digital and interactive, while at the same time it must evolve so that it is much more of a full-fledged “place” of its own, one where passengers may choose – somewhat paradoxically – to arrive earlier than strictly necessary. Airports will become a place to be, to hang out if you will, and not just somewhere one goes to in order to leave or even to escape! We’re already making significant steps towards this future, and the newly inaugurated areas represent this new culture of airport space. For example, considering the retail and customer service dimension, we will soon active a “pre-ordering” facility allowing passengers to choose, via web or their mobile phones, products they wish from the new Duty Free store in the E departure area. They can do this up to 24 hours ahead of their scheduled flight and will find them packaged and ready to pick up in the store before they board their planes. Likewise, we will roll out electronic payment systems for food and beverages that will reduce waiting times. We already have a completely free and high-speed Wi-Fi system for everyone and very soon we will be offering a free app – we’re putting the finishing touches on it now – that will serve as a full-fledged navigation guide for passengers from start to finish of their airport experience. It will be a virtual personal shopper, if you will.

Q: Fiumicino is rather unique in Europe’s airport arena because there is no absolute incumbent or flagship carrier. Who – the airport or the airlines -  will “own” the passenger in terms of mobile engagement, digital advertising and similar services?

Our corporate philosophy here is above all a “face-first” one where we make ourselves fully accountable and orient the airport according to a customer-driven approach. This is working – airport travelers voted Rome as the second hub in Europe for service quality after London’s Heathrow. We rolled out an app some years ago to help passengers transit the airport and it has bene widely used. The new app that Aeroporti di Roma will roll out builds on this success. So we’re making our bid for the customer’s time. That said, if airlines offer useful services it’s a net gain for all.

 Q: Environmental sustainability is steadily gaining importance among consumers. What does Area E have to boast of in this regard? Please include behind-the-scene factors such as waste, water and energy issues.

What we’ve managed to do is built out 90,000 square meters –with 20 football fields of flooring and 48 Olympic swimming pools of glass facades and 4.5 times the Eiffel Tower’s amount of steel – and kept it green, constantly seeking to curb the area’s energy needs. We’ve used double-paned glass to stabilize temperatures, muffle sound and mitigate excess sunlight. Across all sectors, including recycling waste, water saving and re-use, energy production and emphatically land use, we’ve sought to achieve true best environmental practices, as confirmed by KPMG’s sustainability audit.
On average 200,000 people pass through the airport each day, including travelers, friends and workers. That amounts to a mid-sized city, and entails the production of about 30 tonnes of trash each day – we have a capillary collection-and-sorting system that allows almost all of this to be recovered and either re-used or recycled. We’ve moved above 80% in terms of our recovery rate for waste, a rapid and constant increase, and today we are the best performer of any airport in Europe, where for the record the average rate is around 50% according to public audits.
Our airport-city is also an outperformer in terms of water efficiency. Even as passenger numbers increased between 2013 and 2015, we reduced the average per-traveller consumption of water by 200,000 cubic meters, the amount used by a 60-story skyscraper. Right now at Fiumicino the pro-capita use of potable water is 16 liters per passengers, a figure that represents absolute excellence. On top of that, Leonardo da Vinci airport has an advanced purification system for waste water, and every day we clean and recover almost 3,700 cubic meters for various industrial uses. In a year that’s enough to fill 540 Olympic swimming pools.

Q: Leonardo da Vinci airport is increasingly becoming like a campus, with multiple services and amenities. Meanwhile, international air travel steadily grows. Can you imagine Fiumicino airport one day being a 24x7 place, which never closes?

Along with our projects that directly impact on the terminals and operating structures, where we have three major phases to complete over the next 10 years – the new Area E marking the first step – Aeroporti di Roma has an ambitious “land-side” real estate development programme. The aim is to serve the needs of the companies that currently operate in our airport areas and those that will choose to do so. I think the combination of these two development vectors will bring us to a point where we can respond to all demands – those of passengers, those of airlines, those of companies, and those of all the people who come to work in the airport every day – in a way that will create a single full-service space that will be available 24 hours a day 365 days a year for all those who use and visit Aeroporti di Roma..