George Wong, Principal of Aviation and Defence for the Sydney studio of DesignInc discusses the unique design challenges and complexities of the Aviation and Defence sector.
What experience and skills are essential when addressing the needs of aviation and defence projects?
They say that the ‘devil is in the detail’ for most sectors within the design and construction industry, but this is especially true of process and legislative heavy industries such as defence and aviation.
In the aviation sector, the outcome for any project is a fit for purpose response that meets the project parameters established in the brief.
It is crucial to be able to recognise trends in modern airport design, and be across the rapid development of new technologies and legislative frameworks.
Defence is process driven, and subject to high levels of commonwealth oversight, which requires specific and significant reporting streams.
What expertise does the Sydney studio of DesignInc have in aviation and defence?
DesignInc have a significant history of providing Architectural services to the aviation and defence industries. We have been working with Sydney Airport since before the Sydney Olympics, and have established a respected working relationship with the Sydney Airport Team, to which we attribute our capability to successfully deliver specialist aviation projects on all scales.
The past 5 to 6 years have seen us increase our defence capability, which represents a keystone in our long-term strategic vision. We boast specialist defence teams across Australia, which allow us to service multi-site defence projects across the country.
We’ve also forged strategic partnerships with defence consultancies and made it a priority to pursue industry leading knowledge on best practices for defence projects, placing DesignInc as a major player in the defence sector.
What major projects have you worked on in your career?
With over 20 years experience in leading aviation projects within Australia and internationally, I have worked on almost all the major Australian primary ports and numerous regional ports. I have worked on areas of design or coordination across all operational aspects of an airport, giving me thorough knowledge of current international trends and local legislation.
My career has given me the opportunity to work on airport projects in China, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, in particular the delivery of the NZD$250 million Christchurch International Airport. It was the largest civil project ever undertaken on South Island at the time, and had me based in Christchurch for almost 5 years.
Through my career in defence, I was the Architectural team leader for the $1.6 billion New Air Combat Capability (NACC) facilities project, which involved works at numerous sites across Australia. This project required an immense amount of coordination across the project sponsor, users and the design team as the hardware was still under development, which required a high level of flexibility from the design response.
Are there any major requirement and processes that are exclusive to defence projects?
Defence projects have very specific requirements for contractual and reporting processes. There are numerous technical guidelines which need to be thoroughly applied and can influence almost all aspects of the Architectural design of defence projects.
There is also a robust feedback loop in the form of reporting responsibilities such as reviews, probity and cost controls for consultants working on defence projects due to the project being heavily reliant on public funds.
How involved is the government throughout the entire process from start to completion?
Defence projects are subject to strict processes to ensure the appropriate expenditure of public monies. The Government is intimately involved in the approval of capital acquisition and sustainment projects, products and programs for defence. All projects go through various levels of scrutiny including the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works (PWC).
The PWC holds inquiries into Commonwealth-funded projects, that are referred by the Australian Parliament in order to form a basis for parliamentary approval. Projects that are in excess of $15 million capital costs are referred to the PWC, and projects between $2 and 15 million are notified to the PWC, and may be subject to a PWC inquiry. When a project has been completed that has undergone the PWC approvals process, a post implementation report is submitted to the PWC.
What are the biggest challenges you face?
Often the biggest challenges on Defence projects are logistics, due to the complexity of the projects being rolled out in different states at the same time. Often the design response needs to be consistent, which can be challenging with the design and engineering teams at times working out of different offices, and in different cities.
To address this unique challenge, DesignInc have nurtured a well-established communication system where defence team leaders are in constant contact with one another to ensure a consistent approach for multi-site projects.
Another challenge on defence projects is the users often have a different view of a project’s scope from the centralised decision makers.
DesignInc and other consultants sit in a middle zone between the project sponsor and the users, and have a responsibility to ensure that projects are delivered according to the intended scope and associated approved budgets. There are processes in place which allow the scope of a project to be varied should it be determined that there is sufficient justification.
How do you address the challenges of 24/7 operational demands when completing projects?
A fundamental part of any airport redevelopment project, irrespective of scale, is how any impacts to airport operations can be mitigated. We work intimately with the airport stakeholders, tenants, airlines and eventually the building contractor to ensure that all works are capable of being undertaken without undue impacts to operations or safety. A key focus is that passenger experience is protected during building works, so that noise and dust is kept to a minimum.
Some expansion projects may also need to be broken up into smaller stages, where each stage has a lesser impact to the overall airport operations. This has an effect on how we design and document these projects, to enable efficiencies and identify where temporary relocations of functions may need to occur to maintain operational continuity.
What technical and regulatory issues are exclusive to aviation?
Aviation is one of the most heavily regulated industries in Australia. The development of terminal buildings are subject to very specific technical and regulatory requirements. Drivers for airport design comes from both technical and legislative sources.
From a technical viewpoint; security, baggage, check in, and information systems are constantly evolving to introduce greater efficiencies for the traveller, and lower costs for airlines and their agents. Experienced aviation architects ensure that they are aware of global technological trends, and industry best practice.
Changes or potential changes in the legislative framework are also an important factor when working on an airport project. It is critical that designers recognise that legislation can and does change, such as the regular increase on security protocols, and our design responses need to be readily adaptable to foreseeable changes.
What capabilities do you think are important to navigate through these issues?
Terminal design is always a balancing act between the often competing priorities of legal requirements, scheduling forecasts, funding availability, airline costs, policy needs, the clients’ aspirations and professional judgement. Although the technical and functional aspects of a design has specific needs, there is plenty of scope for new ideas and a creative approach to how the established standards are applied.
Our job is to add value to the design and documentation process, and how best to achieve stakeholder buy-in for our ideas through empowering the team to think outside the box to create an environment where new ideas can flourish.
Negotiation and communications skills are also paramount, as ultimately we need to ‘sell’ our ideas to the users, airlines and other stakeholders.
They often have an agenda which may not be conducive to new ways of thinking, so any change must add demonstrable value to their areas of interest.