Manchester Airport’s £1bn transformation: Has the ‘super terminal’ idea been downgraded? Here’s what bosses have to say

Exclusive drone footage shows the Manchester Airport £1bn transformation site from the sky – as hub bosses insist the design has NOT been ‘downgraded’.

Rumblings on online forums and social media over recent months have suggested the original plan to create a ‘super terminal’, high-tech security lanes, more airfield parking and an improved road system had been undermined by ‘value engineering’ to cut costs.

Some critics have also contacted the M.E.N. directly with their concerns.

Doubts had been cast over pre-clearance for US travel, which is far from being nailed down as negotiations are ongoing.

Also among concerns are whether the original ‘honeycomb’ and ‘living wall’ concepts will come to fruition.

Bosses at Manchester Airports Group (MAG) have conceded these elements are far from being finalised.

But they insist the project is in fact ‘bigger and being delivered faster’ – and that any changes will make the design better.

CGI images of Manchester Airport’s planned £1bn super-terminal

They also say they are actually spending more than initially planned – in excess of £1m a day – although they aren’t confirming an exact figure.

Other changes have been made to the airfield and piers. But, describing alterations as a result of consultation with passenger groups, unions and airlines, bosses pledge the final departure lounge will still provide the ‘wow factor’.

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Designers say they are holding off until the ‘last responsible moment’ on the final plan for the interior of the new T2 to ensure it’s up-to-date in terms of passenger needs and the latest technology.

This, they say, is natural for a project of this size and scale which will ‘offer a world class experience’.

Here we look at the airport’s responses on how the design has evolved, why these changes are being made – and how they will affect passengers.

How the £1bn transformation of Manchester Airport is looking
(Image: Manchester Airport)

History of the project

Manchester Airport announced its 10-year investment plan in June 2015.

They promised a ‘better, faster and more modern’ airport experience with T2 doubled in size.

Bosses aim to slash off-peak security queues to just five minutes, double the number of airport jobs to 40,000 in 30 years and add 10m annual passengers over the next decade.

Automatic bag-drops, more stands for aircraft and a huge car park are also included.

It’s hoped the project will bolster Manchester Airport’s place as a key airport in the UK and also attract airlines to add new long-haul routes to Asia and the east and west coasts of America.

Long-term T1 is set to be demolished.

Since then a team of planners, customer experience experts, architects and engineers have been working on the design of the new terminal and airfield,

With a completion date of 2020 for expanded Terminal Two, major changes should be visible by 2019.

The entire project, including the demolition of Terminal One, a new car park and access roads, should be complete by 2023.

CGI images of Manchester Airport’s planned £1bn super-terminal

Has the cost changed?

Rumours had been circling that bosses were planning to cut costs with ‘economy engineering’.

However, bosses insist the budget has in fact increased from its original £1bn – although they wouldn’t give us a precise figure.

They have promised ‘more benefits to the travelling public and airline customers alike’.

CGI images of Manchester Airport’s planned £1bn super-terminal

Why has the overall design changed?

Airport bosses say the design has been ‘refined’ to meet passenger and airline needs – and in response to feedback from retailers, airlines, passenger groups and trade unions.

As time progresses, ‘improvements are made wherever possible and designs are finalised’.

The project has been broken up into more than 30 projects, accounting for the needs of more than 30 airlines – including office space, aircraft and future growth.

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Security regulations are also key in terms of how the new terminal will work with the existing T2 operation.

They are also having to bear in mind future travel patterns and how technology will change.

Changes were also made to the design when Laing O’Rourke were awarded the main contract for the scheme.

CGI images of Manchester Airport’s planned £1bn super-terminal

Will there still be pre-clearance for American immigration?

When first announced, this sparked great excitement. An opportunity for passengers heading to America to avoid the time-consuming immigration queues on arrival in America, it’s been a big draw at, for example, Dublin Airport.

But the prospect of its launch at Manchester has been thrown into doubt.

Bosses insist they remain in talks with both the UK Government and the US Government and that those two parties area also in discussion with each other.

“This is not a straightforward process and we will update on the plans when we can,” said a spokesman.

CGI images of Manchester Airport’s planned £1bn super-terminal

How has the terminal design changed?

The original plan was to increase the size of T2 by 140 per cent but bosses say it will now be 150pc bigger.

The revamped T2 will be 224,979 sqm.

a mezzanine floor has been added and there will now be 50 per cent more seats than are currently in T1 and T2 combined.

The existing west pier will now be demolished and rebuilt rather than retained and refurbished.

This means there will be ‘fewer columns in the design and more space’.

CGI images of Manchester Airport’s planned £1bn super-terminal

How have the plans for the airfield changed?

In original plans, the airfield included three piers and a ‘Dual C’ – a narrower – taxiway for the aircraft to access them.

But bosses say this meant two narrow-bodied aircraft (e.g. Airbus A320, Boeing 737) could pass one another, but wide-bodied aircraft (e.g. Boeing 777, Airbus 330) would need to take a route down the centre while other aircraft were held back.

As the team modelled the airfield traffic for a busy day in 2024, they realised that introducing a larger ‘Dual E’ (bigger) taxiway would boost efficiency on the airfield.

The original airfield design for Manchester Airport

What about the piers?

One criticism levelled at the airport is that piers – the buildings that jut out to enable the connection of more air bridges for passengers to board and disembark from – have ‘shrunk’.

Bosses insist that in fact they have just ‘evolved’.

As you can see from the latest CGI issued today, there are still three piers, but their positions have changed.

They concede one is now shorter but includes an extra lounge, making it ‘different not downgraded’.

Another pier is now longer and one is more-or-less ‘exactly the length we thought it would be’.

The original design also had the piers at two levels but they are now raised up on stilts to match the terminal’s arrival and departure levels. This cuts stair and lift use, say bosses.

At one of the piers closest to the main terminal building, there is now set to be a ‘bussing gate’ to shorten walking distances for passengers on airlines using remote stands.

The design has changed, they say, based on both passenger feedback and how best to carry out the works while keeping the airfield operational.

The design team has also paved the way for a potential fourth pier to the east of the airfield, say bosses. No date has been set for its construction.

Bosses say nothing is nailed down yet in terms of interior design

The airfield is described as the ‘most complex piece of design work’ – with construction to be carried out while the airport continues to function.

This means the order in which piers will be built has been switched around to help keep passengers moving through.

The number of stands – where planes ‘dock’ – will go from 105 to 112.

Currently, in T2, 12 stands are served by air bridges straight from the terminal building. Thanks to the piers, this will be boosted to 28 by 2024.

These new stands will also allow two small aircraft to fit on at once – or one larger plane.

Meanwhile, T1 will still have 23 stands served by a pier, with 17 in T3.

The airport argues this is a perfect example of how the design has changed for the better.

A ‘concept’ CGI fly-through shows ‘look and feel’ of how Manchester Airport will change

What about the look and feel of the departure lounge? Will there still be a bee-themed living wall?

In a CGI fly-through released by the airport last year, imagery of the departure lounge showed a a huge living wall, decked out in evergreens and flowing over both floors of the terminal. Perched upon the wall was a giant bee – known as a symbol of Manchester’s industrious past and present. The floor was marked out in a honeycomb hexagonal print, while geometric shapes hung over the lounge from the high glass roof.

The design team say these initial plans were aimed at giving a ‘sense of the look and feel’ they were striving for – not a final impression.

In fact, the detail of the departure lounge is far from a done deal, with designers waiting until infrastructure designs are locked down.

The airport is consulting passenger groups on things like seating, lighting and colour schemes.

They say they will ‘wait until the last responsible moment before making a final decision’ on the final interior design.

Watch: Flythrough of the new proposed Manchester Airport station


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This, they say, is to ensure it fits with passenger behaviour and the latest technology when it opens.

One thing they are promising is ‘stunning panoramic views’ of the airfield through ‘big glass windows’.

They have also locked down having tear drop style check-in desks – which weren’t in the initial designs but are a response to airline feedback.

Tear-drops consist of an ‘island’ with two rows of back to back check-in desks which taper out.

Another change is that large porches have been added to the airport entrances. This is due to ‘Department for Transport safety requirements’.

On the living wall, bosses say this ‘may’ still be included – but designers are also ‘exploring multimedia options for this space’, as seen at other airports around the world.

They said ‘all options remain on the table’ – but that he final design would provide the ‘wow factor’.

This image of the foyer is from the ‘concept design’ in 2015. Now, designers say there is no final plan for how the foyer will actually look after completion

What about the forecourt?

Bosses say this is still at ‘concept stage’ so there’s no update.

Since the initial design, the airport has decided to build a 3,700 space car park

And parking?

Since the initial design, the airport has decided to build a 3,700 space car park – currently being put together by six huge cranes – because so many spaces are being lost to the development of the airfield. Again, they say car park needs will evolve over time.

Have any funds been diverted from this project to Stansted?

“Completely untrue,” say bosses.

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