SAS International explains how to create optimum acoustics in challenging airport projects

Airport terminals were once characterised by a cacophony of sound from gate announcements and plane noise to the myriad of conversations and footfall of the thousands of passengers that pass through each and every day. Achieving optimum levels of noise control in such a complex acoustic environment is a balancing act between ensuring the intelligibility of public address systems and controlling the noise of passengers whilst at the same time creating a constant level of sound that masks activities from cafes and retail outlets. What options do airport design teams have when it comes to controlling sound and ensuring the passenger experience is stress-free and greatly improved? Stuart Colam, Acoustics Advisor of SAS International, investigates.

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hen it comes to airport design, architects want to make terminal buildings look aesthetically pleasing but at the same time perform well. Functionality cannot be compromised in these grand architectural monuments. It’s why at the breathtaking new Muscat International Airport, passengers will not experience a frenetic, noisy environment. Quite the opposite; they will find an oasis of calm. This control of noise has enhanced the wellbeing of passengers. But how is the optimum acoustic environment in airports achieved?

Sound absorption

Airports are essentially large cathedral-like spaces with a huge amount of volume that helps to limit the loudness of space whilst reducing any sense of claustrophobia. For the designer, an aesthetically-pleasing terminal interior is important, however, attention needs to be paid to sound absorption otherwise spaces will become noisy or reverberant. Sound absorption controls reverberation and reduces the ambient noise level. It’s unlikely that too much sound absorption can be used inside these cavernous spaces.

Noise at source

Controlling the source of noise through improved spatial planning has the potential to address noise problems in the first instance. The planning and design of any airport is essentially about controlling the movement of people and spreading passengers across this environment by way of a logical layout. Whether it’s well-spaced check-in desks, improved wayfinding or any feature that helps avoid queues and spreads people around, these solutions can all contribute to noise control in an acoustically-designed airport.

Ceiling to walls

A ceiling is an obvious and easy place to incorporate sound absorption as it is well beyond the reach of passengers. Ceiling finishes can also discretely cover or hide many of the building services that are commonplace in what are essentially sealed airport buildings. All this pumping of air requires extensive ductwork at a high level which passengers don’t want to see. But these services need to be maintained and accessed despite being largely out of sight.

Ceilings can either be suspended in a horizontal or vertical plane. Vertically suspended ceiling baffles obscure what is above and offer an attractive acoustic ceiling to specifiers seeking an exposed soffit for thermal mass cooling. Used to absorb noise in buildings, they can be suspended as individual modules or continual unbroken runs. They form a shadow but still allow complete access into the ceiling zone. Sound absorption depends upon the size of each baffle and the spacing between each one.

Ceiling rafts and ceiling discs are also effective at absorbing and reducing sound. The rafts can feature curved bullnoses, formed using the latest folding technology, which stop dirt and dust gathering and provide ease of cleaning. Rafts can be designed with swing-down panels providing access for any essential maintenance to services behind. Forming a dramatic architectural statement, ceiling discs are suspended from the soffit and can create the appearance of floating in space.

In addition to ceiling systems, wall panelling and architectural metalwork can also be designed to offer sound absorption whilst at the same time being robust and attractive. Large perforated panels can provide the necessary acoustic properties for these vast open spaces. An open area of just 3%, for example, can achieve high sound absorption.

Muscat’s spectacular new airport

SAS International is showcasing its exceptional architectural metalwork and bespoke metal ceilings at the new $1.8bn Muscat International Airport. Over 200,000m² of SAS products have been installed within this stunning transport hub in Oman, possibly the largest and most complex ceiling project ever completed by a single manufacturer.

The breathtaking new 345,000m² passenger terminal in Oman is poised to set a new era in aviation in the Middle East region and is expected to handle more than 12 million passengers a year. SAS International worked closely with architect firm Hill International to realise the company’s vision of a future-proof airport hub. By designing, manufacturing and installing bespoke metal ceilings and architectural metalwork, SAS met the functional, acoustic and aesthetic aspirations of the architects. This included the main passenger terminal and piers, cargo terminals, concourse, ancillary buildings, escalators and the airport hotel.

SAS International Project Manager, Pete Berry, said: “This is one of the most complex projects ever undertaken in the transport sector. A benchmark for airport construction, there are thousands of bespoke components which come together to create an awe-inspiring building. Every single ceiling and almost every panel, within them, was different. There is very little that is standard on this project – everything is bespoke to this remarkable airport.”

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