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A few steps away from the Munich Airport Center, the biting wind of a cold January afternoon sweeps across the apron in front of Terminal 1. Underneath the access road to Terminal 1, construction vehicles are already on site. A ramp is being built here, which will serve as an access road to the building site. A new fence is being set up to separate it from the apron. The challenge for Michael Hiss and his team lies in clearing and preparing this construction area, without impacting on ongoing flight operations. But Hiss is familiar with tasks like this, most recently with the construction of the satellite building.
The man in charge of construction for the Terminal 1 expansion project was born in Kelsterbach, in the shadow of Frankfurt airport. Even while studying architecture, he was always drawn to the building site; what attracted him about architecture was the process of «thinking about the project from the end point and working backwards». As a student, he signed on with Hochtief in Athens. At the time, the company was the general contractor on the construction of the Greek airport.
An internship became his first job overnight, when one of the site managers handed in his notice. Later, he moved to Lufthansa and worked with the team that completed the expansion of their head offices at Frankfurt airport.
One day the phone on his desk rang and a headhunter was on the line: There was a transport infrastructure project coming up in southern Germany, the clients were a mobility service provider and an infrastructure provider … – «The new satellite at Munich Airport?», asked Hiss. It didn’t take long for him to get excited about the job. Hiss and his family moved to Bavaria where he was put in charge of this large demanding project, which opened on time in 2016 without any teething difficulties.
The greatest challenge with this building site was that it had to be set up as an island in the middle of a working airport complex. In addition, the satellite building was built directly on the existing baggage handling area and the apron tower also had to be integrated into the new building. «I think that for the entire duration of construction we only brought the baggage carousels to a standstill on two occasions, thank God», says Hiss. Will the Terminal 1 expansion be simpler than the satellite building? Hiss shakes his head. «From a technical security perspective, the same exact requirements apply. Every single tradesman requires a background check.» That means: translated and notarized certificates of good conduct from everywhere they have lived in the last ten years outside Germany. «Given the international character of the workforce on the site this is a huge effort – and a risk for the project: no permits, no workers, no progress on site», says Hiss.
Just a little further west from the emerging apron building site, another building has recently gone up. North of the access route to the complex is the place where Munich Airport is shaping the future, and where the architect of this future invites visitors to a modern glass cube from a standing desk. The office building was the first to be completed in the new LabCampus. Dr. Marc Wagener has been managing this cross-company and cross-sector ideas center since 2018. «We want to bring together companies and knowledge carriers, start-ups and global players, creatives and investors here at Munich Airport», says the 47-year old engineering graduate, who also holds a doctorate in business administration. He previously designed and ran a start-up project for Siemens and has comprehensive professional experience in communications, marketing, and strategy.
The LabCampus is being built on 500,000 m2.
«Before, companies only had to bring together the right people and enough money to create technical innovations.» But the era of large research departments is coming to an end. «Today, we are at a point where new changes are constantly happening, sometimes at a blisteringly fast pace. Often we don’t know beforehand where those changes will come from. Innovation has become a lot less plannable, something large companies are struggling with», adds Wagener. LabCampus therefore sees itself as a place that makes possible such innovations: a place where we can come together, think together, research, and develop together.
Over the coming years, on an area measuring 500,000 square meters, buildings for offices, research facilities, catering, conferences, childcare services, and other service providers will be built in several stages – overall it will be like an urban center for innovation. «Our task is not just to let space», says Wagener. «We want to create an attractive environment, offer services for LabCampus and network actively with all our partners.»
What makes him so sure that the concept of LabCampus will work? «Because the airport, with the 150,000 passengers, visitors, employees, and business partners that visit it every day, offers an excellent location to try out ideas in the real world.»
Michael Hiss, too, is already thinking far into the future; he is working on project plans for the commissioning of the expanded Terminal 1. This date may be four years away, «but it’s never too soon to do this», emphasizes Hiss. «If you don’t think it through from the finish line backwards, you will find yourself overrun at some point.» This is due to the extreme complexity of the technical systems. Ensuring that the functions required for fire safety are in place is as important as the separation of passenger flows and the correct functioning of displays, boarding gates, and baggage carousels. Consequently, it is not just the purely technical functions that must be put through their paces before the start of operations.
The operative processes also have to be rehearsed. «To ensure that everything works in the end, we prepare for commissioning with military precision. We are therefore already pushing - in the planning phase - for the hardware required for the function tests to be delivered to the building site as early as possible. These may be boring details but in four years time they will make our lives significantly easier.»
It is of huge assistance to Hiss that in his previous career he has had experience of nearly every role involved in such a mammoth project. However, this depth of professional knowledge gets him only half way to success, he says. Added to this are honesty, transparency, and an open error culture. It is important that project participants don’t just pay lip service to these concepts, but that they live them. «Those who work make mistakes. The task is not just to ensure that the mistakes are as small and as few as possible, but also that when things do go wrong they are put right again – sooner rather than later.» Mistakes only become dangerous when we try to gloss over them or pass the blame onto others. This is particularly true of large-scale projects such as the expansion of Terminal 1. «We will be giving individual assignments to an estimated 150 companies. That means several hundred project and site managers. In addition, given the long project duration there will always be changes. «We must approach this openly, transparently, and constructively», says Hiss.
With this construction project, Munich Airport is relying on the individual awarding of works and will not just be assigning projects to general contractors. «That’s a lot more work for us and we also need the right people for it, but it allows us to get to the issues that actually need to be resolved much more directly», says Hiss. These projects need more than some sort of abstract notion of management, they need real, concrete leadership: the good example demonstrated daily, the impetus, the creativity, the know-how, the fairness, the passion, and the problem-solving competence of a committed management team. «We, as the client, have a substantial impact on the project and the conduct of all those involved», says Hiss. Much of what contributes to success cannot be prescribed in a contract, «you have to exemplify it yourself each day every day». Is Michael Hiss afraid at all that this hugely ambitious project could go awry? «No, not as long as we respect the task and remain vigilant – it is not so long ago that we proved here in Munich that it can work and now we have to prove it all over again.» Ultimately, Hiss is full of optimism for the future that Munich Airport is currently shaping.