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Passengers fly through Incheon airport.

Passengers fly through Incheon airport

One passenger who recently arrived at London's Stansted airport complained in a letter to The Times that he had queued longer to pass through immigration control than he had spent in the air on his flight from Geneva.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recommends airports to take no longer than 60 minutes to process passengers for departure and 45 minutes for arrival.

But Seoul's Incheon airport, in South Korea, uses state-of-the-art information technology and second-to-second time-management techniques to facilitate passenger flows, reducing the average departure and arrival times to 16 and 12 minutes respectively. Transit passengers speed through the airport in 45 minutes – comfortably within the 60-70 minutes recommended by ICAO. The airport loses only one bag in 100,000, compared with a 25 in 100,000 average for European airports and seven in 100,000 for those in the USA.

Little wonder Incheon has been voted the World's Best airport in service quality for six years in a row in a survey of 1,700 airports around the world.

A-J Lee (Q21, SQ) reports that, with 67 airlines operating routes to 172 cities in 49 countries, lncheon has grown 6% annually since it opened in 2001. It now ranks eighth and second among all the airports in the world in terms of international passengers and cargo respectively. It is second only to Dubai airport in duty-free sales.

More than 5,000 airport personnel from around the world have travelled to Korea to scrutinise every aspect of Incheon's operations – from baggage handling and transportation systems, to parking and landscaping. The airport's managing agency, lncheon International Airport Corporation (IIAC), has expanded into airport consulting worldwide. There is even talk of IIAC bidding for Edinburgh airport, Scotland's busiest, which is to be put up for sale by owner BAA after the Competition Commission ordered it to part with one of its Scottish assets.

There is much that BAA's busiest airport, London Heathrow, could learn from IIAC. Last year its two runways operated at 99.2% capacity. On July 31, the busiest day in Heathrow's history, 233,500 passengers passed through its five terminals.

The airport is so stretched that the Government has been forced to cut by a fifth the number of flights at Heathrow during the London Olympic Games, to prevent the airport becoming swamped. A temporary terminal will be opened for the duration of the Games.

For some sport enthusiasts, then, their first impressions of London could be a hastily erected portable building or a tent. Fortunately, when they finally reach the new Olympic Park, in the east of the city at Stratford, their impressions are likely to be much more positive.

The venues for the London Olympics have been completed on time and on budget in what Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, has praised as ‘a blueprint for future host nations'. He has endorsed London's forward- thinking approach to legacy, which he said had ‘raised the bar' by incorporating long-range planning into every aspect of the Games.

The London Olympics have also been a model of good construction practice. Cook (Q10, ROSP) explains that the Olympic Delivery Authority has worked closely with occupational health and safety (OH&S) experts to ensure a safe working environment for the 13,000 construction workers on the site. OH&S experts have been seen as part of the solution, not part of the problem. Good communications have been maintained and a learning legacy has been adopted.

In ways such as this, planners and construction workers could be said to have achieved Olympic gold before the gun has been fired to start the first event of the Games.