A modern alternative to simulation discovered?

To continue on the topic of pedestrian modeling: recently, I heard the news that the new terminal being built in the St. Petersburg airport will be tested using a free labor force, or in other words, volunteers. Actually, the volunteers will test the terminal’s operations and on-ground facilities by acting like passengers. It was interesting to find that the London Heathrow and Dubai airports are using this practice right now too.

Here in St. Pete, they gathered more than 5,000 volunteers, to come to the terminal and walk around, jostle to check-in desks, race up the down-moving escalators, get bored in queues to passport controls, etc. I suspect that the volunteers will be watched by engineers, who will be counting the number of injuries per minute. That’s how airport authorities are going to see if everything is OK with the terminal.

I can only imagine what’s going to happen if they find that some project parts are not aligned with the parameters expected. Let’s say check-in desks are situated in the way of main passenger flows, baggage handling systems can’t carry as many bags as needed, or security checks do not conform to capacity standards. It's too late to make big changes, as the terminal is already built. Of course, they could always just bulldoze a wall which doesn’t fit and put in a needed metal detector, but I’m not sure if the investors would love that idea!

Joking aside, we shouldn’t doubt the competence of the project managers and terminal planners. As I already mentioned, volunteers are used in other airports and countries too. Moreover, everyone knows that you should check the building capacity BEFORE beginning construction, and simulation is a worldwide standard for that. I’m pretty sure that the investors took it into account, especially because St. Petersburg airport’s co-owner, German company Fraport, used AnyLogic in 2011 for a passenger flow simulation in the Frankfurt airport (click on the link to see the detailed review of this project).

Still, it all just seems a little strange to me in a modern world. Have anyone heard of, or maybe participated in, such testings? I’m just curious how it happens and why. Please leave a comment if you have an idea!

P.S. By the way, AnyLogic 7 will provide users with significant improvements in the Pedestrian Library, which will make modeling of airports, railway stations, and other similar objects easier. The release is planned for this winter. Stay tuned!