Airport Expansions and the Greenfield Conundrum

Airport Expansions and the Greenfield Conundrum

November 6, 2019

TIBCO Software SVP EMEA & APJ Erich Gerber discusses the demand in airport expansions globally and what to do when they run out of runway.

By Erich Gerber

Airports around the region and the world are facing constant pressure to expand.

The growth of international business means more passengers are travelling for work, and national tourist boards strive to promote the growth of leisure travel. But what happens if there is no room for an airport to grow? The answer lies in technology.

As air traffic has continued to grow (by an average of almost six percent a year, since 2006), airports have not only expanded their physical infrastructure – runways, passenger and baggage terminals, transport docks, refuelling facilities, and so on – but have taken on multiple complex roles.

Apart from handling the critical function of air traffic control, international airports in particular have morphed into shopping malls, advanced immigration and border security facilities, and perhaps most of all, flagship locations for promoting their country.

The “World’s Best Airport” title is eagerly sought – Singapore’s Changi Airport has had a lock on this award for the past six years, and its launch of Jewel in 2019, a mixed-use airport development featuring hundreds of retail and dining options and recreational activities (even a hedge maze) will no doubt help to defend Singapore Changi Airports number one spot.

Nations are always keen to publicise their visitor numbers – the more passengers streaming through their airport terminals, the more appealing they seem as destinations for business or pleasure. Thus, expansion is constantly on the mind of airport operators.

The Singapore government chose the location for Changi Airport wisely; it has been able to grow from one terminal and one runway in 1981 to its present four terminals and three runways, without problems in finding the space or coping with environmental objections. The airport regularly renovates and updates its terminals, with a fifth one currently under construction.

However, in many cases there are physical, financial, or social constraints on how far airports can expand. The saga of the third runway at London Heathrow Airport is a case in point. Plans for this extra runway have been proposed, rejected, altered and rejected again for over 20 years.

Airports honed for efficiency

Thus, airport operators who cannot expand their infrastructure due to space restrictions or a lack of capital must find new approaches to be more efficient and responsive to the growing number of flights and passengers, as well as the needs of the latter.

The sheer complexity of airport operations has a massive impact on efficiency. Every on-time departure depends on multiple factors such as ground clearance, air traffic control clearance, replenishing food and amenities, and refueling. A delay in any of these factors can lead to a domino effect on airport operations. Matters become even more challenging in the case of extreme weather or disruptive events.

To address this problem, a joint venture called Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM) was formed. A-CDM is a joint venture between ACI EUROPE, EUROCONTROL, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization (CANSO). A-CDM aims to enhance the overall efficiency of airport operations by optimising the use of resources to improve the predictability of events.

A-CDM solutions enable airport stakeholders (airport operators, airlines, ground handlers, air traffic controllers, etc.) to exchange timely operational information, and encourage collaboration for efficient management of airport operations.

Go digital to tackle operational challenges

Digitisation is the answer to enhancing and optimising airport operations – improving service while reducing cost.

Today, cloud computing is changing the way the aviation industry does business.

A cloud platform enables airports to interconnect a variety of applications and systems on an enterprise scale. It allows airports to break down data silos to facilitate real-time information exchange.

Mobile technologies, too, are rapidly being adopted on the operations side. The EU-led PASSME consortium is using mobile data to identify critical airport bottlenecks and intends to create a mobile app to improve communication between airport authorities and passengers. London Gatwick Airport, for example, uses the ‘Airport Community’ app to seamlessly integrate staff, ground handlers, and airlines with airport data sources.

Configurable alerts ensure that key staff are aware of delays, incidents, and changing weather patterns. The app also provides real-time data on passenger queues and aircraft turnaround performance by both airlines and ground handlers – essential information to keep the world’s second-busiest single runway airport running smoothly.

The introduction of data analytics technology also enabled Rome’s Leonardo Da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport to reduce delays and queue times, winning it recognition as the airport to show most improvement in 2018. Previously the Airports Council International (ACI) ranked its customer service near bottom among the world’s hub airports for seven years in a row.

The systems introduced by the airport’s IT team collect and analyse information that encompasses the whole ecosystem as well as services in the customer journey – reservations, parking, check-in, security, shopping, boarding, public transport, car rental, and others. The benefits include operational cost reduction, improved customer experience, and increased retail revenue.

This data aggregation and analysis supports an airport operation plan (AOP) with all information in a unique dashboard focused on preventing situations and improving resiliency. The AOP is the main software for the control room; it correlates all information for all stakeholders: airlines, handlers, security, air traffic control, ground control, facilities, and others to better manage both air side and land side airport processes.

However, it will take more than just slick new technology and mobile apps to create sustainable performance and customer satisfaction improvements.

Working across the multitude of airport value chain components – airlines, service providers, retailers, operations staff, passengers, flight control and regulators, to name but a few – airport operators will need to develop a clear and robust approach to data governance.

Airport owners and operators will also likely struggle with significant systems integration challenges. New mobile platforms will need to work with and integrate into existing airport systems and technologies.

Embrace new technologies, not new building

Digital asset management and the large scale sharing of information among the airport operator, airlines, ground handlers, and support organisations will ensure improved punctuality of flights and that airport facilities are kept in excellent working order. They will see to it that the right level of resource is deployed to deal with passenger levels at any given time – leading to a seamless, stress-free passenger experience.

At the heart of the approach is technology capable of addressing many of the inherent silos within the airport’s organisation structure. Interconnecting all processes with a solution that combines and augments business intelligence is critical to generate greater visibility on the airport’s inner workings, as well as bringing more flexibility and collaboration to the decision-making around the best action to take.

Analytics helps augment intelligence with operational dashboards to represent real-time situational awareness related to all critical airport operations activities, such as baggage handling, gate allocation or terminal views.

At the end of the day, a digital solution that can bring greater efficiency and integration to the myriad of operational systems is non-negotiable for airline operators.

(Ed. Erich Gerber is responsible for TIBCO Software’s business across international markets, which consist of Asia Pacific, Europe, Middle East, and Africa. Gerber has over 25 years in the tech industry; with a Bachelor’s degree in Management from BPIH, Switzerland and a Master’s degree in Marketing from the Swiss Federal Institute. Featured image of Jewel Changi Airport courtesy of CapitaLand.)

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