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AIRPORT DESIGN Last modified on August 14, 2018

Location, location, location!

Geographic information system (GIS) technology can help airports better manage and operate the airport site, improve safety and boost the bottom line, writes Esri’s Terry Bills.

Managing a modern airport has become increasingly complex. Between growing passenger volumes, maintenance and expansion of aging infrastructure, increased security concerns and the constant need to grow revenues, the considerations of airport management can be staggering.

Indeed, challenges in aviation have never been greater than they are today. That is why smart airports are increasingly turning to the power of information and a location intelligence strategy to inform better decision-making.

Geographic information system (GIS) technology allows airport managers to bring information together from across their organisations to improve their operations; their performance; and, ultimately, their bottom line.

Developing a location intelligence strategy begins by capturing critical data from land, terminal, and airside systems to give you the information infrastructure that will support a wide range of business and security systems.

The location and condition of all assets, facilities and resources provides a framework that airport managers use to unite data from disparate information systems. Doing so presents a single source of operational truth that can be easily accessed from any device or location.

Whether monitoring the weekly status of capital improvement activities or planning daily maintenance in relation to an updated airport operations database, your managers can have the latest comprehensive information at their fingertips.

Maximising revenues

Airports are under constant pressure to maximise non-aeronautical revenue to support capital growth and stay competitive. As such, they need to manage their terminal and landside real estate like a business, ensuring the maximum and best use of space while still providing a positive passenger experience.

GIS allows property and lease managers remote access to a map-driven lease management system. Users may analyse weekly and monthly revenue trends by lease or by facility. Whether you want to locate all the leases expiring in the next six months or access the project documents from a recent tenant improvement, you can instantly get this vital information no matter where you are.

With GIS, airports have the information and analysis they need to remain aware of key performance indicators so that they can make the most effective and profitable decisions.

Managing infrastructure

Modern aviation is synonymous with substantial infrastructure investments. To ensure performance and long-term viability, GIS technology is used to oversee everything from airfield inspections and pavement management to terminal work orders and runway signage.

Integrating with most major asset and work order management systems, GIS technology helps airports control costs and optimise asset performance, preserving and prolonging the lifecycle of their most valuable assets.

Real time operations

Increased passenger traffic strains any airport. Between the need to manage the effects of flight delays, inclement weather, and other external events, today’s operations managers rely on continuously updated aircraft and passenger flow data to make better, quicker decisions and keep the airport at peak performance.

With GIS, information is shared in real time. A common view of airport operations lets managers query information in one location; share that information with other departments; and make important, agile operational decisions on the fly.

Whether trying to determine the gates available for a late arrival, tracking the progress of snowploughs, or monitoring the progress of maintenance crews and work orders, GIS gives managers access to the latest information to enhance their airport’s performance.

Tightened security

In the aftermath of 9/11, airports around the world have faced greater security concerns and responsibilities to protect passengers. New security technologies have flooded the industry, with everything from baggage and passenger screening to closed circuit television (CCTV), asset tracking, and access control systems being installed in rapid succession.

As a result of this trend, airport security systems are often characterised by input from a large array of sources. To complicate matters, the data from these various sources is typically siloed and unfiltered. Integrating disparate technologies into a framework that delivers situational intelligence is the core challenge for many security professionals.

GIS helps address this problem. By integrating all sensor and surveillance feeds, airports are given access to all their control systems, producing a comprehensive operational picture of their facilities.

Regulatory compliance

As civil aviation authorities and air navigation service providers move to the next generation of air traffic management (ATM) technology, a greater number of regulatory requirements for airports are becoming an integral part of the transformation.

With the 3D analysis capabilities of GIS, you can perform obstruction analysis and land-use permitting, as well as access tools for noise abatement and wildlife management programmes.

This gives your staff more effective ways to communicate internally and with local citizens. As your airport increases its dialogue with the community, GIS is essential to your programme of good corporate citizenship.

GIS in practice at Geneva Airport

Five years ago, Switzerland’s Geneva Airport faced an important crossroads: how to expand its operations to keep up with international travel. It had two major problems – tight space and a tight budget.

It also had – and still does have – just one runway. As a result, the airport struggled to keep up with growth. In 2006, it served 10 million passengers but by 2016 the number had jumped to 16.5mppa – an increase of 65%. And passenger numbers are forecast to keep climbing, with the latest forecasts predicting that 25mppa will be passing through the gateway by 2030.

As the air traffic increased, conventional options for redress shrank. Due to the lack of space, the airport could not build a second runway. It could construct a new terminal for $300 million or more. Or it could find new efficiencies in their current operations. The question was how?

“The first practice that we worked on was to create a single operations room in which we have 30 workstations, which allow the various stakeholders across the airport to sit together,” said Thomas Romig, head of the gateway’s new Airport Operations Centre (AOC).

Those team members could not work together to find new efficiencies without a common understanding of the data generated by the movements of planes, passengers, and baggage. Thus, to create better processes for moving crowds to quicker access points and directing planes to different gates, Romig knew he needed to provide data that could be readily understood by decision-makers, especially those without backgrounds in information technology.

That is where GIS came in. Alexandre Pillonel, the GIS application manager and his team built a GIS-based, real-time dashboard of airport operations from the point of view of the end-users rather
than the IT staff. Now the team in the AOC receive “a visualisation of the daily operations through a map on which we display all of the different locations of the airplanes,” explains Pillonel. “We’re integrating radar data into that so that we can [see] the movement of vehicles and aircraft on the same visual.”

That means improved safety and more efficient management of all traffic in the area. With more than 500 datasets being collected and analysed, the dashboard receives information that includes security warnings, passenger flow, aircraft location, baggage movement, border and immigration controls, and the loading and unloading of the airplanes.

That gives the dashboard watchers “a common situational awareness of what’s going on daily and pretty much in real time,” adds Romig.

The team is working on a system of key performance indicators to track metrics such as the percentage of flights leaving on time or within 15 minutes of their intended departure. In the meantime, the improved dashboard and GIS setup have eliminated some significant costs.

Romig says: “By spending the $2 million that we’re spending now, we don’t need to spend, for example, $60 million to build more taxiways or $300 million to build another terminal.” 

About the authors

Terry Bills is Esri’s global transportation industry manager. www.esri.com

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