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IT Last modified on September 7, 2015

The IT crowd

LAWA’s deputy executive director/chief information officer, Dominic Nessi, tells Airport World why its Information Management and Technology Group has been named as one of the best places to work in IT in the United States.

For the past 22 years, Computerworld magazine has ranked the top 100 organisations across the country that offer technology professionals challenging projects, robust salaries and flexible work/life options.  

A quick scan of the list reveals that no airport has ever been named, as well as very few public-sector bodies. Generally, organisations which use a civil service system such as Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), cannot compete with the private sector for salaries, bonuses and those special perks which can make an organisation a more desirable work place.

How then did LAWA achieve this special recognition? An extremely dedicated and exceptionally knowledgeable workforce comprised of culturally and racially diverse women and men have come together with the expressed goal of establishing LAWA’s Information Management and Technology Group as one of the best in the world.  

During the past eight years, the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners and LAWA executive management have undertaken a major capital initiative to renovate and reshape the operations at its three Southern California airports: Los Angeles International (LAX), LA/Ontario International (ONT), and Van Nuys general aviation (VNY).  

Most notably, LAX is undergoing a massive rebuilding of the physical facilities for the purpose of improving passenger and customer satisfaction. The LAX Modernization Program includes numerous improvements in the technology associated with the construction programme. 

This effort has already resulted in a world-class, award-winning and environmentally sustainable international terminal development; hundreds of millions of dollars in investments by LAX airlines to upgrade all of the domestic terminals; a revitalisation of the F&B and retail concessions in all terminals to reflect Los Angeles lifestyle, culture, and cuisine; and significant public-safety improvements.  

And the airport capital improvement programme will continue with new facilities and technology to be introduced at LAX for years to come.  

In addition, LAWA has also committed to implementing a host of new technologies to improve its internal operations – ranging from a new data centre with the most advancement computing environment to a number of new applications used by LAWA staff.

The combination of these two focus areas has made LAWA an exciting and innovative work place for its technology professionals. Indeed, not a day goes by without some new advancement in air-transport industry technology.

A second contributing factor to this special environment is the workforce of LAWA itself. They are a committed and energetic group who embrace technology and are continually looking for that technological edge that will allow LAX, LA/Ontario, and Van Nuys airports (which is one of the busiest general aviation airports in the world), to compete on the same level as the great airports, both domestic and global.  

This dedicated base of colleagues has allowed LAWA’s IT department to partner on a variety of interesting technology initiatives.

A recent example of this partnership is in the area of mobility. In 2011, LAWA’s IT department was an important contributor to the building of LAX’s Airport Response Coordination Center (ARCC), staffed by multi-divisional personnel to ensure the smooth flow of passengers, bags, and aircraft; to maintain situational awareness; and to provide a common operating picture for minor and major incidents.

LAX’s ARCC – comprised Airport Operations, Airport Police, Facilities Maintenance, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Information Technology staff – is the nerve centre of the airport and is where monitoring of the airfield, landside, and terminal operations occurs.   

Staff assigned to the ARCC work with their counterparts around the airport to obtain updates on various facility assets and airport incidents, and use that information to develop and execute collaborative response plans. 

LAWA IT recently developed two innovative systems using mobility as the platform. In the first, LAWA IT worked with Airport Operations to utilise a geographic information system (GIS) web viewer integrated with situational awareness management software on iPads.  

When an incident occurs, field personnel are able to access standard operating procedures for handling that incident, identify on a map the location of the incident, and provide immediate updates.  

A second innovation is an online terminal inspection form also stored on an iPad. The inspection form covers more than 1,900 critical assets spread across LAX’s nine airline terminals that can be reported wirelessly into a database, and whose status is immediately transmitted to a terminal condition dashboard in the ARCC. 

By utilising a new and innovative mobile approach, IT has provided the ARCC staff a valuable tool that helps operations staff gather data about LAX’s physical infrastructure, thereby improving staff’s situational awareness so they can make effective decisions.

This was recently demonstrated during an incident when a flight landed without its left landing gear. When the plane came to a stop, emergency personnel and operations staff were immediately on site to assist and help its passengers safely leave the aircraft. 

It was textbook stuff and the incident was over with little fuss, but for ARCC and Airport Operations workers tasked with managing the situation their jobs were just getting started. 

Mobile devices were used to track the incident from start to finish, including identifying the incident location, runway and taxiway closures, command post location, and incident perimeter, documenting each activity and providing a steady stream of updates until the incident closed.  

This information enabled the ARCC staff and incident manager to have a strong common operating picture and provide a comprehensive summary of the event for future analysis and establishment of best practices.

Though LAWA might never be able to fully compete with the private sector in many aspects of employment, there are few organisations that can offer an environment as exciting and richly rewarding technologically as the world’s fifth busiest airport for passenger traffic.

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