As some of the most highly utilised transportation facilities, airports need to operate at high levels of performance at all times.
This means that airport managers have to respond to a wide range of challenges ranging from sustainability, security, regulatory and environmental compliance and operational efficiency every day, all while trying to hold down costs in a highly variable market.
As a result, an increasing number of airports around the world have turned to geographic information systems (GIS) to help them manage these complexities.
What is GIS? For those unfamiliar with geographic information systems, in essence, GIS combines a variety of spatial information – accurate digital orthophotos (a geometrically corrected aerial photos) and maps of airport layouts, facilities, infrastructure and utilities – linked together with information about those assets.
So to begin with, GIS helps airport operators visualise all of their assets, whether those assets are terminal facilities, lease holdings, runway lighting and signs, or sub-surface utilities.
By helping to visualise all of these assets, GIS gives airport managers a common operational picture of all their facilities, and thus greater power to effectively control their operations. This is true whether the task at hand is security, or inspection and maintenance activities, or knowing where all of the luggage tugs are currently located.
And finally, because an airport’s assets are all inherently spatial, GIS helps to facilitate the integration of an airport’s various information systems, providing a platform, which facilitates greater operational efficiencies.
The world’s leading airports incorporate GIS into the centre of their enterprise information systems, allowing them to mine those information systems for better decision-making. In short, GIS helps airport managers do their jobs better, faster, and cheaper.
Return on investment studies conducted at Los Angeles International Airport by leading airport GIS provider AECOM, demonstrated that after an initial investment in establishing the technology, it delivered an annual return in excess of 400%.
This study did not consider the financial advantages of being able to visualise all airport assets, but rather focused primarily on specific savings associated with the capital improvement process, reduced change orders, and greater lease billing recapture.
One of the early uses of GIS within airports is often for noise and obstruction analysis. GIS is not only well suited for modelling noise contours, but overlaying these contours over detailed maps of the affected populated areas to determine the extent of exposure.
This analysis often becomes the baseline for subsequent mitigation efforts, and property level mitigation activities can also be catalogued and visualised through GIS.
A number of airports take this one step further, and use GIS to link individual noise complaints back to the individual flight track, based on the time of the complaint, and the time stamped flight track.
The January 2009 crash of US Airways flight 1549 into the Hudson River highlighted the importance of conducting Wildlife Hazard Assessments, and the development of a Wildlife Hazard Management Plan for all airports. A large number of airports use GIS to catalogue their wildlife surveys and counts, and to document their airfield vegetation maintenance activities.
Dividing the airport land into a grid system, bird and other wildlife counts can be collected and entered in the field with mobile GIS, alerting airport managers to areas of greatest wildlife concentration. In addition, all bird strikes are accurately located and reported to the civil aviation authorities for further analysis.
The ability to incorporate Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) data, digital elevation and survey data into a three dimensional space, make GIS the optimal way to conduct terrain and obstacle analysis around the terminal control area and airfield.
Typical flight path, approach and transition zones can be visualised, and required permitting systems can be designed from such GIS based information. The same 3D analysis can be applied to radio quality and VOR coverage gap analysis surrounding the terminal control area.
Terminal side systems
The second major wave of GIS applications at airports involved moving into the terminal. By digitising the interior space of the terminal with a high degree of accuracy (sometimes now in 3D), airport managers could use this information to support a number of operational systems. From facilities, lease maintenance and security management, each of these systems depend on the same base data, but apply it for different purposes.
Spain’s Madrid-Barajas International Airport managers can not only see each of the lease holdings within the terminal, but can easily see the revenue consequences of each of their leases.
The automated lease management system developed for the airport by Indra, the Spanish information and technology systems company, allows the airport property managers to actively manage their airport properties to greatest advantage.
In addition, passenger counts are taken at various locations throughout the airport, to determine the rates for interior advertising signs, all effectively managed within the GIS.
In the US, Phoenix Sky Harbor not only utilises digital coverage of all of its buildings for facilities management, but also links the same data to their SAP maintenance management system, keeping track of all work orders and maintenance activities within the terminal, and on the airside as well.
In addition, the airport integrates its lease management system (Propworks) with the GIS, helping track all terminal side costs back to its tenants.
A number of other airports integrate their Maximo maintenance management systems with GIS, helping them track all outstanding work orders, and capture all maintenance activities over time. Because GIS helps to integrate these various systems, it also can integrate with document and records management systems, allowing airport managers easy access to original design drawings from CAD, as well as more traditional documents, directly from the GIS interface.
Some gateways are now beginning to use GIS together with Radio- Frequency Identification (RFID) technology for better baggage and package tracking and handling through the airport, with Hong Kong’s Air Cargo Airport being one of the early leaders in this regard.
Most airports carry their maintenance management systems to the airside, with GIS information often used for daily inspections, work orders, as well as the more traditional pavement management systems.
Being able to accurately capture and locate pavement distress, condition of runway lighting, signs and markings all incorporated into a GIS integrated maintenance management system removes guess work, and allows airport maintenance managers to accurately understand and manage all of their facilities and assets.
Crossing both air and terminal side operations, a number of airports have captured their sub-surface utilities, as well as their communications and IT cabling networks. Because GIS supports not only a ‘real world’ view, but also a schematic presentation of the same information, network engineers and maintenance managers can share the same data, presented in a different manner for different requirements.
The advantages of storing this information in a GIS system include the ability to perform downstream network tracing for water, waste and contaminant spill management. Being able to quickly contain one major rupture through accurately and quickly locating a valve in real time can help establish a strong ROI for the GIS system.
As many airports become more and more congested, many airport operators are looking to integrated technologies to help them achieve greater capacity and throughput from their existing facilities. This has inevitably led to equipping many moveable assets (luggage tugs, fuel trucks) on the airside with GPS, and monitoring these vehicles – along with planes – in real time through the GIS.
Several German airports are experimenting with such real time operational systems, designed to optimise the operational efficiency of all ground support activities, with the goal of reducing ground based flight delays. As capacity issues continue to be problematic at some of the world’s busiest airports, such approaches will gain in strength.
Finally, the visualisation capabilities of GIS are uniquely positioned to help airport security and safety managers gain a common operational view of the entire airport.
With the ability to integrate such technologies as closed-circuit television (CCTV), real time asset tracking and monitoring, badge tracking for airport personnel security systems, among others, GIS has become an integral part of many airport security and emergency command centres.
These are just a few of the many ways that airport managers have implemented GIS technology to help them better manage their operations, and ultimately to give them a competitive advantage in turbulent times.
Airport World 2010 - Issue 2