The Connected Airport. Creating a unified view on airport operations.

year 2020

One of the most critical aspects for an airport is without a doubt guaranteeing the overall safety from landing to departure. But to guarantee this, we need to have a collaboration between multiple stakeholders that often are locked into their silos since they don’t report to one and the same party but to different stakeholders from the Civil Aviation (the ATC) to a ground handler that has an agreement with the airport management to the airline and all way to the airport management itself.

It’s a rare ecosystem where so many players need to closely work together to deliver an on-time experience in the safest but also most secure way possible. From the moment a plane lands, the plane needs to understand where he will park, he needs to follow the shortest and safest route to the unoccupied gate and all ground handlers need to be there waiting so passengers can disembark fast, catering, cleaning, fueling, and baggage handling can do their job within the given time and the plane can be prepared for the next assignment.

A complex mix of actions but if done well, every person working at the airport and the passengers stand to benefit substantially. This is however far from obvious with different systems and stakeholders that have other objectives and KPI’s. This is an ecosystem of players with another agenda, not an ecosystem where everyone knows and agrees on the role it needs to play.

This is where a clear common set of goals should be set in place, that has a clear impact on safety, security, seamless processes, and passenger experience. When all are united around one vision only then can things change and overriding KPI’s be delivered.

OCEM is a firm believer of the connected airport where processes and systems are interconnected so that one unique view on the airport operations and processes can be created. Where all IT and OT (Operational Technologies) solutions are brought together to enable this unique view and approach.

For OCEM it’s clear that the airfield takes center stage, once the plane has landed the time to dis-embarkment and the time before the plane can depart is – besides the time spent at the gate – the biggest potential for time gains. The airfield takes center stage as it can contribute significantly to decrease the duration by which the plane travels to the gate taking the shortest route and is supported by the full visual guidance so any potential mistakes by the pilot can be excluded. Since the airfield is most often also the area that is least accessible e.g. through refurbishment, maintenance, etc… it’s normal that the airfield takes center stage and that in the connected environment we see a clear role for a system that indicates the availability of run-and taxiways, aprons, etc… per time of day in real-time and up to one week ahead of time.

In a connected airport, the airfield or any other form of maintenance is integrated so traffic controllers have at any time a good view on when what run-and taxiways are available and with the integration of apron management systems this view can be extended to cover all apron operations.

For the connected airport to work, the ATC and airport management need to be able to rely upon the data that is shared via standardized interfaces. Interfaces that work in an “open structure” where all data can be interpreted by every system are key to the success of the overall connectivity approach.

In many domains, each vendor works with its own protocols to fence off any competitors but this cannot work in such a complex environment as the airport.

If every vendor decides to set up its own system with its own protocols we are far off from a unified view on the airport’s key functionalities and silos remain silos for some time to come.

In a lot of cases, A-CDM has been seen as the answer to a lot of the challenges airports and airlines face as A-CDM defines the key processes at an airport, KPI’s are then defined and used in the airport cockpit to understand the airport’s performance.

While A-CDM is a key aspect in the management of the performance of an airport, A-CDM in itself doesn’t bring us the connectivity needed to become a real-time management tool.


So where does the overall responsibility lie?

It’s clear that the owner of the airplane should at any point in time be the ATC, the Air Traffic Controller takes care of making sure the plane lands and departs safely and guides the plane safely to the gate after landing.

It’s then also normal that the ATC has the full view on the situational awareness of the airfield, the apron, and all the tools to make sure that the other key players that need to be ready from the moment the plane is in sight are timely informed. Only when a clear owner of the full process is defined can we make the (end-to-end) connected airport a reality.

This doesn’t mean that the ATC needs to manage the entire airport, in some airports you have apron managers whose role it is to work together alongside the ATC. The idea however is to have a central function where all roles are bundled in one set up, not necessarily one person.

In this view, the connected airport consists of the key elements that can all be integrated into one tool, the ALCMS that can take data from the A-SMGCS or the ground movement control and guidance system (that itself collects data from radar systems installed around the airport) and from the Apron Management system like the ThyssenKrupp Intelligent Gate Management System that itself creates a unique view on the airplane Parking Systems (the VGDS), the Passenger Boarding Bridges (PBB), Ground Support Systems and much more.

More transparency, clearer responsibilities, and faster intervention times mean airports can become so much more efficient which in itself will drive costs downward which in turn can be used to offset high landing fees or create room for investments in further automation or preventive maintenance of the airfield so that downtime decreases further.

As a leading provider of open standard Airfield Ground Lighting systems, OCEM Airfield sees for itself a key role in this playing field where – in collaboration with the different experts – it creates the right solutions and services to allow for a connected airport approach. One system that integrates all other solutions and creates that unique view on Airport Operations.

Together with other leaders in the field, we are convinced that the shortest way to a bigger passenger experience and an increase in operational availability lies in making sure key players work together to support airports in realizing the connected airport. One Airport Operational Ecosystem with clear rules, with open protocols that allow for easy interfacing and with aviation safety and security as the ultimate goal.

The will is there, the solutions can be made available soon, if all stakeholders speak the same language a new era in aviation progress can be made in the coming years.

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