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Growing with the flow

Posted 7 February 2018 · Add Comment

Software solutions for airport planning and operations are becoming more effective. Keith Mwanalushi looks at how they can be used to improve passenger flow, particularly at busy Middle East hubs.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has indicated that the Middle East region will see an extra 244 million passengers a year on routes to, from and within the region by 2035. The UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are leading the way.
Managing this growth, as well as the capacity constraints associated with it, requires the ability to make the right decisions at the right time to keep things moving.
“This relies on having the right, integrated systems to provide airport management with all the information they need to make informed decisions,” said Jihad Boueri, vice president – airports, Middle East, India and Africa at information technology specialist SITA.
He added that this included information from the various stakeholders that play a role in the operation of an airport, including the airlines and control authorities.
The ability to plan ahead is obviously vital for any airport to ensure smooth, proactive operations. “This is particularly important at the bigger transfer hub airports in the region, such as Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi, where the complexity is far greater,” Boueri said.
SITA has a suite of integrated software applications designed to support and enhance airport planning and operations from landside to airside, from landing to take-off, according to Boueri. “It allows management to have a full view of what is happening in the airport at any time and makes it possible to proactively manage changes within the airport operation.”
Ensuring cost-effective and fit-for-purpose infrastructure is critical to the success of any airport. In June 2017, Quintiq – developer of planning, scheduling and supply chain optimisation software – announced it had been selected by Dubai Airports to plan and schedule its fixed resources at Dubai International Airport (DXB) and Dubai World Central (DWC).
Frank McCrorie, SVP operations at Dubai Airports, affirmed that Quintiq would enable the airport operator to maximise utilisation of current fixed resources and prepare for future expansions. “We aim to deliver a world-class experience to the airlines that use our airports and the passengers that they carry,” he said.
The intention is for the Quintiq solution to automate the planning process for airport stands, gates, baggage belts and check-in counters, to increase overall efficiency, reliability and passenger satisfaction. The solution has been live at (DXB) for several months now.
At DXB, managing these fixed resources efficiently is crucial. From its 260 airport stands, 143 gates, 561 check-in counters and 28 baggage belts, airport planners will need have full visibility of resource allocation. They adapt this allocation to fit specific airline preferences and further streamline passenger flow.
Abu Dhabi Airports engaged SITA for the provision of airport management solutions for the on-going Midfield Terminal Building (MTB) project. When complete, the MTB, along with the existing terminals at Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH), will serve the increasing number of passengers who fly through the UAE.
SITA is providing a range of fully integrated airport systems, as well as key passenger and baggage-processing infrastructure, to the Midfield Terminal. “This includes our airport management solution, which will allow Abu Dhabi Airports to proactively manage the operation of AUH by providing real-time information across all facilities,” said Boueri.
He stated the solution integrates collaborative processes, enabling end-to-end management of airport resources in real time and proactive control of day-to-day operations. “These systems are key to the operation of the new terminal and our teams are working closely with the Abu Dhabi Airports to ensure we meet the requirements and deadlines of the new terminal.”
However, local reports have indicated that the MTB project is running two years later than the anticipated 2017 opening, with sources close to the project saying problems relating to the design and execution of the roof have caused the delay.
One of MTB’s most impressive features from an architectural and engineering perspective is its central processor, the area at the heart of the building. The supporting structure for the roof of this central space consists of 18 inclined arches of varying heights, which gives the impression that the roof structure is floating above them. This complex roof design features the world’s longest indoor arch spanning 180 metres. It is 52 metres at its highest point, with a weight of around 1,000 tonnes. The whole roof weighs around 20,000 tonnes.
Boueri said the IT solutions provider is currently engaged in testing interfaces and systems in collaboration with other sub-contractors. “However, delays on the overall Midfield Terminal project has had a downstream impact on all sub-contractors including SITA,” he added.
Back in Dubai, improved passenger flow means that the two airports [DXB and DWC] can now handle increasing traffic without sacrificing passenger experience. Quintiq was the clear choice, according to Abdul Razzak Mikati, managing director at Dubai Airports’ implementation partner, Dubai Technology Partners (DTP). He said: “The cost of investing in new infrastructure can be prohibitively high. The customer needed a future-ready, industry-proven solution to efficiently manage the capacity of its current airport resources. With Quintiq, the need for manual planning has been eliminated, resulting in enhanced flexibility and agility of operations.”
DTP has prioritised its target segments as airlines, ground-handlers and airports.
The Quintiq solution is able to handle calculations for 40 flights per second and take advantage of information from multiple sources to improve its automation process. These capabilities are crucial, especially when considering the rising passenger traffic at DXB, which surpassed 43 million in the first half of 2017 – up 6.3∞ compared to the corresponding period in 2016.
Passenger numbers at DWC have also seen an upward trend, growing by more than 35% in the first half of the year, according to Dubai Airports.
With more passengers to process, airports at their worst can be a stressful and frustrating place when things go wrong. With that in mind, disruption management becomes a key element of any planning solution.
The permutations for any kind of disruption are considerable. Bad weather, industrial action, IT outages, unexpected technical faults or staff sickness can hit at any time. Delays involving another airline or airport disruption may also result in the crew running out of legal work-time and overly complex notice to airmen (NOTAMs), which are not fully digested, leading pilots to miss potentially important information. The list is long and the consequences problematic.
SITA is already supporting this element through what it calls ‘control bridge’, which seamlessly integrates the command and control capability of an airport across multiple traditionally standalone functions – airport operations, physical security, engineering and facilities management, baggage-handling, emergency response, airport IT service desk – to create a single integrated airport control centre.
In May this year, DTP launched a new flight performance monitoring (FPM) solution at the annual Airport Show in Dubai.
The system provides real-time data and an holistic view of airport operations and flight-related processes. Coupled with forecasting and decision-support tools, the new platform allows airlines and airports to minimise and possibly eliminate some potential delays. The resulting improved on-time performance (OTP) should allow airlines and airports to significantly reduce costs, while increasing customer satisfaction.
“One of the most critical challenges facing airlines and airports, not only in the region but also across the world, is meeting OTP,” declared Mikati. He said airlines had a choice when managing turnarounds: “They can continue to be reactive and tackle issues as they arise, or they can direct those efforts and resources to prevention and mitigation to ensure a smooth turnaround process.”
It’s fair to say that, generally, airlines and airports are focusing their efforts on disruption management to improve recovery, in particular resolving the impact of disruption on passengers. Key to this is to better predict what could affect the airport operation in 12 or 24 hours and, therefore, better plan for those possible scenarios.
A small number of airports are already using predictive technology to minimise disruptions – an area SITA is exploring and further developing.
By 2019, SITA estimates that almost 50% of the world’s airports expect to be using integrated systems to predict potential disruptions and their impact before they occur, while four out of 10 airports are looking to implement automated predictive alerts before flight disruption events.
 

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