Air travel has grown dramatically in recent history due to globalisation, increases in migration, and lower costs making it more accessible. At the same time we have seen many airports largely constrained in their ability to add additional capacity, either due to environmental issues, space restrictions, or a lack of capital investment. This situation means many airports must do more with less and find new innovative approaches to avoid a capacity crunch. Air space has become a scarce resource and successfully running an airport has become a very complex task.
Airports are often blamed for being the bottleneck of the air transport network – but are they the cause or the victims? There is no doubt that improvements in the way airports interact with the air transport network could maximise the utilisation of capacity.
One of the major difficulties in doing this lies in the fact that different players within the airport (airports, ground handlers, and airlines) tend to have evolved with very different IT systems, making integration and data sharing between partners an expensive, complex, and time consuming task.
In addition, very often some airports ‘fly blind’: they are not informed in a timely manner about disruptive situations happening in other feeder airports, and this makes it challenging for them to adapt to the new circumstances in a calm and efficient way instead of dealing with the unexpected.
Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM) is a great initiative for improving both airport operations and air traffic. A-CDM is about airport stakeholders (airport operators, airlines, ground handlers and Air Traffic Management) working together more efficiently and transparently. Improved decision-making and reactivity to last minute events is facilitated by sharing accurate information in a timely manner between all the airport stakeholders, and adapting common operational procedures and processes. However, the scope of A-CDM is geographically limited to one single airport.
Even when many airports have implemented the CDM standards there is still room for improvement as airports do not ‘talk’ to each other: conversations are always channelled via a common interlocutor which is a central air management unit (Eurocontrol in the case of Europe). Moreover, those conversations are limited to only exchanging flight information.
Let’s see an example of how the flow of information happens today: imagine an aircraft that is scheduled to visit three airports. The flight departing from airport 1 is delayed by two hours. The central air traffic management unit is informed when the airline requests a new slot to departure. The aircraft takes off from airport 1 and the central air traffic management informs airport 2 of the delay. Airport 3 will not know about the delay until the central unit communicates with it, and most probably not before the aircraft has left airport 2.
With a multi-airport CDM system, information would be shared by a community of airports operators and their stakeholders as soon as the information is available. In our example, when airport 1 communicates the delay and change of aircraft, all the rest of the airports as well as the central traffic management unit would be informed at the same time and as soon as the information is available. Real time updates would be generated by airlines, ground handlers or any other airport actors at any of the airports in this model. And the same data would be available to all the stakeholders within the multi-airport CDM network.
In an ideal world, the information would not be limited to just flight information. What if all the airports and stakeholders knew well in advance how many passengers are in transit in a flight and to which destinations, the number of bags on board and total weight of those bags, and were then able to calculate the resources needed to better service that flight and passengers or which gate to select to put transit passengers closest to certain areas?
Passengers would be delighted to be able to connect to their next flights without stress: operational connecting times would take into account the stand and gate allocation of the two aircraft and the time expected to go from arrival aircraft to next departing aircraft based on the need to pass through security checkpoints and even inter-terminal shuttle buses.
Looking at the journey as a whole, it is clear that airports are a very important part of an overall trip. Providing an airport experience that meets the needs of today’s travellers and fosters collaboration to ensure more efficient operations will help airports to differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive market. Technology has the potential to help transform the efficiency of airport operations, ensuring decision making across partners is more collaborative, more accurate and based on a view of customer and operational requirements from across the travel chain.
Amadeus offers an opportunity not just for better decision making within individual airports but also at the inter-airport level. Through the provision of a common, community-based approach to IT, airports can be sure they are operating on a modern, next-generation system with the flexibility to ‘plug-in’ to their partners’ IT environments, seamlessly.
Today coordination between airports is very limited but in the future closer partnerships between different airports will open the door to a far more integrated and intelligent air transportation system.
Airport leaders: it is in your hands to mobilise yourselves and revolutionise the way airport operations work!
For more information about our airport IT solutions – have a look at our new airport IT website.