Earlier this year, I started working closely with the Amadeus airport team and to get up to speed on how an airport actually functions, I had a chance to visit Nice Airport, where I was able to get an inside look at its ‘brains’ and inner workings – and it was well worth it.
The visit was guided by an in-house sector veteran, Yannick Beunardeau, Sales and Marketing Associate Director of airport solutions. Prior to the visit we were given a 14-page booklet with interesting acronyms such as CUTE and A-SMGCS – this gives you an idea of just how complex the airport world is!
We had the exciting opportunity to watch an Emirates Boeing 777-200 land on the tarmac as a flurry of ground handlers began their jobs giving instructions to the pilot. It really struck me just how many things were happening at once during this critical phase where everyone had to be synchronized and communicating efficiently. And this is just the tip of the iceberg for ground handlers as there are many moving parts on the tarmac to deal with. This is where ground handlers need to manage their capacity well, deciding whether to invest on capital expenditure, or, IT services which will potentially optimize their existing resources.
Back in the terminal, we visited the operational center where all flights are scheduled for departure and landing via an AODB (Airport Operational Database). One person monitors and manages outbound flights, another inbound, while another monitors flight radar – which leads one to think – how exactly does Nice Airport cope with peak periods such as the Monaco GP and Cannes Film Festival? A lot of advance planning is required to allocate the airports’ resources effectively during these times and it manages peak periods with RMS tools (resource management systems).
You immediately get the feeling of how disconnected and different the systems are from the modern upper level operational center overlooking the airport.
There are telex machines and walkie-talkies buzzing and the amount of manual work appears overwhelming – the flight information from the AODB pops up on one screen and the ground handlers must record this manually in their own databases. The data is then reported on a weekly basis to the airport’s RMS.
Occasionally there are discrepancies in the flight data the airport feeds to the AODB, which leads to erroneous reporting (not surprising considering the manual work!)
Yannick claimed that after the visit, we would never see an airport the same again, and he was right, now I see the full picture. This experience confirmed what I already knew about how an airport functions on the back end: that systems are completely independent and disconnected, which makes working together and sharing information extremely challenging.
Airports and ground handlers need much greater collaboration to make operations more efficient and accurate, and they could well use a boost in technology on a centralized platform – this is where Amadeus would come in – with concepts such as multi-airport collaborative decision making.
What do you think? How can the different components of airports work together more efficiently?