Optimising Airport Operations during a Pandemic

Low Theng Khuan | Axel Bensch

Aviation Domain Experts

Article is co-authored by Aviation Domain Experts – Low Theng Khuan (link) and Axel Bensch (link)

This time last year, airports around the world were a hive of activity, bustling with people and aircraft movements.

The picture is entirely different today. Travel restrictions that have kicked in worldwide because of the COVID-19 outbreak have shut down the majority of airports. The aviation sector has weathered through previous crisis’s such as 9/11 and SARS, but never to the extent of today, in terms of severity and impact to operations.

Data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) showed that global passenger demand slumped 41 per cent in February from a year before – “the biggest crisis that the industry has ever faced”, according to IATA’s Director General and Chief Executive Alexandre de Juniac.

Airport operators need to remain nimble and responsive to manage the evolving control such as screening measures during this uncertain environment, and be prepared for the upturn when it does come.

To this end, operational agility and efficiency will hold the answer.

Adapting Technology to a Different Operating Environment

Before the crisis hit, many airports have been faced with operational and capacity constraints, accentuated by the complexity of the operating environment with multiple stakeholders from airlines, airports, air traffic services to ground handlers. Many of these stakeholders tend to run independently and manage data in silos, which further hinders airport efficiency.

We have been supporting airports over the years with our technology solutions such as the Airport Operations Centre System (AOCS). It supports airports in managing capacity challenges with a centralised platform that integrates analyses and interprets critical information from various airport systems. By applying further analytics, the AOCS enables all stakeholders to make timely and informed operational decisions.

While planned for better times, the AOCS can be repurposed for the extraordinary COVID-19 situation being faced today, with the following examples as illustrations.

• Situational Awareness Picture for Effective Planning

A useful information to airports is “dwell time”:- knowing where people congregate and spend most of their time. By integrating the situational awareness pictures from both the airside and terminal with available sensor data that provide heat maps and density reports, AOCS provide the airports planners with critical information on where to step up cleaning and sanitation measures.

• Seamless SOP through Incident Management Tool

Countries are likely to step up in terms of screening measures at airports to guard against future imported cases. Proper incident management is required for the testing, quarantine, evacuation of potentially infected passengers. AOCS’s electronic standard operating procedures (e-SOP) provides a fully customisable workflow and coordination mechanism to ensure that relevant stakeholders are nimble and agile in their response.

• Weighing Complex Trade-offs and Scenarios

To cut down the running costs during this period, various airports have already resorted to closing down certain sections of their facility. As the traffic gradually returns, airport planners need to review scenarios /options for resuming operations. Planners can make use of the Course of Action modules in AOCS to weigh the trade off to make better-informed decisions, taking into account airside and terminal considerations.

• Single Source of Truth

The timeliness and accuracy of data in public communications in crisis management cannot be understated. There is a need to collate multiple sources of data to one source of truth for reliable, on-time reporting. The AOCS, beyond the current set of airport systems, can take in further data feeds to present the most reliable data for report and decision- making.

Adaptiveness in Dynamic Times

These are uncertain times, with the situation ever evolving. It is critical to stay agile in adapting to dynamic situations by developing innovative solutions and adopting appropriate and future-ready technologies.

The AOCS, incorporating advanced data analytics and scenario planning, amongst a suite of other functionalities help stakeholders develop heightened responsiveness in such a dynamic airport environment.

With the downtime many airports around the world are facing, it is an opportune time to build new capabilities, streamline processes so that airport operators can be better prepared when traffic returns to pre-crisis levels.

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