The way airports approach operational control hasn’t changed a great deal over recent years. Airport operations managers and their teams tend to sit together in a bespoke centre, working hard to ensure the airport maintains maximum capacity, supporting on-time performance for airlines. But this task is made harder by today’s information silos and legacy communication channels.

Amadeus_Abhishek Krishna
Abhishek Krishna, head of data, AI and platform – airport and airline operations – product management Amadeus


Today’s challenges

Stakeholders involved in ensuring a flight departs on time and travellers have a rewarding experience range from the ground operations teams to the airlines and even border control. They all play an important role in ensuring a flight is prepared and on schedule.

Yet the involvement of multiple stakeholders means that the airports industry has traditionally operated with fragmented IT systems that are no longer fit for purpose. This has led to information silos, resulting in information failing to flow, in a timely manner, to those who need it.

When information does flow, it’s often through legacy communication channels like email or phone calls. While such tools may continue to play a part in aviation operations, it’s hard to share common analytics on airport capacity using the phone or even by sending an email. But the various actors involved need to see such common dashboards and be able to collaborate around them to improve operational outcomes.


Tomorrow’s opportunities

Fortunately advances in technology make it easier for all those involved in flight operations to work more closely together, around shared analytics and common communication channels.

Platforms like Microsoft Teams are an ideal channel within which new collaborative applications can be embedded to support the industry to better manage operations. For example, it is now possible for an airport operations manager to make their forward rolling operational plan available to all those involved, thereby delivering a one-glance view of the health of an airport’s operations.

If something changes, a comms channel can be opened with everyone impacted and common information can be shared that helps all actors to respond more quickly. Similarly, insights from decision-support tools and models can now accurately simulate the impact of a proposed change. For example, will powering-up ten additional check-in kiosks be sufficient to avoid queues during peak hours? Again, this type of simulation is only truly valuable if the insights are effectively shared with everyone who needs to consume them.

A new generation of technology has arrived that can power a virtual airport operations centre (APOC), bringing stakeholders together through a unified communications channel. Let’s consider a couple of scenarios where this approach could make an impact.


Scenario 1: Heavy snow

Airports today have an understanding of approaching snow through their weather systems but this information does not get to stakeholders quickly enough. Typically, the key information doesn’t make it to the de-icing team until three or more hours before the snow arrives. Unfortunately, this isn’t enough time for this team to manage capacity efficiently, which is likely to create a domino effect that delays turnarounds. 

With an APOC in place, a weather feed is available that provides a minute-by-minute forecast every hour and daily forecasts for the next five days. With capabilities to configure severe weather alerts, airports can be notified of impending snow with 24 hours’ notice. 

When that alert arrives, the airport operations manager can immediately create an event in Microsoft Teams. Stakeholders then have a full 24 hours to prepare.

The key is understanding the impact on airport capacity. A narrowbody aircraft is quicker to de-ice than a wide-body. With knowledge that ten narrow and six wide aircraft will need to be de-iced, the operations manager understands the impact on airport capacity sooner and thus the impacton aircraft turnarounds.

This means they can work with airline service managers to cancel the optimum number of flights much earlier, before passengers even travel to the airport. Airlines can then send a communication offering alternative options that passengers can choose from with a few clicks. This improves the experience, reduces compensation costs (e.g. overnight stays or food) and ensures the airport operates in an optimal way.

Runway in snow

An APOC could give airports 24 hours’ notice of snowstorms

Scenario 2: Passenger congestion

A virtual APOC can be set up to provide near-real-time status on the capacity of all key airport resources, for example, check-in counters, bag-drop areas and security check points, in clear dashboards.

The airport operations manager can set thresholds, so they are alerted when demand for services outstrips supply. For example, a threshold could be the maximum acceptable time for a passenger to check-in and drop their bag.

This capability is also predictive. Using the airport’s own and third-party data feeds (e.g. public transport), the system can forecast demand for the airport’s services. This allows terminal resource managers to take action before service quality is affected.

For example, using motorway traffic data, an alert may suggest the airport’s car park will reach capacity the following day. The resource manager may then decide to open the ancillary car park, or even dynamically adjust parking pricing to manage demand.

Or, using flight and public transport data, an alert may suggest that check-in will become crowded in two hours’ time. The resource manager may decide to open more check-in desks or power-up additional bag-drop units.


Scenario 3: Better managing diverted traffic

Many airports act as a back-up when disruption happens at a nearby airport, typically a major hub. For example, both Gatwick and Stansted act in this capacity for Heathrow.  

By pulling together all the data needed in order to accept a large number of additional flights, a virtual APOC can ensure the back-up airport is ready for moments when demand will spike. But how would this work in practice?

When disruption happens in the region, the airport operations manager at the back-up airport can quickly open a new event in Microsoft Teams, instantly giving all collaborators access to this data.

For example, the ground service team would then know there are two disabled passengers on an arriving flight and several pets in the hold. Teams can have the wheelchairs and pet quarantine ready – rather than finding out on landing, thus avoiding unnecessary delays.

Tailfin and GSE staff member

During disruptions, an alert can be issued notifying ground staff of passengers with special requirements


Unifying airport ops and technology

The industry is still experiencing staff shortages while demand for travel has rapidly returned. This has led to a surge in disruption that has impacted the passenger experience in many parts of the world, while placing a great strain on operations teams. The industry must respond. We cannot simply continue to struggle with systems and processes first designed before the digital age. And nor do we need to.

Many people will be familiar with unified communications technology and business intelligence dashboards. Can you imagine reverting to a time before you could access those dashboards, establish that group chat or collaboratively edit documents?