EXCLUSIVE FEATURE: How the new joint program from ACI and CANSO will help airports and ANSPs tackle capacity constraints

LinkedIn +

Over the past few years, discussions about capacity constraints within the aviation sector quietened as the global pandemic took hold. With the huge slump in passenger numbers due to all the Covid lockdowns, airports closed off parts of their terminals rather than tackle space constraints, while ANSPs were forced to realign capacity with much lower demand.

In 2023, however, capacity issues for many airports and ANSPs are returning to the fore as global passenger traffic is forecast to reach 92% of 2019 levels, according to ACI World data. In 2022, traffic stood at 72% of 2019 levels.

In 2019, airports around the world collectively handled 9.1 billion travelers, ACI’s research revealed. Additionally, the numbers are set to increase rapidly, especially during the next three years. According to the latest ACI World Airport Traffic Forecasts 2022-2041, total passenger traffic worldwide is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.5% from 2021 to 2041, to reach 19.3 billion passengers by 2041. The report also found that this would include a steep recovery gradient between 2021 and 2026, with a CAGR of 19%. In 2021, ACI predicted that approximately US$2.4tn in airport total capital investments will be needed to address the long-term trend in passenger demand to 2040 and beyond.

Thomas Romig, vice president of safety, security and operations at ACI World, comments, “The availability of capacity to meet current demand, and the scalability of capacity to meet future forecasted demand, are both key fundamentals of the aviation ecosystem.”

However, it’s not as easy as just investing in extra space for extra passengers, notes Romig. Post-Covid, the whole aviation sector is tackling a multitude of issues that make it more challenging to overcome capacity issues. “The entire aviation industry is operating in a challenging economic environment with mounting debt levels, increased energy costs, staff challenges and other inflationary pressures,” Romig explains.

He also highlights that any increases in capacity need to be undertaken with the environment in mind, considering that the aviation industry has committed to the ambitious and collective long-term environmental goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The ASCE program

To address these issues, ACI has teamed up with the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO) to launch the Airport System Capacity Enhancement (ASCE) program, aimed at removing the barriers to unlocking airport capacity and supporting the sustainable growth of air travel demand.

The ASCE program takes a whole airport system approach to unlocking capacity, including the surrounding airspace, because these areas are often the most congested. It hopes to help airports deal with increasing capacity through improved coordination between airports, ANSPs and other stakeholders and key changes to procedures, as well as strategic investments in both technology and infrastructure.

The ASCE program is one of the core areas of cooperation to come from a new MoU signed by ACI World and CANSO, which is expected to see closer levels of collaboration between both of the organizations to promote the safe, efficient and sustainable development of civil aviation.

Explaining why ASCE was set up, Michelle Bishop, director of programs at CANSO, says, “During the Covid years when traffic slowed, concerns about capacity fell in priority, but we – ACI and CANSO – could see that they would come back to the fore. We held many discussions with ACI about how airports and ANSPs could work together more closely to address what has always been our dominant challenge: capacity.

“Today, we have a much stronger link between capacity and sustainability, and understanding how matching demand to the right capacity allows us to manage the whole system a lot more sustainably. ASCE is a result of all of these collective conversations, and we hope to be able to bring the required resources to airports and ANSPs that need them to help them achieve sustainable growth.”

Bishop stresses the critical importance of airports and ANSPs working together to understand capacity issues, assess them and make the right decisions when it comes to investments. “It can be really easy for one organization to change procedures or make an investment in infrastructure to fix its specific capacity challenge, but if it doesn’t take into account the needs of other organizations, then bottlenecks can just be moved elsewhere,” she says.

“For example, airspace throughput could be increased by ANSPs creating more capacity in the skies, but if the airport can’t handle more aircraft on the ground, then you just end up with queues on the taxiways or a lack of gates to handle the planes. Airports and ANSPs must have a good relationship and plan investments and improvements together.”

Romig echoes Bishop’s thoughts: “When the organizations are aligned, understand each other’s constraints and are also working toward common objectives, there can be immense benefits in the optimal use of available capacity and potential release of residual capacity. The ASCE program seeks to improve overall collaboration between all parties.”

How ASCE works

ASCE will work with participating airports and ANSPs to provide a comprehensive on-site review of operations, led by industry peers and experts. This review is to optimize the use of airport system capacity, both in the air and on the ground. According to ACI, the airports and ANSPs benefit from an assessment tailored to their unique needs and receive expertise, practical recommendations and targeted solutions that contribute to their long-term capacity use as well as their overall operational efficiency.

The first ASCE program, which will be undertaken as a pilot to refine and validate methodologies, will take place at Jorge Chávez International Airport in Lima, Peru. The organization also said that another pilot is to be confirmed in the coming months of 2023.

“For the first step, airports and ANSPs will be asked to independently complete a questionnaire that seeks to uncover the main issues at the airport and where the challenges are,” explains Bishop. “It will ask a whole bunch of questions about airport procedures, ground procedures, taxiway and runway layout, holding gates, etc, to identify where some of the capacity barriers and opportunities may be. ACI and CANSO will then go on-site with experts from other airports and ANSPs who have successfully addressed similar issues, to carry out a more in-depth assessment of the airport.

“At the end of the process, after we have spent some time closely reviewing the operations, the participating airport and ANSP will receive a report with recommendations for both near-time changes that can be made to increase capacity, and longer-term considerations.”

With sustainability in mind, the ASCE team will first look at ways to increase capacity without the requirement for large investment. “The ASCE program can help the sector meet its sustainability goals in two ways,” explains Romig. “First, by reducing costly infrastructure or system investments, or costs associated with delays and any inefficiencies, in turn redirecting investment to appropriate sustainability initiatives. And second, by reducing the amount of CO2 emissions that come with any delays and inefficiencies in operations. Such operational measures are particularly important in the near term during the current global economic situation and when traditional carbon-based fuels remain in widespread use.”

Bishop adds, “While we are waiting for a real ramp-up in things like sustainable aviation fuel, improving efficiency of the system and reducing any excess fuel burn from airport operations is one of the most important things we can do. By improving capacity, we can better manage things like aircraft pushback, so we don’t have lengthy departure queues on the airport runways.”

Jorge Chávez International

Work on the first ASCE pilot project at Jorge Chávez International will begin later this year. According to Pamela Moreno, operations manager at Lima Airport Partners (LAP) – the operator of the airport – LAP hopes that ASCE will help enhance the airport’s operational efficiency and passenger experience and enable it to better contribute to Peru’s aeronautical development.

In 2022, Jorge Chávez handled close to 18 million passengers and this year hopes to reach 23 million, which, as Moreno says, is “closer to pre-pandemic levels”. The current terminal has a capacity of 2,940 passengers per hour in departures and 3,120 passengers per hour in arrivals. To help it cope with increasing passenger numbers, which are projected to reach 27 million in 2025, LAP is developing a new terminal (see Jorge Chávez International’s expansion plans, right), but until then ASCE will help it improve and optimize the use of currently available ground and airspace capacity.

Moreno explains, “We also hope to improve collaboration between key stakeholders and share information on system constraints to work toward common objectives. Two areas where we are currently facing capacity issues are the security control process in departures and migration in arrivals. We also see capacity restrictions in airside mainly due to the long rotations of aircraft in Lima. Jorge Chávez is already remodeling its security control point and adding new technology as well as increasing queuing space. Hopefully, ASCE will help identify other ways we can address our capacity challenges.”

Best practice

As part of ASCE, both ACI and CANSO hope to unlock new perspectives on the management of congestion and find innovative ways to use existing infrastructure to meet future demands. Project findings will be shared, where possible, to help other airports and ANSPs with their capacity issues. “We intend to capture best practices identified through the reviews to create guidance material available for industry stakeholders,” explains Romig.

Bishop believes that several interesting case studies will emerge from ASCE as more projects are completed. She says, “From these case studies, we can expect things like low-cost capacity improvements that didn’t necessitate expensive infrastructure investments, for example.” The pilot projects will help ACI and CANSO define how best practice will be shared.

The low-cost capacity improvements mentioned by Bishop could include things like redesigning the layout of taxiways or adding high-speed taxiways, enabling airports to increase aircraft throughput. “A new runway or terminal isn’t always the answer,” says Bishop. “Dual runway use can also be implemented when traffic demands require it.”

For Romig, one of the easiest and most effective measures to improve the use of available capacity is through better coordination and alignment among the key stakeholders – airport operations, air traffic control (ATC) and, in some cases, airlines. “Establishing common operational objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs) will be one of the steps along the way to building up better collaboration,” he says. “In some cases, the establishment of agreements that specify the roles and responsibilities as well as the scope of competence will also be a good mechanism that can be used. This ensures alignment and avoids misunderstandings.”

This article originally appeared in the June 2023 issue of Passenger Terminal World. To view the magazine in full, click here.

Share this story:

About Author

Comments are closed.