The route to efficiency

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Airport collaborative decision making (A-CDM) is at the core of tomorrow’s smart airports. After several years of use, A-CDM has become firmly embedded in the operations of major airports in Europe. The concept is now spreading all over the world including Singapore, Hong Kong and Auckland.

The benefits of A-CDM being realized by many of these airports is now moving beyond optimizing aircraft movements. The sharing of air traffic data is also helping to optimize processes within the terminal, such as baggage handling and improving the flow of passengers through a terminal by making information available to managers and passengers.

A-CDM is not just about technology, as is often improperly assumed, but about collaboration between stakeholders at the airport to improve process flows. Jürgen Barthel, chief operating officer of consultancy, says, “The issue often is that the stakeholders work side-by-side, but in different silos. Lack of awareness of the needs of one another or of process disruptions taking place multiply those disruptions and increase costs. An example is staff being assigned to aircraft that aren’t ready.”

The concept was initially developed 10 years ago by Eurocontrol, which produced the Airport CDM Implementation Manual. Today both the manual and the understanding of the concept have matured. So far 22 airports in Europe have implemented A-CDM, with more to come.

“A-CDM was devised to create more predictable and reliable information about departing flights for air traffic flow management in Europe,” says Fredrik Lindblom, product sales director for Asia-Pacific at Saab Air Traffic Management. “There was also a need for better information sharing among airport stakeholders to facilitate more punctual and reliable turnaround and departure processes, which drove the need for A-CDM.”

A-CDM is about people and operational processes. It is underpinned by the sharing of planning and flight data for the aviation network, for which airports are the nodes. “A-CDM provides harmonization of air and ground processes across all the air transport industry stakeholders,” says Nick Gates, portfolio director of airport solutions at SITA. “It assures standardization of relevant data elements and the proactive exchange of data, to create predictability and management opportunities to optimize scarce runway capacity and handle disruptions.

“The need for predictability of operations was felt at a time when the increase in airline slots seemed to be reduced because of the complexities of delays faced by airlines, which affected the number of air traffic movements per hour. Thus the concept of prediction of flight movements was deemed necessary.”

Command and control

A-CDM works by establishing a quick communication process, usually by means of a joint airport operations center. “The processes are similar to the emergency operations in place at most airports, but instead of setting up an emergency response center ad hoc, the airport operations center is the day-to-day norm,” says Barthel. “Working physically close to each other naturally improves communication. Instead of picking up the phone to talk about disruptions, a quick chat will inform anyone necessary and enables quick and efficient communication to overcome the issue before it becomes a larger problem.”

After establishing a local A-CDM, the processes and systems are integrated with the systems of other airlines and air navigation services providers. Barthel says, “The long-term goal is not just to understand the current situation, but to predict it. If the aircraft is delayed by bad weather in the morning, future systems will predict the upcoming crew planning for the whole day, including for the resulting delay in the evening.

“Exchanging aircraft or adding a spare aircraft into the process is a challenge for those systems today, but it will prove the business case for the airline. In the end it is not about the individual airport processes, but about operating an aircraft daily or weekly rotation with as few – expensive – disruptions as possible.”

The next steps to get more value from A-CDM include increasing integration with systems such as surface management for routing and guidance. “Another step is to widen the scope in terms of looking into the terminal and the flows of passengers as well as baggage,” says Lindblom. “How will better predictability and punctuality of passengers and baggage affect the overall system?”

Mark Croudace, manager of passenger and terminal operations at Auckland Airport, says that one of the main benefits of A-CDM is that it enables resource deployment to be more efficient and a coordinated and collaborative approach to resolving issues. “A-CDM consists of a web-based portal where real-time data is shared for every single flight as various milestones such as the targeted off block times are predicted, based on actual milestones being achieved,” he says.

Implementation challenges

According to Croudace the major challenges in implementing A-CDM are agreeing on the performance metrics to share across the multiple stakeholders, embedding a philosophy of collaboration across the stakeholders, and having the right procedures and governance structures. “The biggest roadblock is often a lack of willingness to trust each other and share data, or just the lack of a collaborative environment,” he says. “One of our biggest success factors was the fact that we had a strong culture and operating framework of collaboration already established prior to implementing A-CDM.”

Another challenge is to make the stakeholders realize that A-CDM is not just a system to implement. “A system is needed, but it is there to facilitate procedures,” says Lindblom. He points out that an additional challenge is to design and change A-CDM procedures to involve the stakeholders – airline operators, ground handlers, airport operator and air navigation services provider.

“A-CDM forces stakeholders to move from a first-come, first-served principle to a more rigid, best-planned, best-served, paradigm. Airline and ground handling agents need to be more accurate in their predictions about when the aircraft is ready to leave, and in return they get predictable startup service and shorter taxi times. It also means changes for air traffic control working procedures, where the ATC operator needs to adhere to system advisories for startup times.”

IT systems

According to Barthel, computerization is not a necessary prerequisite for A-CDM implementation. “Only when the local processes are optimized is IT a logical next step, to share information with other remote stakeholders,” he says. “Then you decide how much of the data you want to be automatically uploaded and how much has to be input manually.”

IT and air traffic management systems will provide information about arrival and departure flight schedules, stands/gates, flight plans, runways in use, departure rates, aircraft positions and time at key points. On top of that, an integration platform with the capabilities to provide the A-CDM functionality for the procedures is required. An end-user interface is also needed. “Many of these systems are already in place at airports, so the focus is on accessing the information, integrating it and presenting it to the users,” says Barthel.

IT systems can be provided by companies such as SITA. The company’s Airport Management Solution (AMS) suite of software applications is designed to support and enhance airport operations from landside to airside, and from landing to take-off. “We recently implemented the AMS at Nice Côte d’Azur airport, where it is providing a more predictable flow of aircraft departures and minimizing delays,” says Gates.

Return on investment

A-CDM has been defined by ICAO as one of the most promising optimization measures for airports around the world. “We are still in the early days, but so far the required investments have been proved to cost 5 to 10 times less than the resulting benefits,” says Gates. “Some of the results of an impact assessment, made in 2016 by Eurocontrol, include a saving of three minutes on taxi-out times, increased peak departure rates, and dramatically improved take-off time predictability.”

Croudace says that in the first six months of A-CDM implementation, the airport achieved a 20% improvement in the predictability of off-block times. “This helps the apron management team make better decisions about push-back approval and subsequent holding time on the apron or on the stand,” he adds.

There are many stakeholders involved in A-CDM who will all benefit from lower fuel consumption due to shorter taxi times and better resource planning due to more reliable arrival on-block times. Lindblom says, “To understand the ROI for an A-CDM implementation, develop a key performance indicator framework that involves all stakeholders and indicates what the potential benefits are in relation to the investment. Only then can one truly understand the ROI.”

June 15, 2017

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Kirstie joined the team in early 2017 and brings writing, communications and client experience with her. Now an assistant editor, she produces content for our magazines and websites. Away from the office, you will find her blogging on her lifestyle website or searching the internet for photos of sausage dogs.

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