Written in collaboration with Soufiane Daher from NACO
Currently, the traffic is heavily reduced, and revenues fall significantly. As traffic starts to recover, in order for aviation to return to profitability, it will need to be more efficient and better able to handle more volume at a lower cost base than pre-pandemic.
Post-COVID, airports will have to turn to smart solutions that increase asset utilization rates and limit capital investments. Airports need to change from infrastructure providers to infrastructure and technology/data providers.
How will airports and airlines achieve climate goals with less financial means at their disposal? It will be important to look in more detail into the reduction of inefficiencies.
As the current crisis has forced airports and airlines to restructure their workforce, safety concerns are increasing.
It is important to improve safety levels, while managing the impact on operating cost. Sensor technologies, early warning systems and automation can help to solve this challenge.
The Smart Stand
We define a ‘smart stand’ as an aircraft stand that uses different technologies to reach some level of awareness, coordination and/or automation.
Existing camera infrastructure and Computer Vision software can be used to capture data on what is happening at the apron. The camera acts as a single sensor to all objects in its field of view. This can be a very cost-efficient method for generating a wealth of data.
Coordination: The Airport Brain
The large amount of real-time data generated requires analysis by smart decision support systems. These can alert operators on predefined situations or take action autonomously. The data can also be used to predict future outcomes. Deviations from normal operations can be identified before they happen or as soon as they appear.
Automation can take very simple and effective forms. For example, a system alert automatically creates a job for an employee on duty instead of alerting their dispatcher first.
Another more physical form of automation is related to autonomous vehicles and objects, such as passenger bridges.
Given the expected growth of the aviation industry post-COVID, these technologies will be required as there will not be enough human labour to handle aircraft. These kinds of autonomous systems also create safety benefits.
Optimization of the entire airport system and execution of tasks by autonomous systems also means that there will be less inefficiency and, as a result, better sustainability.
Cost / Benefit Analysis
There should be a clear vision and understanding of the problem that the solution should solve.
We have set up the following fictitious example for review to demonstrate the market viability principle. Here, due to saturation, an airport is considering expanding its aircraft stand capacity. The airport will need to deploy new stands to absorb traffic growth, assuming the complete recovery of its traffic by 2023/2024.
For the sake of convenience, we have just taken into account the expense of constructing stands. In practice, in the case of remote stands being deployed, additional terminals and taxiways should be constructed and/or higher operating costs incurred.
Smart stands provide a flexible choice to ramp up capacity only when required, with continued uncertainty about post-Covid-19 traffic growth.
We carried out a research for one of the largest and most congested airports in Europe. The use of Machine Learning technology to optimize stand planning resulted in planning the busiest period of the year with 7 stands fewer than usual. Stand capacity increased by 9%, the required towing reduced by 30%, and bussing operations reduced by 50%.
Smart technologies and digitization are cost efficient solutions. They are viable alternatives for more traditional solutions like infrastructure expansion.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested to find out how smart stand technology can be used to increase stand utilization rates and at your airport.