As co-founder of Air-Transport IT Services Inc. (tradename AirIT) in 1999 and now serving as CEO, Betros Wakim has more than 15 years of automation and information technology (IT) experience in the air transport, manufacturing, and communication industries. Wakim began working on IT at the airport setting some eleven years ago, first with project management and then ultimately directing total operations.
Relates Wakim, the concept for utilizing common use technology for passenger processing really began with the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. “If you have capacity constraints during certain seasons or get a lot of people coming in for a particular event, you cannot just go ahead and build gates and build resources … you need to find a way to really optimize the space you have,” he says. “You start thinking about going away from the exclusive relationship between an airline and the airport.
“That’s really where common-use terminal equipment (CUTE) came to be effective; the idea being to use existing resources and share them between multiple airlines.”
Europe has been implementing this type of airline facility utilization for some time, and the U.S. has been behind when it comes to optimization, adds Wakim. Over the last ten years however, the U.S. market has started to recognize and adopt the international business model of common use.
Examples include the Fresno Yosemite, Sacramento, and San Jose International Airports to name a few. Explains assistant director of aviation at Fresno Brendan Carmody regarding a recent terminal renovation project, “Apart from having the flexibility to renovate a space and use the existing facilities to the best possible extent, the airport is also breaking down some of the barriers to start-up entrants by making it easier for carriers to come jump right in and start operating.”
San Jose’s communications director David Vossbrink echoes that sentiment, stating, “The basic premise is that an airline can use any counter or gate at anytime, although we as the operator make that determination; this allows us to grow with carriers quite readily, and we can accommodate alternative operations much more flexibly.”
A shifting business model
“About eight years ago we started looking at the technology being used for facility use optimization; CUTE was purely an emulation model, or a very simple technology system,” says Wakim. “Over the years, the philosophy of common use and sharing equipment became more successful while the technology was standing still. During the last eight years we’ve been examining this technology; network-wise, common technologies have progressed greatly.
“Now, many things are being converted into a very narrow yet flexible IT environment where I can run whatever I want to run. This can be described as virtualization,” he explains.
Virtualization means that a single server can be utilized to run multiple servers, adds Wakim. Virtualization is essentially a PC within a PC, but without the hardware.
“Airlines invest more in their own applications than in any common use application,” remarks Wakim. “Even though carriers have been using existing legacy reservation systems, they’ve really improved the application level for the agents who deal with the customers. These applications do not run on a common use system, so airlines have to build a separate application.
“What we did at San Jose, for example ... we put in the network, we put in the PCs, we put in all the peripherals such as the printers and gate readers … and then we put in one virtual machine for United, one virtual machine for Delta, one virtual machine for US Airways, etc. The United operation at San Jose is run exactly the same as it is run in Chicago.”
Anything that can be thought of for an office environment has been duplicated in a wide-area network environment, comments Wakim. “So suddenly the carriers are given the flexibility to control their own applications,” he adds. “In addition, it empowers the airport to provide airlines with a network, the PCs, the printers, the gate readers ... and the carrier just has to bring in its software.
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