Common Use: A Growing Airport State of Mind

Comments Andrew O’Conner, SITA’s portfolio director of the airport platform product set, “You see a trend, particularly in the domestic situation in the U.S., towards a significant uptick in common use. It was something that perhaps began life in Europe and the Far East where there were constraints for space at airports, and airlines got together to solve that problem by sharing the physical checking and boarding equipment.

“What we’ve seen in recent times is quite a big uptick in a lot of the regional airports in the U.S., really because of the volatility in the airline market — and airports really wanting to be able to use their facilities flexibly and get the best out of their buildings without always building new.

“Likewise, many airlines are seeing the benefits of sharing the costs of outsourcing that equipment. So it’s been kind of a win/win for airports and airlines.”

Built as the platform of the future, CUPPS (common use passenger processing systems) is an overhaul of the common use terminal equipment (CUTE) standard. The CUPPS standard aims at allowing one air carrier application the ability to be run anywhere on any CUPPS providers’ platform.

Says Jim Miller, Denver International Airport’s director of enterprise architecture, “Personally, I am one to stand behind standards. If we don’t define a standard and attempt to adhere to that standard, in the long run it becomes more expensive to maintain.

“Common use as we’ve lived with it for a number of years is a very complex environment, and CUPPS aims to simplify that so the costs in the long run become less.”

Service-oriented architecture

Explains Miller, “When we wanted to deploy a new common use system at the airport, we went to Ultra’s CUSE in part because of its compliance with the CUPPS standard, and because it fit an architecture that we were familiar with.

“At its core, that is fundamentally what an enterprise architecture does … it aligns business needs with a technology solution that can be supported, and hopefully can be multi-purpose.”

Miller built the airport’s first service-oriented architecture (SOA) four years ago. SOA is a flexible set of design principles used during the phases of systems development and integration in computing. A system based on a SOA will package functionality as a suite of interoperable services that can be used within multiple, separate systems from several business domains.

“Years ago, we declared that all systems will communicate with other systems through service-oriented architecture,” relates Miller. “We consider SOA to be a core foundational component of our enterprise architecture.”

Other airports working with SOA include Orlando, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Las Vegas, says Miller.

“When an airport has to deal with so many different systems delivering different services to their business units, and systems that need to share information across the platform and other business units … when you have a very complex environment, particularly at a category X airport like ours ... the day of building a private interface from system A to system B is past; you can’t afford to maintain those.

“With SOA, we own the hub of the spoked wheel in terms of communication technology — any system that we need to use at the airport can subscribe to our data and it can send data to others by producing a service of its own.”

Common use as a philosophy

Remarks Dominic Nessi, deputy executive director and CIO at Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), “The whole concept of common use has to start with airport management, and the philosophy of a particular airport.

“At LAX … we have a strange situation here — nine passenger terminals. Some are owned by airlines, some are owned by us, and some are owned by us but managed by an airline consortium.

“The big terminal we own is the Tom Bradley International Terminal, and we have some 42 carriers in there; we do true gate management there.

“Terminals 7 and 8 are wholly United Airlines, so there’s no need for common use there. American Airlines owns Terminal 4, so there’s no use for common use there as well.

“It’s not really a technological question; it’s a question the management of an airport has to answer by asking, Where do we want to go with this airport in the future?”

For a lot of smaller airlines, explains Nessi, with common use carriers can move in and out of a market with minimal expense and no need for an IT department or any of the infrastructure like a large carrier such as United or American would have to have.

Adds O’Conner, who has been in the aviation IT sector for some 20 years, “We see a real mix of the newer low-cost carriers and some of the legacy carriers really supporting common use quite strongly.

“There have been examples of several of what might be called ‘legacy’ carriers participating heavily in the new CUPPS standard. It’s been an important enabler for the U.S. carriers, particularly who’ve been forced onto common use via the experience in Europe over the years.”

Remarks Miller, “What holds airports back in this country from deploying more common use isn’t a technology question, it’s a business question.”

Nessi agrees, stating, “Common use changes the entire character of an airport, from finances all the way down to operation, and it’s not a technological decision … it’s a business decision.”

Flexibility and facility control

Says Miller, “I like the idea of enabling the passenger … how airports have the opportunity to capitalize on customer service gaps left by airline cost cutting. We’ve seen that happen for a number of years; we’ve seen that trend.

“The question I have ... is the airport going to step in and fill that gap with the same old stuff, or are we going to bring a technology to that gap that allows us to fill the need more efficiently?

“That’s where I think common use and communication standards come into play — so that when an airline and an airport need to share information ... airports, airlines, and vendors are all going to be sharing a bigger pool of data. It’s all about developing standard formats for exchanging, delivering, and acknowledging data transfer.”

Nessi agrees and says gaining more control over facilities is a trend at airports, but it’s not unanimous by any means. “LAX is an anomaly with all of these different ownership groups and lease arrangements we have,” he adds. “We have so many long-term agreements, we really can’t be entirely common use … unlike Las Vegas, where it is all common use for everything.”

A recommended practice

The CUPPS standard is a ‘recommended practice’, which is the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) standard term for its specifications, says O’Conner.

“What the standard has done, it’s not just a technical standard around the platform itself … it’s also defined a lot of things around the service level, and what the airline can expect when it arrives on site at a new airport,” he explains. “The standard gives carriers a sense of assuredness of what they will find and the service level that will ensue over the coming time on that precise equipment.”

Because CUPPS has been a particularly productive coming together of airlines and airports, the single standard has been good as common use becomes more attractive to airports, comments O’Conner.

In terms of the future, “The work that’s ongoing now is really to encompass the things that should be going on now — like the supporting of devices that will see a changing landscape at the airport, such as the move towards a self-service unattended bag drop for example, and self-boarding gates; all the processes and different ways of handling passengers and the way that passengers are separated from baggage.

“In that respect, the CUPPS standard can’t stand still; it has to encompass those new devices and processes.

“For airlines, there will be less touch points with staff, but more desirability to up-sell to the passenger with new services.”