Airport Program Aims to Increase Efficiency

Is collaborative decision making the next big play in the reorganization of ground handling?

Moore says Dnata has been involved in the feasibility study from the outset and a joint team has been in Europe looking at best practice. “The study is taking all parties in the same direction,” he notes. “Investment decisions will need to take place concerning operations control centers, technology and people, and a sensible resolution is expected to take place.”

Majed Al Joker, VP terminal operations, Dubai Airports, agrees that this will be a positive process for all partners. “We are looking forward to working with all stakeholders, including our ground handler, on this important project,” he says.

Ground handling benefits
Ground handlers should be interested. There are huge benefits on offer resulting from a more efficient use of resources. With far greater accuracy in timings, the redundancy required in ground services should be minimized, greatly reducing costs.

For example, a pushback truck is estimated to spend around 15 minutes with an aircraft when the actual process takes just five minutes. That’s a significant saving of two-thirds. It’s not just current costs that could be avoided. Future operational expenses — such as reduced staff and equipment costs owing to greater resource efficiency — are also on the agenda.

Of course, investment in the implementation of A-CDM will be required. Some studies suggest the IT cost for ground handlers at a single airport will be in the $200,000 range. But with savings to be made on every aircraft handling, a return on investment is surely in the cards, possibly in as short a timescale as two years and with a cost/benefit ratio average of nine to one according to the Transport Research Knowledge Centre.

Etienne van Zuijlen, program manager for Airport CDM at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, says that without the active involvement of ground handlers, the missing link in the flight process between arrivals and departures could never be realized. Commercial relationships still have to be considered, however. “Since these are often in confidence, and therefore not known in detail to either the airport operator and/or the air navigation service provider, it is essential that sufficient CDM elements are reflected in the Service Level Agreement or commercial contract,” van Zuijlen suggests. “In some cases, this implies sharing the benefits of CDM in these new contractual arrangements, a lengthy task.”

The real deal
According to a common adage, if something sounds too good to be true it probably is. The question for ground handlers is whether the predictability A-CDM appears to offer is the real deal.

The concept is perfectly clear for a flight in isolation. Consider one common scenario. A five-minute delay occurs because of tarmac congestion or a no-show. The pilot announces he will make up the time and often does. But on arrival in the destination airspace there is a further delay because the gate is not ready or there is congestion waiting to land. All these mismatches can be resolved through A-CDM, because the problems will already have been automatically highlighted and alerts communicated to all partners for mitigation purposes.

But what happens with multiple flights, each with its own agenda? Some flights will be ahead of schedule, some behind. For air traffic management, keeping them all to the time specified by the CDM may prove impossible — an aviation Gordian knot to which there is no drastic Alexandrian solution. That will have a knock-on effect, which may result in ground handlers not quite achieving the levels of efficiency first envisaged.

Even if the platform still needs some of the kinks working out, Airport CDM looks to be the best game in town right now. “Aside from the upgrading of the existing Airport Operational DataBase and upgrading or establishing B2B connections with the internal planning systems of airlines and handlers, the only investment needed is creating awareness with frontline people,” says van Zuijlen. “This takes communication and training to drive the essential culture change, which in turn means positive leadership to demonstrate that sharing is beneficial to all.

“Cost benefit studies, supported by established implementation, have shown positive net present value within one or two years and a ratio of 1 to 10,” continues van Zuijlen. “There is much more potential to follow.”

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