Planning for IT Development

Changing airport business models drive technology; encourage ownership

With more than 25 years of experience in the transportation and aviation industry, Faith Group, LLC principal Faith Varwig describes airport IT as a business enabler, commenting, “Directors are under pressure to reduce budgets ... how do they do that? By integrating technology that enables an airport to do more with less.” In an effort to identify the future of airport IT, AIRPORT BUSINESS speaks with Faith Group about trends related to information technology (IT) planning and implementation.

A woman-owned/disadvantaged business enterprise, Faith Group, LLC was founded in 2004. The company’s focus is the transportation market sector; primarily security, telecommunications, and operations planning for airports, says Varwig.

From a technological standpoint, “We look at airports in three different segments: landside systems, terminal systems, and airside systems,” she explains.

“Typically a Category X airport [representing the nation’s largest and busiest airports as measured by the volume of passenger traffic] will have 60 to 100 different technology systems and applications running all at once.”

“The environment during the last 20 years has changed significantly, from almost nothing to an explosion of technology at the airport,” relates Varwig.

Much of this has to do with the evolving role of the airport as an operator, and not simply the ‘landlord’, she says. “That has driven a lot of this technology; airports have had to bring in technology systems that they haven’t owned or operated before because they are now taking over some of the service roles that were traditionally executed by the carriers.”

According to Varwig, the shift in responsibility was driven by: 1) the uncertainty of the airline industry; and 2) that airports can provide technology systems as base infrastructure, and in turn, lower the cost of entry by new carriers.

“Entrant carriers like that approach ... it can incentivize carriers and also facilitate an airport’s charter operations,” says Varwig.

“Some airports now operate everything from ticket counters to providing above and below wing services. Apart from the hub carriers, airlines in other market segments are very interested in common and shared infrastructure, and basically a day-to-day lease agreement.

“The new philosophy of airport owners and operators has shaken things up; they are willing to take responsibility and ownership, and technology is being seen as base infrastructure now.”

Master Planning
The idea for IT master planning hit the mainstage some ten years ago, says Varwig. The larger airports adopted the philosophy first; some airports are even on their second installment of an IT master plan.

“Unlike an airport ALP (airport layout plan) where the master plan is a 30-year vision, an IT master plan from a practical standpoint can’t possibly be planned out for longer than five years,” remarks Varwig. “It really needs to be refreshed on a yearly basis.

“Buying technology applications piecemeal for each department is not cost effective; airports need to take an enterprise approach to decisions on technology, rather than the department by department approach, which is the way it’s always been.”

Faith Group was recently awarded a $378,000 contract to conduct an IT master plan for the Cleveland Airport System. In a press release, airport director Ricky Smith states, “The goal of the project is to conduct an examination of future airport system needs, identify innovative technology solutions to address those needs, and devise a series of realistic strategies for implementation.”

Comments Varwig, “There is still a hub carrier at Cleveland — Continental Airlines. Continental still has a significant investment in the airport’s IT infrastructure; but the airport is moving towards taking ownership of some of the systems that they have not had in the past.

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