The opening of Terminal 2 last fall at Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) points to a growing trend in airport operational management. RDU’s Mark Posner says that by connecting infrastructure linking airlines, third-party service providers, and airport service facilities under a common IT system, airports can realize improved communications and operational efficiency.
Posner emphasizes how technology is going to drive the way airports do business by implementing the strategic use of network infrastructure and digital display equipment.
Posner, deputy director of information services at RDU, has worked with both airline and airport technology. His experience has led him to the forefront of IT at airports, and the increasing role it plays in operational efficiency.
Posner relates that airports have made a significant and conscious decision to move from the “landlord” methodology to becoming a provider of services. RDU did this by implementing a campus-wide infrastructure development plan, and integrating that into the design of its new terminal.
The airport began working on an IT infrastructure plan in 2004. Posner joined the airport authority in 2007 and phase 1 of the new Terminal 2 was completed last October. The terminal utilizes one IT infrastructure which links all airline and tenant data and voice communication. Posner describes the airport’s IT infrastructure as the backbone of the building.
“What we have set out to do is put in an infrastructure that the authority can leverage as we grow,” says Posner. “We made it so that we could easily manage it, drive down costs, and make it available to other entities.”
Elements of the Transportation Security Administration, Customs and Border Patrol, retail shops, and the airlines utilize RDU’s IT network. “Every airline is using our infrastructure in one way, shape, or form,” says Posner. “Some airlines use RDU’s entire infrastructure system, and we support them for that.”
The IT infrastructure laid the groundwork for the system development of the new terminal, relates Posner. All of the phones are fully integrated with the airlines via a full Cisco infrastructure.
Five airlines serve 19 gates in Terminal 2, all of which use the services of the airport at a fraction of the cost it would be for the airlines to supply themselves, according to Posner. He says the biggest challenge to implementing the “one network, one system” technology infrastructure was in getting the airlines on board.
“The challenge was showing the airlines that our capabilities where robust, tolerant, and redundant enough to handle everything,” says Posner. “We had to prove to the airlines that utilizing our services lowers cost.”
RDU engaged the airlines early in the design phase of the terminal, and Posner relates that they were willing to hear the airport out. The authority presented it as a service to the airlines; a system that would add ease and flexibility to their operations.
“The airlines were willing to go along with us because they felt like they were a part of the process,” says Posner.
“At an airport the size of RDU, it doesn’t pay for airlines to have an IT staff here; it makes sense for them to utilize our system.
“Our staff is here 24/7 to manage the system and it reduces costs for the airlines. They don’t have to invest in technology; it becomes an operating expense at that point.”
Posner says the airport charges airlines at a rate of less than 50 percent of what an AT&T or TimeWarner Telecom would charge them, all for simple phone and DSL lines. Sharing this cost with airlines, government entities, and concessions drives down operational costs to the airport as well, relates Posner.
Airports of the past utilized a mix of digital and static signage to direct passengers and display information, explains Posner. “We really wanted to drive out static signs that grow stale quickly, are harder to manage, and require structural manipulation. We wanted signage that is strategically located and could display any type of content,” he says.
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Part of the solution comes from adept implementation of common-use IT systems that support multiple airlines.