A Model of Simulation

ORLANDO — East of downtown Orlando there is a high-tech research corridor that has been established around the progressive University of Central Florida (UCF), which seeks to become the “nation’s leading metropolitan research university,” according to its mission statement. Of the associated companies that have sprung up around this corridor is ProductivityAPEX, Inc., founded by Mansooreh Mollaghasemi, Ph.D., who in the early 1990s joined UCF as a professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering. In 2001, she founded ProductivityAPEX with the help of a
contract from NASA. Out of that effort grew an initiative with Orlando International Airport for simulation modeling for security and other
passenger movements through its terminals. The MCO project completed, Dr. Mollaghasemi seeks to branch out to other airports with a program that is readily adaptable and designed for airport staff use once the research is finished.

Explains Dr. Mollaghasemi, “I’ve always had a lot of passion for real-world applications. I’ve always geared my research toward that.

“I started this company with the goal of bringing all those tools and the research that had gone into methodologies and tools to solve real-world applications. The motto at the company has always been, build once and use many times. We didn’t set out to be a consulting firm. We set out to be a customized product development company. AirSim is a prime example of that.”

Before ProductivityAPEX got involved with airports, it first teamed up with NASA. According to Dr. Mollaghasemi, her company was the first to perform end-to-end modeling of the space agency’s flight hardware elements, from the moment the shuttle lands to when it relaunches.

Says Dr. Mollaghasemi, “Through that, and the next generation of launch technology — the crew exploration vehicle — we built this methodology that involves generic modeling, putting models together really quickly.

“It’s the [same] technology we used to build for airports; we just changed the template.”

Maurice ‘Mike’ M. Callinan, president of ProductivityAPEX, is the person responsible for marketing the program to airports. He spent some 30 years in Navy facility and aircraft maintenance, he says, which gave him an understanding of aerospace and associated product applications.

“Our tools are very data-intensive,” says Callinan. “We have to be very well-versed in the gathering of data.

“It’s a little bit of an intersection of the technologies of modeling and simulation, data-mining, and software engineering. Bringing those together is where we have focused to come up with the products we have.”

ProductivityAPEX also is involved in modeling supply-chain solutions and offers the industry a supply-chain assessment tool among its products (www.productivityapex.com).

AIRSIM — an airport application
ProductivityAPEX promotes its AirSim product as providing airport decisionmakers with the information needed to act instead of react, to identify throughput bottlenecks in an airport terminal, and to give managers the tools to be able to make their facilities operate more efficiently.

The company got involved with Orlando International at a time when the airport was trying to alleviate pressures on its passenger screening lanes while also determining capacity needs as it considered construction of a proposed south terminal.

Explains Dr. Mollaghasemi, “We were in contact with Orlando International at a time when they were having problems processing things as quickly as pre-9/11. They asked us to take a look at how we could really quantify the capacity — how high the number of passengers could go with the current facilities.

“It would serve to help determine whether to build the new terminal or not. With technologies like e-ticketing, you don’t need that much space; you can process passengers faster.

“We put the initial model together for them as a proof of concept.”

In time, she says, the model evolved as the company went through several phases of MCO modeling. “It’s totally generic now,” she comments. “It can go from airport to airport with minimal changes. Probably within a month to a month and a half, an airport can be modeled using this tool.”

More specifically, Callinan explains that Orlando International had three initial goals in mind for the modeling:

  • Could passengers be processed at pre-9/11 timelines?
  • What is the impact of technology on terminal throughput and capacity? “E-ticket machines, common use, RFID — a lot of things are happening,” says Callinan. “What they wanted to know is, is there an assessment of how this technology might impact the terminal?”
  • What was the potential for associated revenue generation? “Because the revenue generation models are changing at a lot of terminals, from a leased space arrangement to a per passenger processed arrangement,” says Callinan.

Officials here credit Orlando International executive director Bill Jennings, since retired, for spearheading the modeling effort. The vision was to capture accurate forecasting and modeling data that could be used by managers to make decisions, they explain.

Says Callinan, “An issue with the airport was, don’t just come in, do a study, and give us a report. The real focus was on helping them improve their capability internally, to be able to do some of this analysis. That’s where we really focused: the delivery of a tool and a toolset that the airport itself, once we left, could be self-sufficient in continuing to do this analysis.”

Adds Dr. Mollaghasemi, “They’re using it — weekly, if not daily.”

A key element of the modeling focused on security passenger screening stations, an aspect of operations at Orlando International that has become almost legendary since 9/11. The airport was considering adding as many as eight new stations, says Dr. Mollaghasemi. The modeling performed by ProductivityAPEX demonstrated that the airport needed only three more.

“So they were able to secure the funding and put in the three additional stations, and that solved their problem,” says Dr. Mollaghasemi. “They went from 45-60 minute wait times to under 20 minutes at the security checkpoints.”

Regarding future capacity at Orlando International, the models produced by ProductivityAPEX show that the current facilities are not yet at their capacity limits, according to Dr. Mollaghasemi. “Right now they’re at 36 million passengers,” she says. “Our models show they could go up to 70 million without needing a new terminal, especially when the new baggage screening system is put in place. They’ll be able to process more.”

Callinan says that the results of that data provides the authority with another tool when evaluating the need for a new terminal. “They may have various other reasons to build a new terminal,” he comments, “but this provides them with data from a pure passenger capacity issue.”

The work by ProductivityAPEX also aided the airport with its negotiations with Disney, according to Callinan. He says it’s estimated that some 10 percent of passengers going through MCO are processed via the Disney Guest program, which had been doing its own modeling.

“The airport was getting ready to do some negotiations with Disney,” explains Callinan. “Disney was doing its own analysis; the airport wanted a little more rigor in its modeling so they could put it on the table when they started negotiating with the Disney modeling. It worked out very successfully.”

Data — the more the better
Central to the product’s success, says Dr. Mollaghasemi, is Orlando’s ability to now utilize the programming in daily operations. “They are able to move around airlines,” she says, “and address this balancing act of common use that airports are moving toward. It’s allowing them to balance the load between two security checkpoints.”

Other airports interested in the modeling program can expect to pay between $200,000 and $300,000, according to Dr. Mollaghasemi. “It depends on the size of the airport; how much data they have available; how much of it we would have to collect,” she says. Dr. Mollaghasemi estimates the Orlando project cost some $500,000 and took a year to complete. Future applications will move more quickly, she says.

Most important to any new airport initiative, she comments, is “data, data, data. If we can access their databases and get the right kind of data and the flow, it simplifies the process.”

Dr. Mollaghasemi says it can be applied to any size commercial airport, and points out that ProductivityAPEX recently completed a similar project for an airport in Jordan that handles only two million passengers annually.