Tech Bytes

The AIRPORT BUSINESS 2nd Annual AOA (Airfield Operations Area) Expo and Conference, held in April in Milwaukee, highlighted a driver training simulator in use at Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport.

MSP’s John Ostrom, manager of airside operations, and Kyle Scapple, systems administrator, advised those interested in a driver training simulator to step out of the box. According to Ostrom, MSP used CAD (computer-aided design) drawings, GIS (geographic information systems) data, and satellite and other images to create a virtual world of the airport and everything on the airfield.

The technology used in the system is able to simulate many different conditions at the airport, including night, day, low visibility, snow, rain, fog, rough terrain, and more to give trainees the most real-world conditions possible. MSP has some 400 people that train on the simulator, with each person who drives on the airfield currently receiving 30 minutes of simulator time.

Ostrom says MSP paid some $400,000 for the driver training simulator it uses, supplied by Environmental Tectonics Corporation. It has not been determined if training simulators such as this one are AIP-eligible, says Ostrom.

The airport has not done any cost-saving analysis on the system, and Ostrom explains that return on investment is very difficult to quantify in the training arena. Essentially it comes down to the value the airport places on training, says Scapple.

For airports that do not have the funds or don’t want to make the investment in a customized driver training simulator, there are generic airport programs available, as well as non-proprietary systems that can be created. Ostrom says an airport doesn’t need a customized system for basic driver training. “In fact, it’s better not to use your airport because you can see if your employees really know what they’re doing.”

Part of the discussion during the session moved toward the possibility of an airport recouping some of the cost of a driver training simulator by renting the facility to airlines who operate on the airfield, or even to airports who are looking to test the general knowledge of their airfield employees. This led to a suggestion of regional training facilities being established by FAA. In a time of possible budget cuts to the aviation system, increased cost isn’t something about which anyone is comfortable talking. However, as Scapple points out, it’s all about how much value we put on training.

Every year there are incidents on the airfield involving aircraft, construction vehicles, rescue vehicles, catering vehicles, tugs, tractors, and the list goes on. If everyone who has access to the airfield could undergo this type of training — especially persons who don’t regularly work at that airfield, such as construction personnel — there’s a good chance runway incursions and airfield incidents could be reduced. And while the investment in driver training at Minneapolis/St. Paul might seem substantial and out of reach to some airports, perhaps this would be a time to partner with other airports, tenants, and others to invest in a technology solution that fits an airport’s need and budget and adds another layer of training to the safety program.

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