Most recently YVR, along with other airports, has moved beyond common use technology to common use self-service technology, which Molloy says is “viewed as a real business change agent. This time three years ago, our airport at peak times was in complete chaos. You would see lineups of passengers in the check-in, parking facilities, and running past the retail outlets.”
According to Molloy, Air Canada, one of the main tenants, has reduced its check-in staff and, at the same time, grown its passenger numbers by 20 percent without seeing terminal congestion. “The self-service has doubled the capacity of our terminal building.”
Benefits of I.T. Outsourcing
In recent months, Vancouver began outsourcing its information technology (IT) support. Molloy says he views himself and his department as thinking, not doing. “We are more than willing to outsource the doing,” he explains. Of Molloy’s 30 staff members, about ten are business analysts who are not “IT people.” Typically, he says, the individuals are hired from other divisions within the airport who have served as liaisons between the business end users and the technical solutions. “I want them to understand and talk the lingo of their customers. They have accountancy degrees, general literature degrees. Their job is to liase with the business community on how to adopt systems to the airport environment.” Molloy says these business analysts are also “marketplace watchers” who attend conferences to visit with vendors and learn about new products.
The IT department staff also includes those Molloy calls architects, “very serious technical people” who set the standards and policies for the architecture of the system and the technical people who implement new systems.
ARINC supplies the support of all existing systems, according to Molloy. “If a system has a failure, crashes, or a bag tag printer jams, it’s ARINC’s staff that are dispatched. They are at the help desk and respond to all primary calls.”
Molloy says one of the benefits was that his own staff is unionized and was not interested in working 24/7. Additionally, as more systems at the airport are implemented that are more critical to the business of operating an airport, the necessity of having continual support and available staff has become more apparent.
RFID, Cell Phones, and More
As Molloy looks ahead at Vancouver and the industry as a whole, he says radio frequency identification for baggage tracking is on the very near horizon. “We’ve been hearing about them for about ten years and we’ve seen a lot of trials.” Molloy expects the influence of the retail sector purchasing RFID tags will push the cost down to a more reasonable level, but adds that it won’t be the price point alone that makes RFID an attractive option for airports. “It’s more about that RF tracking allows you to do things you can’t do with barcodes,” he says. Tracking the bags throughout the check-in process, with the possibility of removing a check-in agent altogether is just one of the benefits Molloy sees.
More and more airports will continue to outfit their terminals with wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) services — whether as a free or a pay-for-use service — and as that evolves, Molloy says other technologies will become available. Cell phones could soon assist in wayfinding, he says, with the idea of the cell phone being the speaker for a “talking sign.” For example, if a non-English speaking passenger wants to know what a particular airport sign says, they would dial the number on the sign into their phone and the text would be read to them in their language.
Beyond the terminal, Vancouver International is testing a radar technology that has been used in military applications for years. The radar will scan the runway 24 hours a day and is able to locate something as small as the tip of a pen on the runway or taxiway. “Today we do that manually with sweeps of the runway, essentially every hour,” says Molloy. “But radar is constant; we can have a constant scan of the runway and our airside safety team can be paged to be alerted exactly where the FOD (foreign object debris) is located.” Airfield security is another possible application for this technology that Vancouver is researching.
... an ongoing emphasis on technology continues to reap benefits in efficiency and reducing costs to airlines while improving the passenger experience. Back in the mid-90s when AIRPORT BUSINESS did...