Tech Bytes

According to chief information officer Kevin Molloy, the theme of the Vancouver International’s IT strategic plan is self-service. “Wherever possible, allow people to get access to data, information, decisionmaking tools, sales, without the intervention of an IT department.”

The infrastructure and applications the airport has employed under the theme of self-service combine to offer the airport, tenants, and passengers a host of benefits and efficiencies.

In 2001, says Molloy, the airport was evaluating its technology, including check-in facilities, much of which was in need of an upgrade. At the same time, the airlines were in no financial position to fund the replacement of the check-in technology. “The airport authority saw an opportunity to move to a common use environment,” explains Molloy. “We approached the airlines and said we would be prepared to fund the upgrade of all the infrastructure and check-in technology through our airport improvement fee; the airlines said that would be something they would like to proceed with because they didn’t have the finances at that time.”

With the help of Cisco Systems, Inc., the airport planned and built a network that would be capable of supporting the applications necessary for the airport. A main goal for Vancouver was to have a single network to support the airport and its tenants. Previously, says Molloy, Vancouver had separate networks dedicated to each function (FIDS, baggage handling, etc.) and each airline. “We wanted to collapse all the existing services that we had within the environment onto one network, instead of operating on what was essentially 29 separate networks.”

The network solution supports wireless applications, digital cameras for security, and voice-over IP. Key to the system, says Molloy, is that, with the services running on one network, “We can then replicate those services to off-airport locations.”

The airport invested in 80 common use self-service check-in kiosks, which are deployed throughout the airport, as well as in the parking facilities, car rental facilities, and most recently, off-airport, including the convention center and hotel lobbies. Says Molloy, “Eighty to 90 percent of our [domestic] passengers are checking themselves in on the self-service kiosks.”

Border crossing technology — supported by the network, including CANPASS, which allows automated biometric verified entry into Canada, and Nexus Air, which allows biometric entry into Canada and the U.S. — makes it possible for travelers to bypass what can be long waits in immigration and customs lines. Molloy says some 15,000 people have signed up for the programs. While this is an impressive number, he suggests that lowering the cost of membership will encourage more travelers to join and do even more to relieve congestion. Currently, CANPASS membership costs $50 CAN, while Nexus Air members pay $80 CAN.

Another capacity challenge for Vancouver is the one million cruise ship passengers that travel through the airport. “The problem we have is that those cruise ship passengers arrive in three months of the year, and they arrive in three days of those three months and three hours of those three days. So it creates a significant peak and has created huge congestion challenges here.”

To manage the challenge, Vancouver beams its network check-in service over a satellite link to the cruise ships. Passengers are able to check in, get their boarding cards, and check their luggage up to 24 hours prior to their departure flight. “Because those people are fully checked in, we then pick them up off the cruise ship, put them on a sterile bus, and bring them directly to their gates. They bypass the U.S. departure area, U.S. immigration, the whole check-in process [in the terminal]. We’ve taken about a million people out of the whole check-in and customs process in the same time that is our busiest time of the year.”

The off-site capabilities will come in especially handy in 2010 when the Vancouver area hosts the Winter Olympics, according to Molloy.

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