How To Recover From IROPS

When regular operations turn into irregular operations (IROPS), airports and airlines must communicate, share responsibility and work together to create a plan that offers real solutions – not just for the unlucky passengers, but also the ground support crews.

A recent DOT/FAA Diversion Forum, for example, initiated an industry-wide effort among airports, airlines and air traffic control systems to share real-time information on ground conditions, available gates and ramp closures to better prepare and respond to severe weather events.

An Advanced Visual Docking Guidance System (A-VDGS) can link gates and integrate with other airport and airline systems to generate and share just such real-time information. Even during IROPS, the system can bring more aircraft to the gates. That means passengers can get on their way and pilots can head to their next destinations.

Also, an A-VDGS helps ramp operations stay on track by keeping things moving. Even when severe weather sends ground crews indoors, the equipment’s automated docking system identifies available gates and lets pilots self-park their planes at those gates. Any aircraft type from any airline can be parked at compatible gates equipped with the system even in hazardous conditions.

For example, when lightning strikes within an established range a “RAMP CLOSED” warning message can be conveyed to ramp workers on the A-VDGS display. This message can either be automatically triggered via an interface to a lightning detection system or manually done at the gate operating system console that immediately sends the message to all displays. Airlines can develop procedures to ensure gate areas are clear of obstacles as personnel vacate the ramp.

When an aircraft arrives, the information is sent to the A-VDGS at the assigned gate and the “RAMP CLOSED” message is replaced with the standard docking guidance information. If the assigned gate is unavailable, the gate operating system provides real-time information on alternate gates. Only preprogrammed, compatible aircraft types are allowed into these gates.

When the ramp reopens, ground crews can get back to work quicker thanks to aircraft already parked at the gates. Taxiways are clear and ramp personnel can focus on pushing back aircraft waiting to depart.


The most commonly used A-VDGS employs three-dimensional laser scanning to identify an approaching aircraft and provide active azimuth and stop guidance to the pilots via a high-intensity LED display.

An A-VDGS can identify the position of a passenger boarding bridge to verify that the bridge is safely stowed prior to docking. The system also ensures the gate area is ready and prevents incompatible aircraft from parking at adjacent gates.

These systems are installed on nearly 5,000 gates around the world, including more than 500 at North American airports.

When delays can’t be avoided, the equipment’s gate operating system manages them by networking all gates and integrating with other airport and airline information systems to communicate real-time gate availability, accurate in/out times and ramp closure information that are all key to mitigating extended delays.

An extensive network of A-VDGS users could share real-time conditions and available gate information between any number of airports and airlines as more airports add these systems, either airport-wide or on gates designated for use during IROPS. This network will greatly improve communication and help avoid diverting flights to airports that do not have the resources to accommodate them.

The ability to effectively manage available gates and bring more aircraft in even during severe weather events, especially during ramp closures, can significantly improve performance during IROPS.

About the Author: Tammi Phippen is the marketing communications manager for Safegate Airport Systems Inc., a subsidiary of the Safegate Group. She joined the company in 2010 and has worked in the aviation industry for more than 20 years.