IT Master Planning Plays an Emerging Role

The rapid pace of change occurring in the world of information technology (IT) is causing a revolution of sorts for airport planners. Historically, airport master plans provide a 20-year roadmap, identifying potential areas for development, protection...

Strange says that the first step in the process is performing a conditions assessment to establish a baseline – what is the “as is” condition of the airport? “Strategically define the roadmap,” he says. “These are the priorities; get them into the capital budgeting cycle. Sometimes it’s a completely separate process, having nothing to do with a capital development program at all.”


Varwig explains that where airports in the past have never really had to have a wireless guru or network security person, almost all of the major airports today have people totally dedicated to those job descriptions these days. “We also, as part of the master plans, spend a lot of time thinking about staffing and what the proper staffing level is for the airport,” she says. “And whether airport management likes it or not, the dollars go up on a regular basis. The more technology, the more applications, the more people and budget you need to support it.

“That’s been a large pill to swallow for a lot of airports. They’re being hammered to cut staffs, while the IT departments in most airports that I work with are wholly inadequate to support the applications.

So the stakeholders are clamoring for technology, but airports can’t get more staffing to support it. It’s a dilemma that every client I’m working with now is dealing with.”

Varwig and Strange recently teamed up to assist the Little Rock National Airport with its IT master plan and determined that the airport will need some 8.5 IT staffers internally just to maintain the IT systems. Looking across the national landscape, Varwig estimates there is a rapidly growing demand for IT specialists inside the airport. “Applications developers; network engineers; network security engineers – it’s a whole different classification of people and skill sets,” she says. “Quite honestly, it’s the biggest migration within airports. The guy removing snow is doing it much the same way it’s always been done; similar with operations; planes pretty much land the same way. The dramatic change is the technology piece.”

The two consultants are also involved with Orlando International in performing an update to an IT master plan they conducted five years ago. Explains Varwig, “This was supposed to be a refresh of that. What’s interesting is it’s not so much a refresh as it is whole new ideas. Whole new systems have been created since then. Social networking; the ability to provide enhanced passenger services by doing passenger tracking throughout the terminal itself; the use of mobile applications; the integration of data to create these executive dashboards so that airport operators have a better awareness of what’s happening at all times within their organizations. None of that existed two to three years ago.”


Neither consultant sees the Federal Aviation Administration as being a leader when it comes to IT master planning. Says Strange, “They certainly have now embraced IT with the electronic ALPs [airport layout plans] and having GIS [geographic information systems] in the process. I don’t know I would call FAA a driver; at the same time, some airports being dragged into it kicking and screaming, particularly the smaller ones.”

Varwig echoes the sentiment, saying, “I don’t see them as a driver at all. Look at their own internal programs – when they actually get NextGen put in it will be PastGen by the time they get it there.

"Except for electronic ALPs, I have not really seen FAA be a leader on this.”

Varwig explains that part of FAA’s challenge is that it is a bureaucracy, which by their nature do not react quickly to change. City, state, and county-owned airports frequently face a similar challenge, she says. “Fortunately some airports have the ability to buy and adapt new technology because they aren’t a big bureaucracy. Thank goodness a lot of them are independent agencies where they can adapt quickly. And you will see the difference between city- and state-owned airports versus airport authorities that are more privately managed. The more privately operated facilities move much faster, as a general rule.”

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