Transform With Technology

Airport IT organizations are driving innovation and automation, supporting all aspects of operation and preparing the industry for the future

Airports today are investing more financial resource into technology than ever before, and the spend will only increase. As technology has advanced, airport information technology (IT) departments have become the backbone of the business, supporting systems and processes that reach all areas of operation.

The investment in technology has become critical in improving the overall safety and security of the airport enterprise; in enhancing productivity and efficiency; in cutting costs and increasing revenue; and in facilitating the passenger experience.

New, emerging technologies offer a myriad of opportunity at the airport setting, and the challenge of integration, centralization, and general management and maintenance of IT suppport is top-of-mind as airports look toward the future.

Comments Kevin Molloy, VP of simplified passenger travel and CIO at Vancouver International Airport (YVR), “The progressive airports view IT as a game changer. It’s not just another service you provide, but you actually have the ability to radically affect how your business operates.”

Dominic Nessi, CIO and deputy executive director for the Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) relates that as airports have invested dollars over the years into networks and consolidated servers and data centers, it became apparent more and more that there was a need for an organization that pulled all of it together.

“Even though IT has become a more critical aspect at airports, the IT organization itself has not risen within the organization commensurate with that level of responsibility,” he adds. “That will be a big challenge for IT organizations over the next ten years ... how do they become integrally involved with planning at the senior level?”

The Rise Of Airport IT

YVR has some 50 people that support the IT operation, says Molloy. Of those 50, some 25 are with the airport authority; the rest are employees of ARINC as part of an outsourced contract for support; ARINC has a 24/7 presence at the airport.

“When I add up all of our expenditures, it fits into three different categories — our capital budget (buys new or replaces existing), our operating budget (pays for annual contracts and warranties, and various telecom services), and our salary budget — added up, IT gets about 90 percent of the corporate revenue,” says Molloy.

“IT is our third largest cost center, behind maintenance and field operations. Our funding has changed radically. When I joined the airport 17 years ago, technology investment was at the low end … airports seemed to be in the 2-3 percent range; some industries such as the financial sector were in the 9-10 percent range.

“I think that has evolved greatly ... airports were sort of passive landlords, and the airlines ran the day-to-day operation. Much of the technology was provided by airlines, and the government provided all of the screening and border control technology. Today, airports have moved into that space.”

Maurice Jenkins, division director of information systems and telecommunications at Miami International Airport (MIA) remarks, “When I got here, it was coaxial cable, 8-inch Displaywriter systems … today, it’s mostly a client-server environment, mid-range systems.

“We’ve have invested greatly within our airport infrastructure for technology, and we are just wrapping up our $6 billion capital program … roughly $300+ million of that was IT.”

MIA has some 120 employees directly related to technology; the airport’s IT-related budget is in the 10-15 percent range, or some $22 million.

Los Angeles International Airport’s (LAX) IT department includes 180 employees. Nessi says the airport has added fifteen positions in the past five years, but also employs a large amount of contract support.

The biggest challenge for airport IT today, says Nessi, centers around mobility, and technology convergence. “Convergence of a lot of different hardware and software, such as GIS (geographic information system) converging with mobile devices, is an increasing trend.

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