Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport (MKE) recently digitized its airside operations using a cloud-based software called “GoApron.”
Before GoApron was in place at MKE, Ryan Collins, MKE director of operations and maintenance, described the need for automation of gate management as “painful.” The process of assigning gates and aircraft parking spots involved manual scheduling, primarily through phone calls and emails. To create a report for billing, he said, “We had to go between three and four different places.”
That changed in June 2022, when MKE deployed GoApron. Collins said, “We took a laborious process and turned it into something that is very streamlined.”
GoApron Inc. CEO Shadrach Vaughn, said, “What we mainly do is we help airports transition from manual, paper-based systems, legacy solutions, phone calls, email and spreadsheets to a streamlined gate innovation, aircraft parking and revenue management solution.”
Real-time data, available through the software, helps increase situational awareness by showing where airplanes are parked and through gate forecasting, allows advanced planning.
“Another main piece is really providing the tenants, the airlines and the ground handlers an effective way to communicate with airport ops,” he added.
MKE Airport Director Brian Dranzik said, “GoApron has helped the MKE team gain better clarity and tracking of aircraft movement and parking. This customized technology gives us real-time business intelligence and increased accuracy while reducing staff workload. GoApron has provided us with a valuable resource that has improved coordination with our airline and ground handling partners.”
To understand how MKE operates, Collins said GoApron worked with the airport ops team to gather data and intel, and ensure a successful roll out.
“It’s very much a partnership because every airport can be a little different in how their apron is situated and how they want their airlines to work with the airport,” said Vaughn, For example, airports often have unique and complex rate sheets that need to be factored in for accuracy.
The engagement of stakeholders was “fantastic,” Collins said, “because ‘the sell’ to them was you only have to go to one spot. You get instant (reservation) approvals (if a gate or spot is available).”
Virtual training was held for airline managers, airline supervisors – anyone who could request parking or anyone who was involved in the process. Three sessions were held, but Vaughn said only one was required.
The platform itself is “very collaborative,” Vaughn said. “The airports use it, but heavily the airlines, the ground handlers use it, as well, to work together. Before, the process was very siloed. The stakeholders were working many different ways to try to communicate and get data across, then often a gate agent may not even know what airline is using what gate. And, if it’s a common use gate, that’s obviously an issue because that’s a gate they’re getting paid per use.”
Since using GoApron, Collins said the difference has been night and day: “We streamlined the process, which means that our workflows are more efficient.” That, he noted is especially important when there’s a worker shortage.
Looking at a return on investment, Collins said one of the big selling points for GoApron was preventing “leakage,” lost revenue or the potential for lost revenue. Previously, if an aircraft occupied a gate and that data was not manually recorded, revenue could not be collected.
“When we automate this process, it allows us and affords us the ability to capture every operation that we have,” Collins said. “I can’t validate that with actual numbers at this point, but I can tell you leakage is real and this has given us the opportunity to have more real-time data and real-time information, which leads to potential increases in revenue.”
Less than a year in, Collins said MKE hasn’t yet deployed the robust financial reporting platform in earnest. “We do intend to roll that out so that we’ve got a high level of automation with our finance department so that billing is automated,” he said. “We do have to generate some internal reports, but we are working toward a higher level of automation with all of the – kind of – data repositories that we have on hand.”
The transition to GoApron was seamless. Collins said, “We stopped taking phone calls and emails one day. We broadcast to the airport community that we were going live on the following day and there were no hiccups. Local changes can be done without kind of a backend technological intervention.
“It sounds like a sales pitch, but it’s fully adaptable to really what your mission is, and I thought that was one of the most unique things. It’s not a one-size-fits-all-type application. It’s all tailored to you and your facility."
If MKE needs to change something, Collins says, “It’s easy to do. It’s not another contract or development contract.”
GoApron went live with its first airport in June 2020. It started as a reservation system for airlines and ground handlers looking to efficiently request gates and remote aircraft parking spots. As soon as the request was made, the airport received a notification and could approve via email or from the online dashboard.
Based on airport feedback, Vaughn said the reservation system grew to include real-time data. “We connect arrivals and departures via tail number so we can show the airport and airlines how much time they’re actually spending at the gate.” This data can then be used for safety, visibility, situational awareness and billing.
“It’s very important to know what’s happening that day or what could be happening three months down the road,” he said, adding that’s especially important when a new service or route is being added.
Providing a collaborative central system for all stakeholders to communicate, he said keeps folks in the know from a safety perspective and gives the ops team the ability to focus on other tasks instead of taking information over the phone and entering it into a spreadsheet.
“Especially for these crucial roles at the airport that can be very hands-on, they have to be very aware and alert,” Vaughn said. “The more information and data they know, the more manual tasks that are automated, the more everyone’s life gets easier, safer and ultimately the airport will earn what they’re supposed to earn.”
From an airline passenger perspective, the benefit is a gate waiting for them when they arrive.
Overall, Vaughn said, “We take a very collaborative approach with our airport partners, working closely to solicit feedback which helps drive platform innovation.”
For more information about GoApron, go to https://www.goapron.com.