Optimized Awareness

June 28, 2012
New technologies enhance situational awareness and provide a more comprehensive and intelligent view of the AOA

In the midst of a runway expansion expected to be completed in September of 2014, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) has embarked on an initiative to increase the capacity of its airfield. 

Dan Bartholomew, manager of airport planning at FLL, says that due to the new 8,000-foot runway, and a plethora of associated geometry that goes along with it, now was the 'perfect scenario' for implementing an airport information management system and electronic airport layout plan (eALP).

A former corporate pilot and aviation consultant, Bartholomew has been with FLL for four years. He relates that the airport's biggest concern with regard to the airfield operations area (AOA) is probably universal: situational awareness on the airfield, and incursion management.

Remarks Bartholomew, "The other concern is, since the geometry of the airfield over the next two years is going to be changing in significant ways — we need the ability to have continuously updated airfield geometry maps so that individuals riding around on the airfield know where they are at any time, to not only avoid incursions, but to have a comprehensive understanding of what is where."

Mark Ricketson, enterprise information management (EIM) project director for Woolpert, has a background is in city planning, and has been using GIS (geographic information systems) since grad school. Ricketson has been an aviation consultant for more than 15 years helping airports with technology business processes and implementation plans.

Lately, Ricketson has been working with what FAA has been asking airports to comply with: new geographic information system (GIS) standards. Ricketson spent a year as acting GIS manager for the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and has been with Woolpert for four years.

Woolpert developed the plan for the GIS at FLL.

Asset Management

Comments Bartholomew, "Right now we are looking at ways to connect some locators on our operations maintenance vehicles and grabbing feed from the ASDE-X feed [ground-based situational awareness radar]."

ASDE-X is a runway-safety tool that enables air traffic controllers to detect potential runway conflicts by providing coverage of movement on runways and taxiways. By collecting data from a variety of sources, ASDE-X is able to track vehicles and aircraft on airport surfaces and obtain identification information from aircraft transponders.

"So basically having a transponder in each vehicle that connects to the ASDE-X feed for the tower so it knows where everyone is at on the airfield at any particular time," explains Bartholomew. "Also, individual ops people will know where other ops people are at any given time."

With regard to implementing a comprehensive operations and control center with a complete overview of the location of assets on the airfield at any time … "We are on the cusp of implementing that kind of technology," he adds.

"We just completed the foundation of all that, which would be acquiring the airfield geometry. So we’ve developed our electronic airport layout plan (eALP). Now we have the base geometry for which all of this other technology will be based on, and the airport will be able to see where each vehicle is on a geospatial map overlay of the airport’s airfield and operations areas.

"It’s an amazing capability."

As far as staffing goes, Bartholomew says he doesn’t think the technology allows for less individuals, however it allows operations to do their jobs more efficiently and get more done with the same number of individuals.

"We are implementing something right now that is equivalent to a virtual ramp control or airport information management system that will be able to track what flights are inbound, what gates they are going to and when, if there’s an existing aircraft at the gate currently," says Bartholomew.

"That also allows us to do last minute changes … for example, we get a lot of diversions due to thunderstorms; this technology allows us to instantly determine what aircraft can fit in what gates.

"We don’t typically get aircraft types such as the 747 here; we can accommodate them, however our gates are designed for smaller aircraft such as a 737 or 757. If a 747 comes in, we need to know which gates can accommodate that aircraft, and usually we won’t know that until it’s on final approach.

"So the airport information management system will allow us to make better informed decisions in real-time."

Situational Awareness 

Comments Ricketson, "There have been some cases where we have almost had some accidents because we lack situational awareness, and the FAA is testing some technologies utilizing the ASDE-X feed so that vehicles [aircraft, ops trucks, tugs, etc.] on the airfield have the ability to understand where they are in relation to other vehicles and people moving on the airfield.

"There are a few pilot projects that FAA has initiated for this … it is part of the NextGen program that is taking advantage of some of the ASDE-X technology that is out there."

Bartholomew says the airport will probably come to a point where every vehicle that will be moving on the airfield, both in the movement and non-movement areas, will have to have a transponder, and that data will come from the ASDE-X feed.

Says Ricketson, "The weaknesses in the system are around the gates, because the airplanes aren’t necessarily transponding in and around the gates — so you know something is there, you just don’t know the type of aircraft it is.

"As far as the data goes, as the eALP data comes more prevalent across the airport industry, it will be used for many things that airports have not even thought of yet.

"The data is very accurate; it’s survey-grade data — it is certainly going to be useful for any of the NextGen GPS navigation-based technologies."

The asset management, maintenance management, and work order management lifecycle of being able to do inspections in the field and conduct real-time communication of where there may be a maintenance or safety issue, and being able to feed that information to somebody who can take care of the issue is a huge need for airports, he relates.

There are many airports that do not have a wireless network on the airfield and are relying on radio and cellular communication that isn’t able to feed a large bandwidth of information, says Ricketson. "As airports like Atlanta and others start to install wireless on the airfield, you can start to utilize the network and perform real-time mapping with mobile devices.

The First Steps

When embarking on an eALP initiative, first and foremost, it’s good to have a plan in place, and to know what data to collect and how to collect it.

"For us, the plan has been imperative … it has helped us focus on how we are going to proceed in a very methodical fashion," explains Bartholomew. "It’s important to be aware of all of the types of systems and technology assets are available. We don’t want to collect data in a format that isn’t usable in the various systems we already have in place.

"It is a large endeavor; it requires hiring an aerial photography firm, surveyors, putting the data in a format that meets the FAA advisory circulars, performing all of the quality control checks, and then pushing that data to FAA to get an approved eALP.

Says Ricketson, "I think eventually every airport will have an eALP; that is certainly the FAA’s goal.

"FAA intends to have Part 139 airports completed in say the next five to ten years — in the long run, the FAA’s plan is to focus on the large hub airports, then medium, then small, and on down the line.

Time And Cost

For airports with limited resources, mobile technology can help, says Ricketson. "There are already folks who have eyes on a lot of these assets, whether it’s airfield lighting or pavement, if you can enable those folks with a mobile device, they can not only use it to help them find the light that went out last night, but also to help keep data maintained and fresh."

From start to finish, the FLL eALP took a little more than a year and a half to complete.

The cost has been negligible, relates Bartholomew. "FAA has provided essentially a roadmap on how to collect GIS data … we decided to write that into our specifications for our new airfield, and we also added in our existing airfield to that," he adds.

"All the data that is being required for the eALP is also required for the runway template action plan process that we have for the new runway. That includes airfield geometry and location of buildings as well as any airspace obstructions. Because we had to collect it anyway, we decided to collect it so that it meets the advisory circulars’ standards. So we built an eALP out of information that we had to gather anyway."

Woolpert is currently finishing up eALP projects in Denver and Tulsa, are two-thirds the way through San Francisco, and is a sub-consultant on the project in Orlando. "We have doing this at probably well over 25 airports right now," says Ricketson.

"We also do a lot of work for the WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) program for the FAA … if you are looking for that kind of procedure at the airport, you have to have an aeronautical survey done. We’ve done at least a couple hundred WAAS airports around the country over that past five or six years. Those are less than the eALP, but they must comply with at least some of the standards that are part of FAA’s advisory circulars, and could be considered a component of an eALP."

Regarding other benefits, something FLL plans on using its eALP for is warranty management, so that if a portion of pavement cracks after six months, the airoprt can get the exact location and connect that with its capital improvement management system so it knows who did the work and when … and can then go back in forensically evaluate the cause.

On safety, Ricketson comments, "If you think about safety management systems (SMS) and the whole risk assessment part of that, through the tracking of incidents, you might see some common issues that are reoccurring in the same location."

In terms of cost, it really depends, he relates.

"In any of these implementations, whether it’s GIS, or an asset management system … data is 65 percent of the cost," says Ricketson. "When you start to look at eALPs, numbers that have been kicked around is on the order of $100,000 per runway end to start from scratch.

"But, the 'it depends' comes into play where you might have a GA airport with four runway ends, but it’s not a complex airfield. So the GA runway end figure may be significantly less than $100,000, and the large commercial may be higher, depending on the complexity of the airfield."