Spotlight on Commonality: Shared technology center stage at AAAE

June 8, 2004


Spotlight on Commonality

Shared technology center stage at AAAE

By Jodi Richards, Associate Editor

June 2004

In preparation for the annual convention of the American Associationof Airport Executives in Las Vegas, AIRPORT BUSINESS recently interviewdinformation technology (IT) managers at the nation’s airportsregarding current issues. The main theme: common use, whether infrastructureor equipment. As airports strive to manage their facilities in a more centralized and efficient manner, shared technology plays an integral role. Plus, a look at The Airport IT Trends Survey 2004.

At Miami International Air-port, manager of information systems, Maurice Jenkins, says the focus is on creating a “total airport management solution.” He explains that airports are looking for cost-effective ways to take ownership of their operations. “We want to make sure that we can effectively manage the facility.”

The major way to accomplish this is through a common IT infrastructure. “In the past,” says

Jenkins, “there were a lot of disparate systems that didn’t talk to each other. There was no interconnectivity.” With a single common IT backbone, the airport will be better able to manage existing applications and install new systems more readily.
Jenkins expects the airport to be 90 percent complete with its upgrades by 2007, while continually evaluating new technologies. “We want to ensure that we lay the framework that allows us to be able to expand as necessary to meet present wants as well as future demands and needs.”

Ron Crain, manager of IT for the Kansas City Aviation Department prefers the word architecture over infrastructure when referring to IT backbone. “Infrastructure might work well if you’re building a subdivision,” he explains, “but you know from the outset that you’re building an incomplete structure. When you’re building an airport architecture, it has to be complete.”

He says the technology architecture of an airport includes not only the hard pathways but also how information travels and how it’s managed locally and campus-wide. When a technology architecture is constructed properly, it can be leveraged into future systems more quickly and more cost effectively.

Crain, whose career in technology spans some 30 years, believes that airports are five to ten years behind the corporate environment regarding technology. “We don’t have anything near state-of-the-art; we’re simply behind,” he says.

As for wireless, Crain says, “the entire airport community has been in all types of knots over wireless. It’s not the critical issue for operating an airport. We’ve been focusing on the minor issues and not dealing the major issues. What is your airport IT architecture? What are we going to do to allow you to future proof your design?”

The most pressing issue that Crain sees with airport technology today is the ability to staff appropriately for the systems currently in place. “Most airport management hasn’t grasped how deeply ingrained the technology into the delivery of the airport’s total services.”

KCI is preparing for a major security control system installation, including access control system and CCTV. Crain expects it will be a $7 million investment. The seven-year technology budget for the airport is $35 million, according to Crain, which he says again shows how behind corporations airports are in terms of technology.

Geoffrey Galtere, IT director at Oakland International Airport, says the airport began the transition to a common use facility in 1999 with a portion of the T1 ticketing lobby; the second phase covered all gates in Concourse 1.

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“Common use made a lot of sense for all our carriers,” he says. “We’re the low-cost carrier airport for the West Coast, if not the entire region. We put common use in because of the flexibility it provides.” He adds that the airport is able to better utilize space, and it allows the airport to be a fair landlord in the assignments of its facilities. “It enables and facilitates the open market plan so that new entrants can come in and also incumbents can expand service as needed.”

The airport recently broke ground on an expansion of Terminal 2, which will provide the IT department with a 2,500-sq.ft. facility, complete with dedicated power and back-up power. “This facility will support the expansion of common use to all of the OAK gates through a robust backbone architecture.”

In a separate project, OAK plans to manage the flight information display systems (FIDS) throughout the airport. “We feel that’s another act of leveling the playing field so everybody has access to flight information,” says Galtere. “This is another aspect of adding value for the carriers at OAK in as much as the airlines don’t have to invest in their own systems.”

Most importantly, Galtere says, improving technology at OAK has the ability to make the travel experience more pleasant for passengers.

According to The Airport IT Trends Survey 2004, conducted by SITA, Airports Council International, and Airline Business, 60 percent of airports surveyed expect an increase in IT budgets. Hervé Muller, SITA VP of sales and marketing, explains this is a good reflection of the trend seen in the last few years. “Today the airports are seeing themselves as a provider of IT services,” he says. “The airports are embracing the new technologies, in terms of wireless, IP infrastructure, voice over IP, and find themselves in a position where they can be the provider of those technologies to the airlines.”

Increased IT spending, explains Muller, is also a reflection of the recovery of the industry.

Muller says that while common use is not new to airports, it is not as prevalent in the U.S. as in other countries. “Here in North America we have a culture whereby the airlines were much more in charge of the airport environment. In the late ‘90s, however, there has been a trend to move away from this.”

Security concerns have also pushed along the move toward shared infrastructure, says Muller. In order to deploy many security systems across an airport, a single infrastructure is needed. He adds that passenger and baggage screening can benefit from operating a single IT backbone.

The survey also shows that more than 50 percent of airports plan to deploy CUSS (common-use self-serve) kiosks in then next two years. While many airlines currently have self-serve check-in kiosks for their passengers, the trend for airports to purchase the equipment and make it available for all passengers on all airlines plays naturally into the shared environment.

Many airlines have shown resistance toward common use equipment, and Muller attributes this to a perceived loss of control. However, he adds, “The trend of airports positioning themselves as IT providers will be followed by a trend where airlines are more willing [to comply].”

Muller says the survey shows 96 percent of airports are interested in providing wireless services to their passengers and tenants. “Airports are looking at ways to provide the infrastructure,” he explains, “but also, to a degree, to be able to capture the revenues from the wireless use. But I don’t think that any of them have an expectation of making up for lost revenue from public phones.