Model airports

Simulations allow both airport and airlines planners to test out their ideas in a virtual world before implementing them for real.

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By  Neil Denslow Published  August 1, 2005

|~||~||~|Managing an airport expansion project is a hugely complex task. Aside from overseeing the actual construction, there is also the challenging task of calculating and minimising the impact that the work will have on both the airport’s operations and the wider air transport system. This can range from calculating what impact closing a taxiway for an afternoon will have on the airport, up to looking at the effects of a completely new airport on national airspace design and congestion levels. To tackle these issues, airport planners are increasingly using digital models to simulate the airport environment. This then allows them to try out possible scenarios in a virtual world before they are implemented for real, which is both quicker and cheaper to do. “A simulation provides a very safe and cost effective way of doing what-ifs,” explains Cameron Baillie, business development manager, Preston Aviation Solutions. “Different ideas can be tested and the best one can then be put into place for real, which will save you a lot of operational costs in the long run.” Preston Aviation Solutions, which is part of Boeing, has created simulations for projects at a number of major airports around the world. These include the construction of the third runway at Amsterdam Schipol and modelling the entire design and operations at Kuala Lumpa International Airport prior to its construction. Within the local market, it has also developed a model of Dubai International Airport, which is now being used to help guide construction work there. Other major airports in the region are also beginning to express an interest in the technology. “We are targeting other opportunities in the Middle East and introducing the solutions to them,” says Baillie. “And, obviously, the project we are opening in Dubai will act as a strong reference for us in the region.” The company’s solutions allow for gate-to-gate simulation, which means that a virtual aircraft can be tracked through each stage of its journey. This begins at the gate at the departure airport then proceeds along the taxiway to the runway, through takeoff and then during the climb to the right altitude. The simulation can then track the plane inflight, including internationally, to the destination airport, where it can be digitally landed and taxied to the gate. However, the simulation does not just look at the one plane on its own; instead, it simultaneously tracks all of the aircraft at the airport and in the airspace covered in the model. This wide-ranging simulation can be used in a host of different ways. Airport planners can use the technology to see the impact an infrastructure change or new service, for instance, would have on operations. The area around the airport can also be included, as Preston is working on adding aircraft noise footprints to its simulations. Airlines, meanwhile, can use modelling for planning purposes across their network. For instance, it can be used to assess the ripple effect if a hub suffers serious delays because of weather conditions. On a governmental level, the models can be used to map airspace designs and to assess the impact of a new airport, as well as for air traffic control planning and training. The Preston system can even show air traffic controllers a virtual view from their virtual control tower. In terms of an airport project, the work begins with creating a model of the airport infrastructure using Total Airspace and Airport Modeler (TAAM). (This architectural data can be uploaded into the system from CAD files.) Then a baseline model needs to be created that shows the operations of the airport as they stand. This is the most challenging part of the project, as the model needs to include a massive amount of information, including day of operations data, flight schedules, runway usage information and the airspace structure, to give just a few examples. “It can take from a couple of weeks to months to get a baseline depending upon the complexity of the operation,” notes Baillie. “However, once the baseline is agreed, then we can get into the what-ifs,” he adds. ||**|||~||~||~|With the baseline completed, the what-ifs can be quickly processed, which then allows the airport planners to assess various options. For instance, if they are considering closing an apron, the simulation can show the impact this would have on traffic flow, including both the probable flow if nothing else changed, and various alternatives if other taxiways were used in different ways. In most cases, the models are developed by Preston or by a consultancy, as it takes at least 8-12 months for people to be trained up on the system. However, while consultancy support may be enough for a short term project, airports looking to make more permanent use of the technology are able to buy a licence, which Dubai, for instance, is considering. “It is a considerable investment to buy a licence,” says Baillie. “However, what usually happens is that the consulting service shows the value of the tool and then the airport decides it wants to be able to do studies on its own.” Preston is also using simulations to assess the effect that the introduction of the A380 will have on airport operations. The launch of these massive superjumbos will impact on all areas of the airport, from the car parks and check-in desks all the way to the runway. “Airport operators need to look at the issue of wake turbulence from A380s, for instance, as when larger aircraft takes off smaller planes need to wait for longer [for the air to settle],” says Baillie. “This could well have an impact on runway utilisation rates,” he warns. As for the impact of A380s within the terminal, Preston is starting to use models to map the flow of passengers through the airport. This will be a key area for operators to assess, as facilities could be overwhelmed and passengers could miss their connections unless proper planning is in place. Modelling can help in this regard in a number of ways. For instance, it can show the flow of luggage through the baggage system and highlight any potential bottlenecks there, or, alternatively, show the flow of passengers through the terminal. “Airports need to look at the service level they want to achieve, and then ask how many check-in desks, for instance, do they need to open and at what time to get acceptable queue lengths,” says Baillie. Aside from raising service levels, modelling can also be used for improving revenue generation at airports. For instance, it could be used to test changes to the passenger flow in the duty free area, and to then assess what impact this would have on shopping habits. However, this kind of study needs data about the movement of people, which is much harder to gather and predict than the movements of planes following a timetable. “You need to do time and motion studies, and these are not very popular with people,” admits Baillie. “We therefore tend to rely on industry figures from IATA. However, these can still give a good idea of what will happen and whether you have room to build more duty free shops, for instance.” This is, of course, hugely advantageous for both the airport and its airlines, as it is much easier and cheaper to placate virtual passengers caught up in virtual queues rather than having to deal with real people waiting in real lines.||**||

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