Vision for a smarter airport

Abu Dhabi Airports Company has created a highly integrated smart concept for its new Midfield Terminal Complex, which aims to build the world’s first ‘Smarter Airport’

Tags: Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC)AirportAviationIBM ( Arab Emirates
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Vision for a smarter airport Dr Saif Al Ketbi, acting CIO of Abu Dhabi Airports Company. (ITP Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  April 6, 2016

An airport is often described as being something like a city in microcosm — an airport includes almost all of the elements that go into a city such as transport, administration, security, retail, logistics, utilities and accommodation — but on a smaller scale. And as cities become smarter, so airports are also looking to introduce more connected smart systems to improve many different elements of their operations.

For Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC), which is responsible for the Midfield Terminal project to deliver a new airport for the city by the end of 2017, creating the airport of the future is not so much about replicating a city in microcosm, as it is an opportunity to apply smart principles and technologies, integrated across every aspect of the facility, creating a world-first ‘Smarter Airport’.

The Midfield Terminal Complex (MTC) is being developed to cater for expanded tourism and business traffic to Abu Dhabi, in line with its Vision 2030 plan. Situated between the two existing runways of Abu Dhabi International Airport, the $5bn MTC includes a central Main Terminal Building (MTB) with multiple support buildings and other infrastructure such as car parking, roads, security, cargo facilities; stands for up to 65 aircraft, and even an 8,400sqm indoor park.

The MTB itself is a major feat of engineering, with a 2.7km long steel structure, and 700,000sqm of internal space, making it the largest building in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. The terminal is intended to be able to cater for 30 million passengers per year, and up to 8,500 passengers — and 19,000 pieces of luggage — per hour.

As a whole, the MTC will be a key facility for the development of Abu Dhabi. Dr Saif Al Ketbi, acting CIO of Abu Dhabi Airports Company, said that as such, ADAC is seeking to utilise as many new technologies as possible to create the best possible facility when it becomes fully operational by 2020, and to deliver all of these technologies as a single integrated and connected whole.

“The airport is the entry to any capital, so Abu Dhabi Airport will be the gateway to the capital and the Emirates,” he said. “When we look end-to-end across the project, you find it contains every single entity across Abu Dhabi. We have the government — we have immigration, we have the police, we have customs; from the business, we have retail, we have our shopping mall, travel agents, hotels — really, I am building a city, it is a mini-city.

“We have smart buildings, retail, smart performance, connectivity, control, airport managed services and all the stakeholders around it. We have combined everything together to build the first Smarter Airport design, it is the only one in the world,” he added.

Airports already rely on many different platforms for operations, but the aim for the MTC is to integrate all of them together into a Smarter Airport, Dr Al Ketbi explained. ADAC selected IBM as the main partner to develop the concept, as the company already had a lot of experience with airports, but the MTC project is the first time that the different elements have been put together as one whole, from end-to-end.

The concept of a Smarter Airport has been developed by ADAC and IBM, in part based on a roadmap to plot the traveller’s whole experience, from ticket booking, to arriving at the airport, check-in through to landing, baggage claim, immigration and beyond. The project aims to utilise the latest smart solutions in all areas, and for all points of that experience to be connected to or be part of the smarter airport.

A set of principles have been created for the concept to describe how the airport serves all of its customers and the wider community and economic activity. The Smarter Airport enables growth and change through interconnected systems; promotes collaboration in real time with all stakeholders; is focused on creating a predictable and seamless end-to-end passenger experience; enables intelligent asset management; promotes smart energy management and green operations and increases non-aviation revenue through retail and marketing.

At the centre of the enterprise architecture for the Smarter Airport, is a single Integration and Management Platform. This platform has been designed by ADAC and IBM as the heart of the smart airport, and the main point of integration for many different systems. Airport assets and associated systems such as industrial SCADA controls, building management systems, and IT infrastructure all feed into an infrastructure integration bus.

On top of that is an enterprise service bus, which creates the interface for web services and connects airport and stakeholder IT systems — airport operations, management, safety and security, air traffic control, meteorology and so on. Other systems catering to passengers such as mobile apps, experience management, travel and transport controls, parking management, official solutions such as customs and immigration, along with retail and commerce systems for the airport will also feed into this central bus.

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