Automating elements of A-CDM at regional airports

8 January 2018
A SESAR2020 success story

In the full Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM) concept, airports provide information to the Network Manager (NM) on the time at which individual flights will become airborne. The accuracy of this information relies on detailed monitoring of the arrival flight and, in particular, the turnaround process – and this can create extra workload for the airline and ground handler.

We wanted to see if we could develop a low-cost, low workload, simplified approach to turnaround monitoring that would be specifically applicable to regional airports, as part of the work being done in SESAR 2020 Project PJ04 Solution 1 (Enhanced Airport Collaborative Performance Monitoring).

We decided that Alicante Airport in Spain would be the place to explore the feasibility of this approach. We wanted to know whether the aircraft monitoring process could be automated in an attempt to significantly reduce the ground handlers’ workload.

If, in addition, the quality of information provided to the Network Manager could be guaranteed, then there would be great potential for increasing the number of airports which could send accurate flight information to NM, should this concept be deployed on a wider scale.

The feasibility testing took place over one week and involved the entire Alicante Airport operational community. The feedback on the concept that was tested was extremely positive and all participants were enthusiastic about accelerating its deployment into operations.

Why was it done?

Probably the most important aircraft-related parameter in A-CDM is the Target Off Block Time (TOBT), which is defined as the time that an aircraft operator or ground handler estimates that an aircraft will be ready, all doors closed, boarding bridge removed, push back vehicle available and ready to start up/push back immediately upon reception of clearance from the Tower.

The take-off time communicated to NM in the Departure Planning Information (DPI) message is derived directly from the TOBT. In order to ensure an accurate TOBT, it is necessary to monitor the key events associated with a given flight. This monitoring and TOBT management is called the ‘milestones approach’ of A-CDM.

One issue that has been raised in the past relating to the milestones approach is the necessity for the airlines/handlers to monitor up to 16 milestones for each flight in order to be able to provide reliable TOBT estimates. The perceived workload associated with this process is a contributory factor in slowing down the pace of A-CDM deployment, particularly in airports with limited resources to devote to such activities.

For the concept to function with the degree of automation that we are looking for, it is necessary to be able to reliably translate each event-based milestone into a forward prediction of the TOBT.

Such a translation relies on the stability and therefore predictability of certain characteristics of the airport performance covering both airside and landside aspects, in particular taxi-in and taxi-out times as well as the turnaround and expected boarding duration times. These values and their main drivers are an integral element of this approach and are derived from an analysis of a large amount of historical data from the airport.

Based on the work carried out to date in PJ04 on this concept, and in collaboration with ArianeGroup, the EUROCONTROL Airport Operations Centre (APOC) validation platform was upgraded to create an environment suitable for the evaluation of the concept.

How was it done?

As a result of this collaboration, the validation platform was recently installed at Alicante Airport for a week-long ‘shadow-mode’ exercise with the participation of the airport operator, the Air Navigation Service Provider (FerroNATS) and the entire ground handling community (Ryanair, EasyJet, Jet2, Iberia, Norwegian, Groundforce and swissport).

The participation of the entire stakeholder community, effectively ensuring that 100% of the airport traffic was included in the trial, is a testament to the commitment and drive of Alicante Airport towards ensuring the quality and value of this exercise.

The platform was connected to NM via a B2B connection for the reception of Flight Update Messages (FUM) and was configured to determine (and record for analysis purposes) the full set of Departure Planning Information (DPI) messages based on automatically generated TOBT estimates from the flight events and the boarding process.

In addition, the platform was connected to the local Alicante Airport operations database in order to capture various ‘aircraft status’ events, including the boarding status. We were also provided with information relating to the presence of ‘Reduced Mobility’ Passengers on a flight as this impacts the boarding time, which is a key parameter used in the decision-making process linked to automatic TOBT updates.

A separate position in the ATC Tower allowed controllers to monitor the ‘departure sequence’ as derived from the TOBT estimates – thereby providing a visual representation of the likely runway demand for the coming hour. This display was highly valued by the controllers who would like to see it deployed into the current operational system.

As for the ground handling community, analysis of the accuracy of the recorded DPI messages is now ongoing. The questionnaires which were completed after each simulation by all participants have provided highly positive results relating both to the ease of understanding the TOBT calculation and the vastly reduced workload compared with the manual entry and management of the TOBT.

On the final day of the trial, an Open Day was held which allowed senior management from a number of the participating companies as well as SESAR industry members and ACI-Europe to learn about the concept, visit the trial and hear feedback from the different participants.

The project team were particularly pleased by the positive feedback from the exercise participants and from those attending the Open Day. This concept potentially offers a ‘quick-win’ for the SESAR2020 Programme. The desire to accelerate its deployment was a common theme in the feedback received.

Early indications are that for certain airports, this ‘simplified and automated’ milestones approach could provide a cost-effective and highly efficient means of providing accurate flight departure estimates to NM – as well as being a key enabler for the deployment of A-CDM in such regional airports.

A simplified approach to sharing information with NM in SESAR 2020

In SESAR2020 Project PJ04 Solution 1 (Enhanced Airport Collaborative Performance Monitoring), AENA airports and EUROCONTROL have been working on a simplified approach to sharing information via the DPI message based on these ambitious objectives:

  • Significantly reduce the number of milestones from 16 to around 7 and use only those event-based milestones which provide real value;
  • Determine the TOBT in an automated manner;
  • Revise the TOBT automatically based on knowledge of the landside (boarding) process;
  • Reduce the handler workload significantly to one of monitoring only within a philosophy that manual TOBT inputs become the ‘exception’ rather than the ‘rule’. Effectively, a manual input is only deemed necessary where the handler considers that the automated calculation would not be within +/-5 minutes of the reality – for example in the case of a technical problem with the aircraft;
  • Based on this automated approach to TOBT calculation, provide NM with the full suite of DPI messages coherent with full A-CDM implementation and with equivalent degrees of accuracy.

What is A-CDM?

Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM) was developed to generate efficiency gains locally at the airport whilst optimising resources and improving operational predictability.

A key element of A-CDM relates to the sharing of information between the airport and the Network Manager (NM). The transmission of Flight Update Messages (FUM) by NM provides an accurate landing time estimate for each flight, so allowing the airport community to plan and optimise the allocation of their resources.

A Departure Planning Information (DPI) message set is designed so the airport can provide NM with the most up-to-date estimates of when a given flight will become airborne – based on the best knowledge of the airline/ground handler responsible for the efficient turnaround of the aircraft.

The transmission of DPI messages from the CDM airport to the network is a continual process, refined over time as the status of the flight evolves. The more accurate the data contained in the DPI messages compared to the filed flight plan, the better NM can optimise its flow and capacity management.

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