Up with Airport Efficiency

Airports are some of the busiest places on earth. Planes take off or land every few minutes, thousands of passengers rush through the terminals to make their connections, and baggage and cargo handlers scramble to get countless items into and out of the right aircraft .

Coordinating this beehive of activity has always been a challenge for airport operators. Saab offers a product, the Aerobahn system, that collects and organises vast amounts of data to make airport operations on the ground outside the terminal safer, more effi cient and more environmentally friendly. “Our systems deal with aircraft  movement on the surface of an airport – take-offs, landings and aircraft in transit from one place to another,” says Ken Kaminski, General Manager Air Traffic Management at Saab.

The Aerobahn system has been installed in about two dozen airports around the world, including five of the ten busiest in the United States. Using sensors on the ground that communicate with transponders on the aircraft, Aerobahn gives airport and airline officials a real-time picture of everything that’s going on outside the terminal. This includes the exact location of each aircraft at the gates, on the runways and in the nearby airspace.

Dan London, Saab’s Director of Airline and Airport Automation, describes the Airport Status Dashboard, one of the products within the Aerobahn platform. “It offers users a set of tools to collect, record, distribute and receive alerts on status information for all of the key components of airport operations,” he says.

“How many flights are anticipated to depart in the next four hours? What’s the departure queue length? What’s the average delay?.” By making departures more efficient, the system can reduce planes’ taxiing time, thus saving fuel costs for the airlines and cutting carbon emissions. At the airport in Denver, Colorado, Saab installed a system that minimises bottlenecks in the de-icing process for planes during winter weather.

“The system sequences the aircraft  to arrive at the de-icing pads so that their output matches the runway capacity,” London says. “The less time that those aircraft engines are running, the less greenhouse gases are being produced.”

Looking to the future, Aerobahn may also be able to let airlines know if a train taking passengers from one terminal to another is experiencing delays. If travellers have to stay overnight because of a flight cancellation, the system may be able to tell the airlines which hotels in the area have rooms available.

London says that the “jewel in the crown” for Aerobahn is the system at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. “Before we put in our system, that airport had a reputation for having lengthy departure queues during peak periods,” he says. “Aircraft would power up to move 50 metres, then power down, then power up. That’s a lot of waste.” The Aerobahn Departure Management System optimises the sequence of aircraft  by giving them designated times to push back from the gate. Now planes arrive at the runway in an organised manner.

“At any airport, the perfect departure is when an aircraft closes the door, pushes back and goes to the runway without ever stopping,” London says.

“That’s the utopian environment we’re trying to create.”