The challenge of mega airports

With tremendous growth forecast in aviation, governments and airport authorities are investing significantly in airport facilities and infrastructure. Airlines are pursuing expansion plans and to maximise connectivity. 

By Jeffery Oboy, Soeren Bilet and Simon Kahle

Cities across Latin America, the Middle East and Asia Pacific are experiencing tremendous growth in air traffic. Growth is especially being witnessed in those cities optimally located for connecting regions and continents such as Mexico City for those west of the Atlantic and Dubai for those east of the Atlantic. 

Welcoming this tremendous growth in aviation, governments and their airport authorities are investing significantly in airport facilities and infrastructure. 

Even as new terminals, concourses, parking positions and runways are built, many airports still lack the capacity to meet demand. 

Development in Traffic

The world’s top airlines as well as those aspiring to be on the top are pursuing aggressive growth plans. The top 15 transfer-driven airlines (ranked by revenue passenger kilometres) are achieving year-on-year growth levels such as 10.1 per cent, 12.7 per cent and even 20 per cent. 

Large transfer-driven airlines are looking to grow the size of their arrival and departure peaks. Larger peaks mean more passengers will arrive and depart during the busiest times, which is a major challenge for most airports’ current airfield and terminal capacity limitations. Already 47 of 55 aviation mega-cities (more than 10,000 daily long-haul passengers) are schedule-constrained, according to Airbus Global Market Forecast 2016-2035. 

Growing Service Expectations

Transfer-driven airlines are also pursuing higher service standards both on board and at their airport hubs. When it comes to growing capacity, and improving service levels, airports generally have five options: Expanding Facilities; Reconfiguring the Airport’s Setup; Increasing Equipment and Staff Levels; Increasing Resource Throughput; and Optimizing the Peaks. 

Expanding Facilities: Airport authorities have continued to expand facilities at their airports through new terminals, concourses, aircraft parking positions and, in some cases, runways. Reconfiguring the Airport’s Setup: Another strategy airports pursue to increase airport capacity, especially for their main airline tenants, is reassigning terminal and terminal adjacent areas amongst current airlines. Some airports also work with airlines (especially freighters and general aviation) to shift their operations to nearby airports. 

Increasing Equipment and Staff Levels: Equipment and staff levels can most often be increased for strengthening terminal capacity and subsequently service levels. 

Increasing Resource Throughput: Capacity can be increased by strengthening the productivity of resources both in the terminal and on the airfield. This is achieved in several ways, such as increasing reliability, processing speeds and resource management effectiveness by using new methods and technology.

Optimizing the Peaks: Some transfer-driven airlines schedule their flights to arrive and depart within short periods of time, which is known as “banking.” For them to maximize their revenue and connectivity, they must drive greater growth in and closer proximity between their arrival and departure peaks. 

Airport authorities must look closely at the main drivers and constraints of its seasonal capacity. 

Future Bottlenecks: Determine where air services will be constrained and the underlying reason(s) such as processing times, reliability or desired level of service. 

Operational Benchmarks: Determine the current, industry best and potential performance levels of critical operational bottlenecks. 

Concept of Operations: Determine which bottlenecks can be relieved and how (i.e. future ways of working on the frontline and behind-the-scenes) 

Future Capacity & Service Levels: Determine future levels of airport capacity and service that can be expected with changes made and the remaining spillover of air services if any. 

Development Strategy: Determine individual project plans, program setup and action plan for making the changes happen. 

Shaping the Future

When the time comes to shape the future ‘Concept of Operations’, one does not have to look far to find out what the latest technologies are for simplifying the aircraft, passenger, baggage and cargo journeys. Be it separation advancements for aircraft, self-service for passengers, RFID for baggage or going paperless for cargo, the opportunities seem endless. 

To optimise resource management, airports must leverage smart planning services supported by IT. 

Airports are supporting their resource planning, scheduling, and controlling teams with: 

Greater process automation: Increase planner and controller speed and productivity by eliminating manual data transfers and workflows; 

Scenario-based planning capabilities: Increase planner effectiveness by reporting changes to assumptions (e.g. schedule, capacity development plan) and their impact on the resource forecast; 

Scenario-based controlling capabilities: Increase controller speed and effectiveness by preparing for potential changes to the plan (e.g. schedule, resource availability) and their impact on the operation; 

Continuous improvement: Share post-operation statistics on deviations between forecasted and actual resource count to create a learning environment; 

Operations as a service: Outsource IT intensive and/or non-continuous functions; 

Schedule stability: Reduce the number of schedule changes to allow the most optimal resource schedule to be generated; and 

Decision support: Increase planner and controller effectiveness by leveraging state-of-the-art optimizers and playgrounds. 

Maximise productivity

While further facilities will come eventually, airlines and airport authorities must do more now to maximize the productivity of their current assets both in the terminal and across the airfield. 

This can be achieved by deploying resource management practices that embrace efficient and effective collaboration with airport authorities, airlines, ground handlers, air traffic control and government authorities.  

Excerpted from a report “The Threat of Our Mega and Wannabe Mega Airports” by authors Jeffery Oboy, Soeren Bilet and Simon Kahle, of M2P (Mostert. Ploog & Partners)

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