Smart Airports, Smart Apps

On 26/12/2015, in Life around runways, by steve

It is now official, most of the largest airports in the world get more revenue from indirect sources than they do from directly serving aircraft. In other words, the parking garage and the booze and food concessions, not to mention Victoria’s Secret, bring in more money for the airport than all the aircraft using it for the purpose it was originally invented. In fact, one of the reasons Berlin’s spanking new Brandenburg Airport is still not open is the fact that after the airport construction started, they realized that in the form planned it would never make money (too little space was left for concessions) and it had to be redesigned, adding a new floor which in turn resulted in a few major cock-ups in laying cables and the fire protection system.

Photo: Foster & Partners

Photo: Foster & Partners

In a way, we, the passengers, should be happy to know that it is us (or rather our credit cards) that the airports are after and we should expect to be pampered in all kinds of ways. The sad truth is, airports are still a way off from succeeding in making us feel relaxed and at home in their glittering offering… Most passengers fret and worry about getting to their gate on time or finding the gate at all. The practice of not letting you know what the gate number is until some 20-30 minutes before the boarding time is hated by most airport users yet airports insist on it in the mistaken belief that the longer you are left wondering and wandering in the concession area, the more you will spend. What airports should realize is that relaxed, happy passengers are likely to spend 45 % more in the concession area than stressed out ones are.
So, please make us relaxed and happy before you go after our money.

The billions being spent on turning airports into department stores and supermarkets tend to have a relatively low efficiency in opening our purses. As long as we fret and worry, we will continue to be reluctant to believe that those overpriced items are the things we need for this holiday (even if they can be had for less on high street…). Most experts agree that the fretting and worrying is due mainly to a lack of information.

This message is especially interesting for me, as I have spent the past 20 years or so on promoting better information management in the context of air traffic control and in a way, managing passengers is not that different from managing aircraft.

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Follow the greens… or may be not?

On 06/12/2015, in Life around runways, by steve

Aircraft are very sophisticated machines, bringing together cutting edge technologies in materials, propulsion, electronics and what have you. They are in their element in the air (no surprise there) and are pretty inadequate when on the ground. The careful, lumbering motion of a taxiing aircraft is dictated by many factors but this is not the biggest problem with our beloved birds.

Photo: CAT10980

Photo: CAT10980

These days even mid-range cars are often equipped with built-in navigation and if not, your trusty Tom-Tom or Garmin navigator will take you just about anywhere, door to door, even avoiding traffic jams.

Most aircraft lack any such capability while on the ground.

Moving map displays with own ship position are just now starting to appear in the cockpit and systems showing the position of other aircraft and obstacles are even harder to come upon. If I add that the widespread use of moving maps was held up to a large extent due to the realization that most airports simply did not have surveys accurate enough to put the GPS generated own ship position on their old maps. Had someone attempted to do so, aircraft would have appeared to be taxiing anywhere but on the taxiways.

Visibility from most cockpits is rather poor and pilots are forced to use airport maps that are less than ideal to find their way around the place. It is little wonder that aircraft regularly get lost on the airport surface, become runway incursions on average in excess of 1.5 per day in Europe and will sometimes taxi onto service roads with dire consequences.

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Yes I do have an issue with remote towers!

On 05/11/2015, in Life around runways, by steve

I remember very well the day when the idea of remote towers was brought into the picture by our colleagues from Sweden during the latter part of the SESAR definition phase. I was there on behalf of the airlines and we were laboring to insert (against considerable opposition I might add) the real paradigm changing ideas, like new separation methods and rearranging the responsibility for separation provision, to name just a few. Those things were projecting a very real change in how we would do air traffic management in the future… and into this exalted sphere came the idea of the remote tower. At that time this was meant to improve safety at remote aerodromes which could not be supplied with air traffic services in a cost effective way.

Fine… bring it in but please let’s not make this a priority. There were so many things to tackle first, things that would create additional capacity and also bring the culture change we on the airline side believed was essential if European ATM was to be salvaged.
Remote towers (essentially a development driven by technology) were none of those. They still are not, in spite of the hype. What is more, they are diverting attention and effort from something far more important.

I do not doubt that remote towers bring safety benefits to small, remote airports where no air traffic service of any kind was being provided previously. But when big, complex airports start to consider going “remote”, one cannot but wonder: what is happening here?

Of course, the ANSPs caught on very quickly that substantial savings can be realized by going away from the brick-and-mortar tower and go “virtual”. A good example is HungaroControl in Budapest who are very keen on the remote tower concept not because it brings additional capacity or safety benefits but because the current tower, owned by the airport operator, is very expensive to rent and maintain. I do not blame them for this but it shows one of the main driving forces behind the remote tower rage.

The industry concerned is only too happy to encourage the ever wider use of the concept, after all, selling cameras and other hardware, not to mention clever software (that is not rocket science at all) is something that has a nice, fat margin. Again I do not blame them, they need to earn money too.

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FAA Implements New Airport Safety Program

On 03/06/2015, in Life around runways, by steve

riaThe FAA has made significant progress in improving runway safety at U.S. airports over the past 15 years by working with other members of the aviation community on education, training, marking and lighting, standard runway safety areas, new technology and airfield improvements.

The FAA plans to build on that success by working with airport sponsors over the next 10-15 years to further reduce runway risks through risk-based decision-making. A new FAA national initiative known as the Runway Incursion Mitigation (RIM) program will identify airport risk factors that might contribute to a runway incursion and develop strategies to help airport sponsors mitigate those risks.

Runway incursions occur when an aircraft, vehicle, or person enters the protected area of an airport designated for aircraft landings and take offs. Risk factors that contribute to runway incursions may include unclear taxiway markings, airport signage, and more complex issues such as the runway or taxiway layout. Through RIM, the FAA will focus on reducing runway incursions by addressing risks at specific locations at the airport that have a history of runway incursions.

Risk-based decision-making builds on safety management principles by using a consistent approach to proactively address emerging safety risks. The FAA already has collected and reviewed data to identify specific airport areas with risk factors that could contribute to a runway incursion. The FAA has developed a preliminary inventory of airport locations where runway incursions have occurred. The FAA will work with the airport sponsors to develop strategies to mitigate runway incursions at these locations.

The FAA has kicked off the new initiative as it is wrapping up an extremely successful 15-year program to improve and standardize runway safety areas at the nation’s top commercial service airports.


Runway incursion caught on video

On 07/07/2014, in Life around runways, by steve

BluSky Services has been involved in the creation of various awareness raising material aimed at preventing runway incursions. Among those, we had to recreate on film four actual events. Of course the final product involved various tricks to show what had happened in real life as there was no way to film the “real thing”. Now however life has done one better and an actual runway incursion was filmed for all to see.

Click on the picture below to see it. This event is not one of the really scary ones. The approaching aircraft initiated the go-around in good time. In our synthetic examples things had gotten far more serious.

Photo Aerobarcelona

Photo Aerobarcelona


Remote Control Airport

On 06/07/2014, in Life around runways, by lajos

The writing is probably on the wall… the days of the control tower at Ferihegy Airport are in all likelihood numbered. It future had been in doubt for a long time, one might say right from the start. The original idea, that of moving all the air traffic control units into the tower building, was soon given up and tower was left to languish in the middle of the Ferihegy wilderness. I have written a lot about the reasons (location and small mindedness) and now I too would prefer to look towards the future and explore what may become of the tower.

Photo Saab

Following the disappearance of LRI, HungaroControl is only renting (for substantial amounts) a part of the space available in the tower. Management has been thinking about solutions to this problem and they have reviewed several possible options ranging from the outrageous to the acceptable. In one scenario, the aerodrome controller staff would have been transferred to the airport. This was probably the idea most decried by us. Luckily this wild idea was not pursued long…

However, in the recent past there were two cases of total tower failure and this, together with the lack of a contingency aerodrome control facility set the managers thinking once again.

With the commissioning of the new ATC center, all kinds of new possibilities opened up from one day to the next. Training in the tower simulator, with its 180 degrees view-screens, we have often thought about the fact that there was no real reason any more why we should be looking at things through the window of an actual building situated in the middle of nowhere. After all, when the weather socks in, we can’t see a thing while the ground surveillance radar can “see” even in the densest fog. This considered, having remote aerodrome control does not seem such an outlandish idea after all.

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Budapest Airport’s Long-haul Perspectives

On 18/04/2014, in Life around runways, by zoltan

Budapest’s Liszt Ferenc Airport recently won the Skytrax “Best airport in Eastern Europe” award, which is always a recognition for an airport (or an airline), particularly after such a hard period. Although if we study the regional field a little bit better, the happiness decreases.


We, here in Hungary, like to say that we live in Central Europe, and because of this, our biggest airport should play in the same league with Prague, Vienna and Warsaw (the location of Warsaw is actually further east). Actually, Bratislava is in our league, while Vienna (the distance between the two cities is approx. 60 km) is in another. Although it is surely not discrimination, and Skytrax has its explanation, it is a good reflection of the current situation: Budapest airport seems to have lost its regional hub function.

After the bankruptcy of Malév (Hungarian Airlines) in February of 2012, the traffic of the airport changed seriously. Wizz Air and Ryanair opened many “new” destinations, and national airlines provided extra frequencies or bigger aircraft on their existing flights.

In consequence, the decrease in passenger traffic in 2012 was just 4.7%, much lower than it was expected; while passenger traffic of 2011 was an absolute record (8,920,653). In 2013, passenger traffic was slightly higher than in 2012, but the difference is approximately 0.1%.
The change is more serious in case of traffic structure: market share of low-cost airlines increased dramatically, from 25% to above 50%, while transfer passengers disappeared. Nowadays, Wizz Air is the biggest airline in Budapest, with 8 aircraft stationed at the airport from this summer, providing direct services to 38 destinations. Above the “normal” low-cost destinations, Wizz Air got several of the former bilateral rights of Malév, so it can fly to Russia, Ukraine, and Turkey. Moreover, Wizz Air opened to the east, starting direct flights to Dubai (UAE), Baku (Azerbaijan) and Kutaisi (Georgia). Currently, approximately 30 destinations can be reached with scheduled and not low-cost flights, and more than 60 with low costs. Such important hub airports as Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, Geneva, Kiev and Dubai are only accessible with Wizz Air, Ryanair or easyJet flights.

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FAA Makes Tower Closing Decision

On 23/03/2013, in Life around runways, by steve

rThe Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reached the decision that 149 federal contract towers will close beginning April 7 as part of the agency’s sequestration implementation plan. The agency has made the decision to keep 24 federal contract towers open that had been previously proposed for closure because doing so would have a negative impact on the national interest.

An additional 16 federal contract towers under the “cost share” program will remain open because Congressional statute sets aside funds every fiscal year for these towers. These cost-share program funds are subject to sequestration but the required 5 percent cut will not result in tower closures.

“We heard from communities across the country about the importance of their towers and these were very tough decisions,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Unfortunately we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration.”

“We will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

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Test your knowledge of airport characteristics!

On 14/01/2013, in Life around runways, by steve

Fact: there are on average more than two runway incursion events in Europe every day. A lot of effort is going into eliminating the reasons for runway incursions… These range from improving procedures to increasing awareness of pilots, air traffic controllers and ground vehicle drivers of the dangers a runway represents.

Now you too can test your knowledge of airport characteristics… Click the image below and take the quiz. Tell us your score in a comment!

Click image to take the quiz!


The Case for LED Aerodrome Lighting

On 13/01/2013, in Life around runways, by steve

Inset omnidirectional low intensity light

Aerodromes used also at night and in reduced visibility conditions rely on a variety of lights to guide aircraft on the ground and on approach to the runway. These lights must meet extremely stringent requirements set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The requirements range from color temperature and light intensity to the horizontal and vertical spread of the beam. The light fixtures and in-pavement light units must also comply with mechanical standards that ensure their safe operation in the airport environment.If we look around an aerodrome at night, the sea of blue, green, red, flashing yellow and white lights and lighted signs give a good idea of the power consumption they represent and then we have not even mentioned the floodlights creating near daylight conditions on the appron.

The multitude of aerodrome lights…

Installing a modern aerodrome lighting system is an expensive but unavoidable requirement and maintaining the system is also a high ticket item, a major cost to the airport’s operator.

Airports cannot afford to turn dark if the power feeding its systems and lighting is cut. Sophisticated emergency power sources make sure that essential elements, like the Instrument Landing System (ILS) and the approach and runway lights do not even blink when the primary power fails and they are kept in operation by this first-response facility until the stand-by generators can take over. Obviously, the power consumption of the lights determines the size of the built in bridging supply and emergency generating capability while costs are directly proportional to the power required.

Being able to deploy lights with lower power and maintenance requirements would save huge amounts of money for the airport operator and hence also the users of the airport.

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