Why is Airport CDM Struggling in Europe?

On 19-08-2016, in CDM, by steve

Have you had recently experience with your flight arriving at a European destination airport on time and then waiting for its gate to become available? Or waited in a queue of aircraft before the runway… Chances are, you did and most probably this was taking place at an airport which carries the title CDM Airport. You know, a CDM Airport is one that satisfies specific requirements, among them the sending of DPI (Departure Planning Information) messages. There are 20 of those in Europe and from daily practice it would appear that not all of them are equally “CDM”…

Talk to the airlines, and the picture they paint is even grimmer. The presentation IATA made at the Airport CDM forum in September 2015 contained a shopping list of problems, some of which were hotly contested by the ANSPs present but the fact remains (and is proven day in and day out), A-CDM in Europe is delivering results that are far from uniform across the airports concerned.

The picture is further colored by the contents of a document, published by EUROCONTROL in April 2016, entitled Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM) Impact Assessment. This document brings an interesting set of data showing that A-CDM works. Unfortunately, the data is rather generic and it is not always possible to discern how different places perform. Even more to the point, there is nothing in this document to suggest that there is anything negative at all. One almost gets the feeling that any negative findings of the study forming the basis of the impact assessment got left out by some accident. Or, the study did not find any… Think what you want but with the IATA list of shortcomings in hand, it is difficult to understand how the study could have missed the same problems.

One thing is certain. The CDM concept is sound and it works if properly implemented and maintained. But then, what could be wrong? What is causing the differences between the results if the different CDM airports?

Although we have not done a thorough survey of what is going on, having talked to a number of people who are in the business of airport operations a picture is emerging which, unfortunately, looks like the list of “don’t do’s” we have in the A-CDM courses we deliver around the world.

Without going into all the disturbing details, here are a few points that illustrate what has gone wrong and where the remedies might be found.

The role of the EU – In a general sense, European Commission mandates and implementing rules tend to speed things up and they get the job done even when recalcitrant members states and their ANSPs might otherwise drag their feet. In the case of A-CDM however, there is a noticeable negative effect. May be because airports are not used to this kind of pressure, but in some cases it would appear that there is more accent on meeting the mandate than actually having an effective A-CDM implementation. You know, do just enough to tick off an item on the To do list. The results are predictable…

The A-CDM project length misconception – For some reason, managers here and there think that A-CDM is like any other project, you start it, run it and when it is finished, you enjoy the result. They seem not to be aware of the fact that A-CDM, once started, needs constant attention, benchmarking, improvements and repair. An A-CDM project is never really finished… If we look around Europe, at a surprisingly large number of airports the CDM team has more or less disappeared. They call themselves CDM Airport but the guardians of the magic were let go. A CDM airport without a CDM team is like a muscle car without a steering wheel. It can still go awful fast but can no longer avoid the trees.

Who should be involved? One of the shocking revelations in the IATA list of issues is that in many an A-CDM project the airlines were simply left out. This of course reflects the old routine where airlines were often not consulted even in matters that were of primary concern to them. Old habits die hard but not talking to all the partners when trying to set up an A-CDM implementation is simply not an option.

Going only half way… The implementation of A-CDM involves several new operational features, among them the use of the Target Off-block Time (TOBT) procedure. The TOBT is a time generated by the aircraft operator or the ground handler, usually this latter. This is the time everyone involved in the aircraft turnaround will work towards to ensure a timely departure. The CDM concept assumes that information sharing is in place and the ground handler generates the TOBT in full knowledge of all aspects of the flight and all effects it is subject to. What do we find instead? According to the airlines, in some place the TOBT procedure is implemented without proper information sharing and hence the ground handler will operate without having the full picture of flight. The result is a complete negation of the benefits of the TOBT procedure.

We have often said that A-CDM is first and foremost a way of working, a new approach to sharing information and using shared information, making better decisions through having a common view of the world… Unfortunately, in many places the CDM project is an IT project and this is not helped at all by companies big and small (with one or two notable exceptions) peddling what they call A-CDM systems… boxes that are supposed to set down A-CDM as if by magic. Then the disappointment sets in. The box does not work because the most important aspect (CDM is a way of working…) had been forgotten.

If you look at the problem list above, it is easy to see that none of the issues are being caused by IT problems and none of them (even the half way solution issue) can be solved by IT alone.

It is about time that A-CDM implementation be taken seriously also in terms of its basics. I know it is simpler to leave the airlines out of the CDM implementation project or drop any talk of real information sharing, but the resulting mess is not worth the initial illusion of having done something. Finally, the costs associated with having a proper CDM team even after implementation has been completed must be accepted as this is the key to continued success. Depending on the size and complexity of the airport this may be one or two persons, not necessarily full time but with the authority to keep the CDM partners moving together and acting the moment performance threatens to falter.

CDM is not a box… it is a way of working!

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