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 out-side the terminal safer, more efficient and more environmentally friendly.

“Our systems deal with aircraft movement on the surface of an airport – take-off s, 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 10 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 in-formation 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 de-lay?” 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. “Air-craft 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.”

Lower carbon emissions

The environmental and economic advantages of the Aerobahn system have been demonstrated by studies conducted at two US airports – John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) in New York, the country’s busiest international air-traffic gateway, and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), the world’s busiest airport by passenger traffic. A study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed that Aerobahn helped airlines at JFK save USD 11 million a year in taxiing fuel costs, and carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by 32,000 tonnes. In ATL, a study by Saab and George Mason University found that Aerobahn helped reduce delays by 54.7 percent in 2011 and a further 21 percent in 2012. Reductions in taxiing time amounted to 16,100 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.