For airport planners, being able to keep track of temporary and permanent obstacles within the airport and its flight path perimeters is vital. Transoft Solutions' Obstacle Surface Planner allows accurate and efficient analysis of potential obstacles, to ensure these do not penetrate or threaten the 'imaginary surfaces' of regulatory clearance guidelines. The company's James Renner and Finavia's Kim Ohtonen, discuss the benefits of the software.
It goes without saying that safety is paramount when it comes to an airport's operational environment. However, keeping sight of FAA, ICAO and national regulations governing obstacle limitation surfaces (OLS) can be an overwhelming task for airport planners, with obstacles appearing, moving, and altering from day to day and even hour to hour.
Obstacle Surface Planner from Transoft Solutions, offers a toolset for entering and analysing the impact of obstacles on the OLS to ensure that they are positioned in compliance with regulation. Run within Autodesk's AutoCAD® software, Obstacle Surface Planner generates and clearly outlines the 'imaginary surfaces' of OLS to allow all aspects of airport planning to be managed safely and accurately, within the airport itself and the surrounding area. Runway parameters, including length, width and elevations can be defined, and flight paths outside the airport can also be analysed.
Transoft Solutions' business development manager for aviation James Renner explains how planners face a huge range of obstacles that could penetrate these imaginary surfaces and endanger aircraft approach, holding and take-off pathways.
"An obstacle could be a building, a power line, a cell-phone mast or a wind turbine outside the airport, or it could be a temporary obstacle that's being used within the airport, say for construction work," he says. "It can be solid and fixed like a building, or moveable like a crane. Trees are interesting because they obviously grow, so one year they could be fine and then the next year they could present an issue."
Obstacle Surface Planner software builds upon an airport's existing model environment - either imported into, or already set up within AutoCAD - to define and clearly represent the imaginary surfaces of the operational environment. Planners can then pinpoint and analyse areas where they are aware of a potential issue.
"The first step after the model has been set up is to define or import obstacle data and to undertake the analysis," he says. "If you are working with a short-term problem like a crane, you can manually define the location and height. Let's say today your project involves moving a crane to the north-west corner of the airport in order to carry out a two-day construction job. You would simply go into the software, define the position of the potential obstacle - the crane - and then just carry out your analysis based on that one point.
"You can then determine if it's going to be an issue or not, and you can move the crane if necessary, or you might decide to apply for a dispensation from the regulatory body so that you can temporarily breach the specific regulation."
Finavia, the air-traffic service provider responsible for maintaining and developing Finland's 24 airports, employs Obstacle Surface Planner for planning and managing these airports and the surrounding areas.
Kim Ohtonen, currently the key user of the software at Finavia, explains: "I analyse almost 1,000 obstacles a year, so most of my time goes towards that.
"Take for example, a tower crane that rotates within a certain radius. If it is situated on a sloping surface, I always analyse the most critical position of the crane."
As well as dealing with temporary objects from day to day, Obstacle Surface Planner can help with future planning, as Ohtonen illustrates.
"Finavia has long-term plans to extend certain airports' runways," he says. "I have created OLS for those airports, which take account of those extended runways. These 'future plans' OLS are used to give information to the planners and stop permanent obstacles that might penetrate the OLS of those extended runways from being built." Obstacle data can be collected via a number of means, whether it is surveys, radar scanning or aerial images taken from an aircraft. The X, Y and Z coordinates are then entered into Obstacle Surface Planner, which analyses the effect of the obstacles on the OLS.
For Finavia, data is collected via means of an electronic form. "To apply for a permit to set up an obstacle anywhere here in Finland, the applicant must obtain a statement from Finavia," Ohtonen explains. "The data we get from the e-form concerns the obstacle's planned position and height, so the analysis is based on that. Then, when the obstacle is actually created, the applicant is obliged to inform Finavia of its correct position and height.
"We always request any additional information from our applicants via email, to ensure aeronautical data quality (ADQ). If I were to talk about coordinates or heights on the telephone with applicants, there could be a risk of misunderstanding."
One of the key advantages of Obstacle Surface Planner is its ability to visualise the huge amounts of data that airport planners receive into an easy-to-grasp workflow of imaginary surfaces, obstacles and related analysis.
"The information that airports gather, depending on the technique used, is vast," Renner says. "For example, with LiDAR [light detection and ranging] you can gather points that are only a matter of centimetres apart, and that's an awful lot of information that needs to be filtered and scrutinised to ensure you are only working with the valid output. Once you've done the analysis, another challenge is presenting and documenting the findings of the study, so that it's usable for reporting to national authorities and the likes of the FAA, as well as for internal use by the different stakeholders of the airport."
For Finavia, the software's ability to simplify the impact of the regulation into the clearly outlined imaginary surfaces is particularly helpful.
"It helps a lot with ICAO and FAA guidelines," Ohtonen says. "The software turns quite complex ICAO Annex 14 regulations into a graphically 2D or 3D AutoCAD environment that is easy to understand. I can also edit those regulations, for some special obstacle cases."
Obstacle Surface Planner results can be reviewed in AutoCAD, and can be quickly and easily exported into reports and plans, ready for presentation to regulatory authorities as well as the vital teams within the airport that keep the operating environment safe.