Data analysis and forecasting tools have traditionally been the preserve of airport capacity planners. Now, modern IT systems and infrastructure make analytics a viable real-time tool, allowing a wider community to monitor and manage airport operational performance, as Dr Dominic Walker of Northrop Grumman Airport Systems, explains.
Most of us have some experience in our professional and private lives of operating with the cloud, and ideas around terms such as 'big data' are becoming more familiar. The potential impact of Hadoop - an emerging method for storing and processing vast amounts of data across many distributed nodes - is probably still one step beyond most people's knowledge, but together these approaches to extracting useful information from very large, unstructured data sources are likely to begin affecting the way we live our lives and the way we do business in the not too distant future.
The potential impact on the passenger experience enabled by increased knowledge about his or her preferences and past behaviours has been a hot topic recently; targeted promotions, better and more timely updates and tailored travel experiences have all been excitedly discussed. However, this is to potentially overlook a more fundamental area of the airport's operation that could benefit from a smarter use of data. The biggest single factor in customer satisfaction is not free Wi-Fi, not personalised advertising, not access to a self bag-drop service, but simply an on-time departure. The airport that consistently delivers this has a competitive edge.
Real-time analytics is now available to support this. Taking live data feeds from disparate systems such as airport operations databases, A-SMGCS and electronic flight strips, it is now possible not just to perform historical analysis, but to present a rich, accurate and easily digestible picture of up-to-the-minute airport performance.
The Northrop Grumman Airport Realtime Collaboration (ARC) Analytics capability is built on the same architecture as the A-CDM product, and so is intrinsically designed for real-time data harvesting and presentation.
What ARC Analytics adds is a powerful layer of intelligence and customisation, drawing out accurate and operationally critical metrics from the data mass and presenting them in a form that meets users' needs and environment, whether that be in the form of detail for the desk-based analyst, or clear and business-relevant KPIs for senior management.
Placing analytics directly into the hands of decision-makers is potentially transformational. A noon review meeting will have accurate data on the morning's performance - delay numbers and lengths, taxi times, on-time departures -information that enables a rigorous appraisal of the operation and, critically, can inform planning for the rest of the day.
Though ARC Analytics may use some big data principles, it does not necessarily take a big operation to benefit from it. Being naturally scalable and flexible with the number of data sources and the amount of data produced, even smaller and mid-sized airports can begin to automate the production of performance reports and planning data.
Home-grown spreadsheet reports showing data from the previous week need not be the norm. Instead, analytics is fast becoming a viable operational tool.