In English we have a proverb: "a bad workman always blames his tools". The same proverb exists in many languages, but perhaps a more satisfying (and constructive!) version is the Dutch one: "Goed gereedschap is het halve werk" – "good tools are half the work". This is certainly true of our latest simulation tool (AirTOp), which in skilled hands provides compelling 2D and 3D animations of airfield and airspace layouts and operations, as well as more traditional radar views.
It would be easy to get carried away with the power and beauty of these visualisations, but like any model ... you get out what you put in!
Our experience with other simulation tools that we have used in many airport areas (SIMMOD, Witness, CAST) has resulted in a tried and testing methodology that we regularly apply in our airport consultancy. When Heathrow Hub asked Helios to help with their submission to the Davies Commission, we were able to develop models for both airspace and ground ensuring that outputs from the airspace model gave a realistic arrival and departure schedule. They showed both numerically and visually the best options for aircraft flow around the proposed airport layout, busy areas and how taxiways holding areas would be used. It also answered key questions about forecast capacity, likely bottlenecks and impacts on noise footprints.
For Viracopos Airport in Brazil the Helios team are building a model that combines both the airspace and ground operation to give a complete picture of capacity and any knock-on effects from changes to one area on another. Results will be demonstrating both numerically and through playback of the simulation to clearly display any potential issues and differences between options.
Many airports and ANS providers around the world are using increasingly powerful simulation tools to help them in their work. The secret of success is to follow a good process, ask the right questions (and not too many at once!), and to supply the tool with validated data. Do that well and you can answer 'what-if' questions with ease, as well as identify knock-on effects in other areas. The visualisations and animations will help you to explain the concept and tell your story more effectively. After all, "a picture paints a thousand words."
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