Growth and technology: opportunities and challenges for airports

Written by: Adam Johnson
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Helios hosted its annual airport seminar at the RAF Club in London in the autumn. Presentations covered various hot topics that highlight how airports as well as their communities could be both aided and hindered by new technologies and ways of working.

Dr Daniel Kösters of Fraport opened the seminar with a keynote speech on apron control, in particular the idea of a separate Apron Control Unit. Daniel explained that ANSPs can have little incentive to optimise the ground handling of aircraft and, as the people normally in charge of apron control, may therefore limit the operational capacity of the airport. For large and growing airports, apron control could provide an interesting way to optimise the number of ground movements, a concept that is widely used in the US, where in some cases apron control is delivered by the airlines, to help drive efficiency.

An exciting technology that is starting to be implemented in Europe is Remote Towers. James Hanson explained how Remote Towers Services (RTS) can provide benefits to both small and large airports by increasing ATCO productivity, pooling costs and providing contingency depending on the situation. James also explained how RTS can enhance current out-of-the-window views by providing strip overlays on aircraft as they move across the sky, use infra-red cameras to improve night vision, and use tracking software to alert controllers of any unexpected movements.

New technology can also cause problems for airports. Philip Church described an increasingly worrying increase in the purchase of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) within the UK, with over 200,000 units being sold on Amazon every month worldwide. These RPAS (commonly known as drones) provide a significant risk to aircraft due to the lithium battery they carry, which would be likely to explode if ingested into an engine. However, Philip explained that some manufacturers are tackling the problem by using GNSS technology. This interesting video clip explains the safety features being integrated by one manufacturer. We also captured a short clip of Philip answering questions on drones at the end of the seminar.

The seminar concluded with a round table chaired by Helios' Managing Director Nick McFarlane. The expert panel discussed the problem of noise pollution. An interesting point covered by the discussion is how the implementation of PBN approaches have had a severe and unforeseen negative impact on certain communities, summarised here. The concentration of overflights due to the accuracy of the technology has dramatically increased the noise experienced by some people. It goes to show how improvements in technology can have far-reaching and unexpected consequences that we in the aviation industry cannot afford to ignore.


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