A-CDM: The benefits to ground handling operations

Aeroplane surrounded by ground handling crew

Recent reports by both SITA and EUROCONTROL show that airport collaborative decision-making processes and technology have a positive impact on the use of ground handling resources. Gary Mason reports.

Delayed flights and poor exchange of information between airport operators, air traffic controllers and ground handlers has a knock-on negative domino effect to airport operations. This is, of course, made worse by extreme weather events during winter operations.

This month SITA published its Airport IT Trends Survey for 2016. According to SITA the increasing number of passengers and flights globally is only likely to put more pressure on the air transport system yet airport operators are still mainly in the early stages of implementing IT measures that would help ensure the smoother running of the airport.

The most widespread measure has been to set-up a centralised control center to coordinate operations. Just over half of airports (52%) have already done this and it will grow to nearly 80% over the next three years.

A medium term focus area is developing operational dashboards for airport staff to monitor critical processes. Nearly half of airports (49%) plan to invest in this over the next three years on top of the 38% that already do it.

According to SITA’s survey another area that will receive strong attention over the next three years is Collaborative Decision Making (CDM). Its goal is to improve overall efficiency of operations by working with different stakeholders to integrate processes and systems to reduce delays and better manage airport resources. Today, one-third of airports have some form of local CDM, but only just over one in ten airports have implemented it to include air traffic management (ATM) systems. Within three years though 71% of airports will have a localized version of CDM, while 55% will have fully integrated it with ATM systems

The priority of CDM programs at airports is to keep to the flight schedule with on-time departures. Just over three- quarters (76%) of airports rate departure management as a high priority for their CDM program. Closely associated is aircraft turnaround and 53% of airports see this as a high priority function for CDM.

Mobile devices for staff

Providing mobile devices to staff to improve operations is on the rise. The arrival hall and departure areas are the most common places where they have been deployed with tablets marginally preferred to smartphones. In arrivals, 26% have smartphones and 27% have tablets and in departures 25% have smartphones and 30% have tablets. The only other area where mobile usage is fairly widespread is in ‘baggage handling’.

Mobile technology will also be used to give staff support during disruption. Over the next three years, 47% of airports plan to provide staff with tablets that can access information and tools to help mitigate unscheduled events.

EUROCONTROL, which is responsible for accrediting and servicing A-CDM compliant airports in Europe, published a comprehensive A-CDM impact assessment report in March this year.

According to EUROCONTROL, 18 airports have become fully A-CDM implemented to date, with a notable surge in adoption since 2013.

The report showed that several CDM airports showed tactical delay cost savings amounting to nearly €1 million in 2015, including some of the lesser constrained CDM airports such as Prague, Venice and Milan Malpensa.

Local benefits that have been confirmed as part of the study (but not necessarily existing at each CDM airport) include a reduction in push-back delays after start-up approval and improved and more efficient use of ground handling resources at the airports.

There was also a reduction in the number of late stand and gate changes; improved management of and recovery from periods of adverse conditions and dramatically improved take-off time predictability – typically by as much as 85% during adverse conditions.

The adoption of A-CDM and the receipt of Flight Update Messages (FUM) provides a more accurate estimated landing time (ELDT) as early as 3 hours from touchdown. This information provides airport stakeholders with the information they need to best allocate resources should the ELDT of an arrival flight shift significantly.

FUM are distributed via the EUROCONTROL B2B web service or ATFM Fixed Telecommunications Network (AFTN). The distribution of reliable arrival updates between airport partners has demonstrated improvements in stand planning, ground handling resource allocation and Fleet planning.

Ground handling benefits

Ground handlers are bound by service level agreements (SLA) to meet departure punctuality targets – often with strong financial incentives attached. On time performance (OTP) is their priority yet this needs to be achieved with limited resources. Arrival time predictability is helping ground handlers to plan their operation based on evolving tactical information rather than largely inaccurate schedules, the report showed.

During severe ground delay, arrival time predictability is enabling the prioritisation of flights and an improved dialogue between the Airline Operational Control Centre (OCC) and ground handler representatives.

There are fewer instances where flights are not met on-stand by personnel waiting to rotate the aircraft. Coupled with improved stand allocation robustness, improved arrival predictability enables resources to be positioned on the right stand at the right time.

Resource idle time is reduced and utilisation is also increased, the report shows. Should an inbound flight be delayed then that presents an opportunity for the ground handler to reallocate resources to protect the OTP (on time performance) of other flights.

Anecdotal evidence and personal accounts support that the ELDT information presented to ground handlers as early as 3 hours in advance has direct benefits to their own operations.

Avinor in Norway is currently implementing A-CDM at 3 of the busiest routes from Oslo – which are short haul domestic flights to Stavanger, Trondheim and Bergen. Oslo airport already benefits greatly from accurate ELDT information provided by the FUM and Arrival Manager (AMAN) information that is distributed by the A-CDM platform.

The incorporation of these airports into their A-CDM network will further improve the traffic predictability across Norway and the ATM network – especially during periods of notable ground delay at any one or more of the  connected sites.

Winter Operations

During periods of winter conditions, poor predictability can quickly lead to operational chaos – particularly when the demand for snow & ice removal equipment outweighs supply.

A-CDM has enabled the progress of de-icing and runway snow removal to ensure that a more precise picture of runway and de-icing capacity is always available at all time. This leads to shorter aircraft buffers at the runway and remote de-icing pads. It also results in less fuel burn and fewer holdover violations without compromising the utilisation of the runway.

Compliance with the slot tolerance window is more achievable, as the issued slot is consistent with the evolving situation on the airfield

Factors that are integrated into the TSATs (target start-up approval) include the increased taxi-out times, de-icing time durations and scheduled runway snow removal (if applicable).

At Helsinki, winter operations are considered ‘normal operations’ and the TSAT procedure has helped to reduce the average taxi-out time by 0.7 minutes. Also, this has been achieved over a period where the airport has increased the proportion of remote de-icing from 30% to 70%.

Zurich airport noted that de-icing process was once an “operational black hole” and that the integration of accurate de-icing time estimates and progress milestones has had a big impact on improving resource and asset utilisation during winter operations.

Munich recorded a 5% reduction in flight cancellations between 2005 and 2009, resulting in an operating cost avoidance of €2 million across stakeholders. The integration of de-icing milestones into the A-CDM process is thought to have contributed heavily to this improvement.

Paris CDG has implemented an A-CDM cell which serves to bring key stakeholders together during periods of severe disruption. The A-CDM dashboard presents relevant information sources that enables joint analysis and improved tactical decision making.

Some A-CDM tools

The Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM) solution within ARC developed by Northrop Grumman is made up of a number of modules for flexibility and scalability.

By taking a modular approach, a system can be configured to support anything from a simple data sharing portal for a small operation, to a full A-CDM solution suitable for EUROCONTROL accredited processes.

The modular building-blocks of the A-CDM system can be used together or can integrate with existing tools. This means that it can complement legacy infrastructure to help reach the next level of collaborative operations.

There are five modules within the A-CDM system:

  • Groundview. Live ground movement information from airfield surveillance provides operations staff and others with an accurate picture of aircraft and vehicle activity. The information is delivered through a web interface for ultimate flexibility and portability.
  • Flightview. This is a flexible platform for sharing information on flight data and locally defined milestones in the arrivals and departures process. It can be used as a simple collaborative way to enter and share a Target Off Block Time (TOBT) between stakeholders.
  • Pre-Departure Sequencer. The best use of runway capacity for a given demand can be achieved with this sophisticated optimisation tool. It uses real-time data to enable controllers to keep delays and taxi-times to a minimum.
  • Adverse Conditions and De-Icing. This specialist tool enables operations management and staff to maintain the optimum use of available resources even in constrained operating conditions.
  • Turnaround Manager. Based around a simple but logical task flow, this ensures critical path tasks are completed on time or flagged promptly if this is not the case. The module supports ground handling and optimises the turnaround process with a robust, mobile application tailored to the local procedures.

Zurich’s A-CDM experience

Since August 2013, Zurich Airport has operated as an A-CDM Airport in accordance with the Eurocontrol A-CDM guidelines.

According to the airport the main benefits are enhancing the predictability of events during the progress of a flight and optimising the use of resources as well as being able to take action to minimise delays. At the same time, it encourages the A-CDM Stakeholders, namely Airport Operators, Aircraft Operators, Ground Handling Agents, Air Traffic Control and the Network Manager Operations Centre (NMOC) to practice transparent cooperation and coordination to enhance the air traffic flow and the capacity management at the airport and in the European airspace.

During normal operations, the ground handling agent or aircraft operator has to provide accurate Target Off-block Times (TOBT/ETD) until the turnaround process is completely finished. If the ETD is set to a time later than actually needed, it can be corrected in the further departure planning. According to Zurich there are no limits in updates of ETDs. ETDs must be set in a forward-looking way, otherwise the overall Target Start-Up approval Time (TSAT) stability will be lost.

In case of severe thunderstorms / lightning / heavy rain etc. a handling and fueling stop may be declared by the airport. As a result, all handling activities are abandoned for an unknown period of time. The “penalty procedure” in the departure planning (postponing and standby) will be temporarily suspended. To recover from the interruption going into operational mode again, every flight needs to have an ETD (TOBT) assigned.

It is the obligation of the ground handling agent or airline to set the ETDs properly. The flights, which have experienced most impact (handling completed, but no push-back/start-up), need to be made a priority in this process.

If a ground handling agent declares an internal handling/fueling stop, it is their obligation to set ETDs for all flights they are responsible for.

During de-icing operations, extra time for the de-icing process has to be considered. Therefore, ZRH has implemented the AROSA De-icing tool, which provides de-icing times considering actual demand, available resources (de-icing trucks, de-icing lanes) and de-icing process times. With this data, the departure management system calculates (Target Start-Up Approval) TSAT and TTOTs for every flight. Runway closures due to snow clearing are also included in this calculation.

During winter operations ground handling agents and aircraft operators still have to meet their objectives according target time (STD / ETD), when the turnaround process is completed.


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