As capacity at our airports increases in line with demand, how will the automated people mover (APM) play a part?

An APM, in short, is a system that operates to provide passengers with a fast, efficient and reliable way of moving around an airport facility. They are fully automated, and therefore do not require a driver, and operate on their own designated guideways, freeing them from the perils of traffic and congestion that conventional railways can so often suffer from. Reminiscent of subway cars, but generally smaller and narrower guage, the newest APMs of today are comfortable, quiet, and can be fitted with various modern conveniences such as on-board internet, multimedia, dynamic displays and air conditioning. Generally consisting of between one and six cars, the systems can be used to connect passengers from terminal to terminal, from airport to cities, or to other facilities such as car parks and car rental sites.

Now, picture this. This is a scenario that many of you will have faced before I am sure, and one that would be pretty difficult to negotiate without the aid of the APM. So, you arrive into a main hub after what is usually a short flight from your local airport. You disembark and negotiate the jetway, and you now find yourself with just 45 minutes to make your way to a far away terminal to connect with your onward flight. You can’t walk it, it’s too far. Even to run would be cutting it mightily fine! But worry not, the APM is two minutes from arriving and can whisk you away to your next departure point at a speed that will possibly even leave you time to freshen up and have a coffee. Marvellous!

The APM also enables airports to move passengers over far greater distances than ever before, allowing new terminals and gates to be planned and installed at equally great distances from the existing facility, without compromising on services and quality. This is a very important factor, as without this ability to move passengers effectively, the problem of capacity would remain a very real one as you would narrow the footprint in which to build new facilities. You simply cannot expect people to walk for miles on end in order to get to a gate. Bear in mind that some passengers may be disabled, and some certainly will be elderly and less able to cover distances quickly. The APM is an effective solution it would seem. In addition to functionality, they also reduce the need for buses and other vehicles which are reliant on fossil fuels, which frees up valuable space on the ground and helps to reduce overall emissions

It goes without saying that, before you spend a great deal of money on an APM, you must carry out extensive research into whether your facility has a viable need for such a system.
The Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) Report 37, provides in-depth guidance with regard to the planning and implementation of an APM system. Here’s what they have to offer with regard to the principle functions of APMs in order to establish whether you have a functional requirement for the system:
“Defining the functional conveyance requirements for the APM is typically the very first step in the investigation. It defines the purpose of the system and answers the basic question: Do we need an APM? The principal functions of APM systems at airports are typically:

Inter-terminal connections – Many APMs are designed exclusively for transporting riders between multiple terminals at an airport.

Terminal-to-gate connections – Such systems are designed to connect terminal passenger processing areas to aircraft gates, which are often located in separated satellites, concourses, or piers.
Intra-terminal connections – Conveyance systems may also serve the purpose of transporting air passengers and airline/airport employees between different areas of the same terminal or satellite facility.

Airport access connections – These systems are designed to transport passengers between the airport terminal(s) and an access location of some kind – a rail station, a bus terminal, off-airport parking, or other passenger gathering point.

Landside connections – Landside conveyance applications typically connect the terminal facilities with other on-airport landside functions such as car rental and passenger/employee remote parking.

Commercial development – A landside conveyance application can also provide connections to office buildings, hotels, convention centres, and other commercial buildings located on airport property or property adjacent to the airport.”

So now you have realised a real need for an APM system at your facility, can you afford to implement it? It is obvious that such a system will not come cheaply and therefore detailed analysis must take place to explore every option before a final decision is made to go ahead. To give an idea of the areas that come into play with regard to cost-benefit, the ACRP report suggests:
“Benefits from an APM system accrue to the riders in the form of time savings. Estimating ridership time savings involves placing a value on the time of each class of rider. These same timesaving benefits accrue to airports through more efficient throughput, whether it is the landside or airside of the facility. Landside APMs reduce O&D parking demand and airport roadway congestion, and under certain configurations can enable the airport to process more transfer passengers between terminals.

“The benefits for the general public are in the form of reduced noise, reduced air pollution, and improved visual appearance, as well as other, more intangible factors. Public benefits such as reduced noise and air pollution, and intangible factors such as appearance, should be estimated. Airside APMs allow airports to operate with a significantly larger number of gates, thereby enhancing inter- and intra-terminal throughput capacities. In this case, an APM may be the only way an airport can achieve its desired growth (number of gates), and rather than a cost/benefit comparison, it becomes an affordability issue.”
There is no doubt in my mind that the future for the APM industry is a bright one. As we have seen in this short article, as passenger numbers continue to increase and airport installations grow in order to accommodate them, the APM is a very necessary addition, especially to larger hub airports, to ensure passengers get to where they need to be in good time. With proper planning and research beforehand you will no doubt see how such a system can help with the growth of your facility in the long-term, streamlining passenger flow and keeping people ‘on the move.’

To view the ACRP Report 37, please visit: www.trb.org

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