In the previous episode, we made acquaintance with the stakeholders that were involved in successfully deploying Airport Collaborative Decision Making at Brussels Airport. Let's now dive again into the 6 A-CDM concept elements and discover how a successful implementation can be approached. This is part 1 of 2.
We need to go way back into time...back to 2000, when A-CDM entered the scene here while the whole project was still pretty much in its conceptional phase. Of course, the fact that the airport is only a 10' drive away from the place where Airport Collaborative Decision making was conceived (Eurocontrol, that is), may have facilitated the decision for initial project set-up.
But it were the big network expansion plans of Belgium's national carrier Sabena that formed the trigger to tackle future airport infrastructure capacity restrictions by means of a daring new concept of sharing turn-around progress data among airport stakeholders and the Network Manager.
Back then, I worked in ground handler operations and I clearly remember a couple of legendary meetings where the target times concept was explained, and how those totally new elements would eventually have to be integrated in long-standing operational procedures. This was pioneering stuff. Never done before at any European airport and we were all excited, but still: the dreaded A-CDM culture change as opposed to the force of habit; even 15 years later still underestimated by many...
Busy afternoon at the B-concourse (source: Brussels Airport Company via Flickr)
In a proof-of-concept phase, target off-blocks times (TOBT) were generated out of commonly known estimated departure times, and shared 'subliminally' with our ANSP Belgocontrol, along with the data set which we had been sharing historically (I explain the data exchange environment later on). Already then, pre-departure sequence build simulations (TSAT) based on those TOBT's made for significant improvements in taxi-out time duration and runway troughput.
But in the aftermath of '9/11', and especially when Sabena went bankrupt and seized operations on November 7th 2001, we found ourselves working at an airport where capacity was all of a sudden no longer an issue. So why still plunging head-first into this wildly concept, of which nobody could prove until then that it actually worked?
Efforts, progress and project communication became ever more 'subliminal', and the lot balanced on the point of going into hibernation. Although airport capacity enhancement is but one of the reasons why you should implement A-CDM, it explains why it was only 7 years later, in may 2008, that the Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the Brussels Airport community. This time, we were back for good.
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The last page of the 2008 Brussels Airport MoU (courtesy of the BRU A-CDM team)
Honestly, that's about it when you come out of the boardroom after signing the MoU and you start making plans to cater for A-CDM's baseline: provide the correct data to the right people at the right time, in order for them make the right decisions. Luckily, we could take advantage of the fairly unique set-up of the airport's Central Data Base to host our ACISP (check here for A-CDM's most common abbreviations).
Operational data from the ground handlers, home carriers, the ANSP and the airport slot coordinator is streamed to a central platform, managed by the airport operator, using system-to-system data links. Works both ways, because partners can retrieve each others data via the platform and get a complete view on airport operations in their respective IT systems.
CDB, Our in-house developed airport operational data base (AODB) concept has been around for 25 years -now that's what we call a legacy system!- and is more than ever proving its relevance. While long-standing data exchange set-ups are being upgraded, new links with airport stakeholders have recently been established, and opportunities lie ahead for sharing airport data in airline operator mobile apps. Data with local ATC is exchanged in AIDX format, and has been closely looked at by experts in the field of System Wide Information Management (SWIM).
The Brussels Airport Central Data Base (courtesy of Brussels Airport Company IT Dept.)
This goes to show that we could skip on a tendering procedure to select new software for the data exchange, and 'immediately' start defining the A-CDM information elements to be developed in the existing architecture as per functional requirements, and display them in the up-and-running interfaces.
But even more important than the tech stuff was the fact that there was a data exchange culture, already present among the stakeholders. Of course, budgets needed to be secured to perform the necessary developments, but backed by the commitment to this point stated in the MoU, the 'usual data exchange suspects' quickly found themselves sitting around the table in one of the recurrent program meetings, and concluded on a development trajectory without much fuss.
'A-CDM is not about systems, it's about procedures'. It's a statement you come across on the internet all too often. I agree. So let's focus on project governance in part 2. On how the milestones were plotted in the turn-around process, how they show up in the common situational awareness tools for the airport community, and how the stakeholders eventually integrated them in their day-to-day operations.