Brussels

A-CDM at Brussels Airport: Roadmap to Implementation

  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.

First Initiatives

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)

Set-back

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.

Share What You Care For

 

Airport CDM

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).

A-CDM

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.

A-CDM Concept Elements: Getting Linked In With ATC

Airport CDM

This is part 3 of a 6-part series on European Airport Collaborative Decision Making, in which we explore 2 out of 6 concept elements that constitute the implementation of an A-CDM project. In part 2, we looked at the data sharing efforts to be undertaken, the ‘milestone approach’ and the collaborative pre-departure sequence.

In this episode, we’ll continue exploring the European collaborative decision making implementation details, leading to A-CDM implementation. Last time, we ended with the variable taxi time element as one of the elements that constitute the collaborative pre-departure sequence. Next in line is perhaps the most challenging step of them all… 

Adverse Conditions Management

Airport Collaborative Decision Making Photo: AP / Virginia Mayo

Although ‘adverse conditions’ cover all possible events that may put a strain on regular airport operations, be it a baggage belt breakdown, a raging thunderstorm overhead or an industrial action, focus tends to be on managing the aircraft, stand, taxi- and runway de-icing or de-snowing process. Frankly, heavy winter conditions rapidly turn Western and Southern European airports in chaotic resorts, and the least we want to do is to insert some organisation in that chaos.

Recently, Eurocontrol published the de-icing milestones -I’ll spare you the set of acronyms that came with it- which allow an airport and its de-icing agents to keep track of the progress of the operations, to try to put some predictability in the whole set-up. Set-ups which vary to a very large extent between airports, ranging from centralized, airport-steered de-icing pads close to the runway holding points (ideal!) to combinations of spread on-stand/remote de-icing by 2 or more independently operating de-icing agents (auch!).

In either way, it’s up to the airport to get its act together during adverse circumstances and  be persistent in running its operations in a collaborative way with its stakeholders and keeping the community in the loop. You would be surprised how quick people forget they’re working on an A-CDM airport when the going gets tough…

Almost There: E-DPI, T-DPI-t, T-DPI-s, A-DPI, C-DPI…

Remember the target off-blocks time (TOBT)/target start-up approval time (TSAT) concept, which enables the airport to collaboratively build an aircraft start-up order through data shared by its stakeholders; the time has come to kick functionality in to life that uploads this data into Eurocontrol’s Enhanced Tactical Flow Management System (ETFMS, here we go again…). We do this via a set of structured messages called DPI’s: departure planning information messages. Depending on the course of events during a flight’s turn-around at the airport and/or the time left to departure, a different kind of DPI is transmitted by local Air Traffic Control at the airport. Data elements in the DPI’s vary slightly from type to type, but it is the aim to provide a quality Target Take-Off Time (TTOT), which is getting more correct when the actual departure time approaches.

A-CDM

Photo: FUM/DPI exchange (courtesy of Eurocontrol)

ETFMS likes our DPI’s, and gives us something in return: the flight update messages (FUM), providing a continuous flow of operational data on inbound flights, for intra-Europe flights even if the aircraft is still sitting on the ramp at the airport of origin.  Airport operators are particularly interested in the Estimated Landing Times (ELDT) out of those FUM’s, because they form the basis for a good first departure estimation.

Once DPI transmission is established, call yourself an A-CDM airport. You successfully managed to deploy an up-and-running data sharing platform and provided access for the whole airport community. You have a D-MAN in place to master your pre-departure sequence. You’ve built trust among your airport partners and they accept 3rd party data in order to fine tune their operations and the estimation of the core target times. You have transparent procedures in place to tackle predicted and unforeseen capacity drops, and you channel all of the above in DPI. Congratulations, and I’m not being sarcastic this time.

In the next episode, we’ll take a closer look at the road map of an actual implementation, and how Brussels Airport managed to roll out full A-CDM as Europe’s second.

This article is part 3 in a series of 6 on European Airport Collaborative Decision Making.

Additional Resources www.euro-cdm.org

photo credit: APilotsEye

Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM) Concept Elements: Setting Milestones

Airport Collaborative Decision Making

The Concept Elements of European Airport CDM

This is part 2 of a 6-part series on European Airport Collaborative Decision Making, in which we explore the first 4 out of 6 concept elements that constitute the implementation of an A-CDM project. Part 1 provided an introduction to the history and the scope of collaborative decision making initiatives on the Old Continent.

In this episode, we’ll take a closer look at the project implementation steps every European airport that takes itself and Collaborative Decision Making seriously, implements according to the Eurocontrol A-CDM Implementation Manual , before being declared as an A-CDM airport. I’m deliberately using the word ‘declared’ here, as there is no real certification process involved; sharing airport data by means of departure planning information messages suffices for Eurocontrol to have your airport designator code added to the slowly expanding list of A-CDM practitioners.

Walk in the Park?

Now, one may be tempted to believe that this feat is easily achieved within a couple of months. And indeed, technically speaking, setting up the DPI communications link after agreeing on a data exchange protocol may well lie within this range,  but for your data to be of added value for the Network Manager and his Enhanced Tactical Flow Management System , one better comes to terms with the defined 6 concept elements…

Airport CDM

First Things First: MoU

But before getting started, better to have all noses pointing in the same direction: you start off by signing a Memorandum of Understanding in which every contributing stakeholder commits himself to not only talk the talk, but above all to walk the walk with regards to development and training efforts, costs and agreed timelines. Some prefer to sign this document in the close confines of the boardroom, but others, like Stockholm Arlanda airport, where a Brussels Airport delegation was invited for a brief ‘lessons learnt’ showcase, arrange a charming little ceremony for the airport community to spread the word of exciting times ahead.

Information Sharing: ACISP

I’ve done a lot of reading on A-CDM on the internet the past couple of years, and my impression is that many out there believe that the installment of an A-CDM Communication & Information System Platform (ACISP) is the last step on the way to collaborative decision making.  I have to disappoint those who think it’s the last step; it’s the first, rather. Moreover, the investment aspect not taking into consideration, it may have proven to be the easiest hurdle on the way to implementation for many airports when looking back.

Several options for the airport here: you build extra functionality into legacy systems that already managed to exchange operational data, or plug in a tool or protocol to have legacy systems “talk” to each other, or buy one of the solutions offered by the industry. And believe me, there are MANY providers out there eagerly looking out for opportunities to show off impressive software solutions that will cater to your needs.

So, after perhaps a long and tiresome selection round, you, or rather your software provider, will announce to the world that System X or Suite Y has been successfully deployed at your airport. Wonderful. One more detail, though: let’s now put every stakeholder in charge to fill this data base, and let them share their data with the airport community so that it can be duly interpreted for operational purposes at the airport, and beyond.

I hope you forgive my sarcasm here…

The Milestone Approach + VTT = Collaborative Pre-Departure Sequence

The aim of A-CDM: Raise common situational awareness in order to enhance predictability in airport operations. Keeping track of inbound flights and the progress of the turn-around process once docked at the gate. For that purpose, Eurocontrol prescribes the deployment of 16 milestones, covering a substantial part of a flight’s trajectory  (one of aviation’s latest buzz words) into an airport and back out of it. Time stamps are to be made available by the stakeholders who have confirmed to be the respective source of the data reporting over each milestone.

A-CDM

Key milestones are:

  • Target off-blocks time (known to you as TOBT, as from now on), which advises the airport community on the departure readiness of an aircraft. It can originate from various sources, depending on the stage of the turn-around process and can range from a calculated airport operator value based on estimated arrival and minimum turn-around time (MTT), or manually updated by the airline (AO) or the handling agent (GH) to reflect the operational situation.
  • Target start-up approval time (TSAT), ‘in reply’ to TOBT, which of course considers the TOBT, takes Air Traffic Flow & Capacity Management (ATFCM) restrictions into account and establishes the airport’s pre-departure sequence . TSAT management  is mostly an exclusivity of the Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP).

If not already the case, by the end of this episode you’ve figured out that we Europeans are in love with acronyms…

This is the core of the A-CDM process. Well mastered, played by the book, strictly adhering to procedures, it’s a transparent and waterproof procedure that allows ATFCM to optimize air traffic capacity, by taking ground movements and turn-around constraints into account.

However, pre-departure sequencing requires another data element to be put in place beforehand: the variable taxi time (VTT). This time interval sort of bridges the ‘gap’ between whatever is happening at the aircraft stand and what is bound to happen in the air (and vice versa), and is produced by a tool called the D-MAN, to make sure that the throughput at the runway runs optimal. For that purpose, the D-MAN looks at fleet mix, instrument departure procedures, runway configuration, aircraft taxi patterns… Meaning: reduced taxi times up to and reduced queuing at the runway holding point. Also meaning: trying to keep an aircraft as long as possible at the gate, but I’ll come back later on this issue

VTT’s are also calculated for inbound taxi rolls in pretty much the same way, thus highly ameliorating the quality of the estimated in-blocks time.

Up to the fourth concept element, and in comes the tricky part… but all about this in the next episode. Do you have questions or comments? Leave them below.

This article is part 2 in a series of 6 on European Airport Collaborative Decision Making.

Additional Resources  European Airport CDM  Photo credit: Y. Ferriere

Airport Collaborative Decision Making in Europe

A Guide to Why Sharing Airport Data Makes Sense

Splendid Isolation

Imagine yourself sitting at the gate, waiting to embark your flight. You’re early, and you see the aircraft arriving at the stand. It barely came to halt when different rolling stock and teams aim for  the aircraft doors, almost in perfect unison.  Almost, because those different vehicles and teams often belong to different aircraft handling companies  and most of the time, airport players operate in ‘perfect isolation’, not necessarily taking the needs or restraints of the other into consideration.

Let’s zoom out a bit: turnaround activities of your flight have finished, but caught a delay earlier on due to a baggage conveyor of ground handler A with a flat tire, which blocked the catering truck of ground handler B. The departure time is restricted by Eurocontrol’s Network Manager due to air traffic congestion, but the aircraft won’t make the allocated ‘slot’.  The airline was advised of this delay by handler A, but cannot make a correct estimation of the problem and counts on local Air Traffic Control instances to still be able to clear the aircraft for pushback. Only, the tower controller doesn't know of any delay from handler A or B, and has no means to advise the Network Manager (formerly known as CFMU) that your aircraft will not be airborne as planned…

Enjoy this vintage strip from the World famous Belgian comic strip book series “Suske en Wiske” (translated in English nowadays as “Spike & Suzy); standard airport operations caught in one image…

“No member of a crew is praised for the rugged individuality of its rowing”  R.W. Emerson

Apart from frustrated handling teams, a stressed out airline which is faced with an unforeseen delay which it could not anticipate, and you, nail biting in your seat and wondering why it’s always taking so long at this bloody airport, your aircraft blocks air space capacity at the time it was expected to be airborne, and puts a strain on air traffic flow and capacity management.

By the turn of the century, air traffic growth predictions skyrocketed, and both air traffic service providers and airports saw themselves faced with future capacity issues. Add to this the fact that in the early 1990s, about one fifth of all airborne take-off slots in Europe went to waste, partly as a result of -involuntary- cases of ‘rugged individuality’ by airport stakeholders. Jokingly, air traffic control considered  airports to be black holes, in which aircraft disappeared after landing, without ever knowing when they would emerge again.

Time to start acting…

Square One

Already in the late 1990s, European decision makers started looking at an American decision making initiative called CDM, later renamed as Surface CDM, which was first rolled out at San Francisco International Airport in 1998.

The concept was mainly focused on en route capacity restrictions and bad weather situations, less on turn-around operations. Nevertheless, the concept of making collaborative decisions to enhance operational predictability was withheld in the ATM Strategy 2000+, in which future European air transport needs were outlined. It was then further elaborated by Eurocontrol and developed into what we now call A-CDM, or Airport Collaborative Decision Making.

'The Network Dimension'

We’ve come a long way, and meanwhile, A-CDM characteristics were written down in Community Specifications by European standardization bureau ETSI, as mandated by the European Commission. The content is based on 3 EUROCAE (European Organisation for Civil Aviation Equipment) documents, which list the minimum technical  specifications, interface specifications and validation guidelines to make your airport A-CDM. In turn, this documentation, together with a detailed description of the operational concept, refers to the content of the A-CDM Functional Requirements Document  and, last but not least, the Implementation Manual; the ‘Holy Bible’ which you’ll find on the bedside table of all of us into A-CDM  (well, most of us…).

Requirements, guidelines, specifications, manuals… this must be Europe! And indeed, the ‘network dimension’ makes us different from other airport collaboration initiatives across the globe. Not only do we exchange data between the local stakeholders  at our airports -which is already challenging; we are also invited to share our decisions with the Network Manager, and this can easily be called both ambitious as well as underestimated.

How does one become European-style A-CDM?

It takes quite a bit for that… Next time, I’ll guide you through the 6 steps of the operational concept, from getting the Memorandum of Understanding signed by all your data sharing partners, up to linking your airport to the Air Traffic Flow Management Network.

This article is part 1 in a series of 6 articles on European Airport Collaborative Decision Making

Additional Resources Eurocontrol Airport CDM