Birmingham Airport has experienced an impressive run of success in recent times. It has picked up industry awards for most punctual airport in 2016 and 2017* and received a 5 Star rating from digital flight information provider, OAG, to name just three.
We caught up with Wayne Smith, Director of IT and Information Security, for his thoughts on improving airport efficiencies, digital transformation and the ‘b’ word – Brexit.
Since the implementation of the Airport 20/20 Airport Operation System (AOS), how has efficiency been improved?
Wayne: With the new AOS. we have seen efficiency benefits across operations from improved allocation of our resource to automated data connectivity. However a great, and perhaps less obvious example, of speed and efficiency gains realised is in billing. Our previous system involved billing on a fortnightly basis which created a delay in getting revenue into the organisation. Airport 20/20 has enabled Birmingham Airport to reduce its billing cycle delay by empowering those who own the operational data to correct it prior to it being processed by our finance department. The new, more logical process allows for errors to be corrected at data input source. As a result, we have seen a marked difference in the speed of the billing process within the business.
Finance now has much less billing work to do and a by-product has been a much closer working relationship between operations and the business functions of Finance and IT.
Cloud-based solutions, mobile and wearable friendly products and robotics are becoming less futuristic and more ‘now’. What is in the technology roadmap for Birmingham Airport?
Wayne: Whilst I dislike the marketing term “cloud”, the option of using a model like Software as a Service (SaaS) which is a form of cloud technology, is attractive. The downside is that the prospect of losing connectivity would potentially be a big problem. Security and assurance is of fundamental importance to an airport.
As the Internet of Things becomes more and more prominent for consumers and businesses, we can see the need to increasingly connect and to incorporate any device into our resource management processes. These devices include any item of equipment that could be used in the airport operation, for example, a set of steps, an aircraft tug, a bus or even a marshaller.
A recent OAG study on airport punctuality showed that Gatwick and Heathrow received a one star rating. In the same survey, Birmingham received a 5 star and score of 90.7 – how do you think Airport 20/20 technology helped achieve this rating?
Wayne: Good airport punctuality relies on better management of the limited resources that we have. Being a mid-sized airport means we have to manage our resources closely to ensure efficient use, which the Airport 20/20 system helps us do. Additionally the project highlighted new sources of data that gave us much more accurate and timely aircraft times. This is then shared with key stakeholders by using the Airport 20/20 AODB system as the key source of data – or the single version of the truth.
The use of Flight Update Messages (FUM), a system which provides a destination airport with an estimated time of landing of an aircraft, has been an real advantage for Birmingham Airport. It has proved to be an accurate source of information which other systems have fed from and has allowed for other resources to be used correctly.
What do you think the future is for airports when Article 50 of Brexit takes its full effect? What will the implications be for airports?
Wayne: The only certain event of Article 50 is uncertainty itself. By nature, airport IT Departments deal with uncertainty on a day-to-day basis. So whatever events take place as a result of Brexit, I’m certain that airports will have in place the necessary resources to rise to any challenges, and take advantages of any opportunities that may arise as a result.
*Post updated in January 2018