Your first flight from Dulles International was delayed because people invariably waited until the absolute last minute to board and your plane was thirteenth in line to depart. Then, when you stepped off the jetway in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport, you looked up at the screen to see which gate your connecting flight was leaving from…and that gate was on the other side of the airport.
We’ve all been there. And it’s only in that moment – when we’re trying to weave through the slowest moving people on Earth with wheelie luggage to catch a flight – that we truly respect and appreciate just how large most international airports are. They’re massive, spread out facilities with multiple terminals, an endless number of gates and multiple runways.
How large are we talking about? Take the aforementioned Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport as an example.
That airport is the largest and busiest in the U.S. It serves as the primary hub for Delta Air Lines, and is a focus city for Frontier Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and Spirit Airlines. Combined, there are 192 gates across the airport’s seven concourses and two terminals, and the entire facility encompasses 4,700 acres of land (that’s bigger than 6,000 football fields). All told, that was enough land and facilities to service more than 850,000 aircraft and 100 million passengers in 2018.
And, if you think getting from your international arrival at Gate E37 in Concourse E to your connecting domestic flight at Gate A1 in Concourse A in time is tough, imagine what it must be like to be a member of the crew that maintains the facilities and equipment spread across those almost 5,000 acres. Suddenly, racing to that connecting flight doesn’t seem so bad!
Airports are precision machines that rely on interconnected systems and processes to get people where they need to go. When one stage of that process or an important system needed along the way breaks, it has the potential to create a waterfall effect that can create travel delays, missed flights and – ultimately – angry travelers.
For example, if the utilities falter in the security area where passengers are putting their belongings into plastic bins and removing their shoes in the name of in-flight safety, that security checkpoint might need to be shut down. Shutting down or restricting the amount of people moving through one checkpoint could create longer lines at another check point. Now, people that were running to catch a flight are going to be late.
What about when a jetway breaks? Now, either a new one needs to be brought in, or planes need to be diverted to different gates, forcing other planes to wait and delaying arrivals and departures. Ultimately, one mechanical or equipment failure can domino, creating problems across the entire airport and result in some major inconveniences.
That’s a problem, because maintenance crews don’t know there’s a problem until something legitimately breaks. Then, they have to travel from their maintenance facility to the problem, which could be acres away, to identify the source of the malfunction. Should that problem require parts or specialized skills to repair, those parts and personnel then have to be acquired and brought to the site of the equipment failure. And, while all of this time is passing, travelers are sitting there, waiting, stewing and angrily texting complaints to the airport and airlines.
So, how can we fix this mess?
Proactive service, smarter response
If equipment failures are the source of so many problems in airports, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could keep equipment from failing altogether? That may seem like a pipedream, but it’s not impossible.
By cloud-enabling many of the commercial and industrial devices that keep an airport running, the maintenance teams at airports can monitor all of their devices and systems remotely from a single pane of glass. From there, they can analyze operational data to identify warning signs of when a piece of equipment or device may be about to fail.
In fact, with some Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) software applications, they could even set alerts and other push notifications so that devices tell them when there’s something wrong and when they’re about to malfunction. From there, it’s just a matter of proactively rolling maintenance crews to service the devices and keep them running.
But even proactive service and maintenance can’t keep every device from suddenly malfunctioning or dying. Downtime is unfortunately an inevitability. Well, cloud-enabling devices could help there, as well.
We talked at length about how big an airport is. Aside from the sheer number of systems and devices that are jam-packed into an airport the size of Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, that physical size means that running back-and-forth from the site of a problem to the maintenance facility to get parts or additional help increases the amount of time needed to fix a problem.
If devices are cloud-enabled, airport maintenance staff can identify the problem before they leave their facility to address it. This means they can roll out the right maintenance people with the skills needed to do the job the first time. They can also ensure that they send those people out with the right replacement parts and tools needed to make the repairs. This can dramatically reduce the number of trips that maintenance personnel need to make, and help to get malfunctioning devices back online faster – especially since each trip requires them traveling the length of multiple football fields.
But what happens when the repair or job is too big for the maintenance staff of the airport? That’s when the manufacturer can get involved. Luckily, they probably already know something is wrong.
Enabling manufacturers to monitor installed devices
If equipment manufacturers are building and selling cloud-enabled devices, which many are starting to do, then they have all of the tools needed to monitor those devices remotely. In fact, they could even manage those devices remotely.
In an airport the size of Atlanta’s, it would be extremely useful to have the equipment manufacturer playing a role in equipment maintenance, management and service to help alleviate some of the burden and responsibility on maintenance crews. Also, nobody knows a piece of equipment or device as well as the manufacturer.
With service contracts in place, device manufacturers could access the operational data of their installed, cloud-enabled devices in airports. From there, they could change settings to help them operate more efficiently, monitor them for warning signs and red flags, and even roll a technician to proactively fix problems as they arise.
Airports are the source of much frustration for travelers, but there are ways they could alleviate the travel inconveniences that anger many of the people that pass through their doors. By eliminating equipment and device malfunctions, airports could effectively stop the snowballing delays that they create.
Utilizing cloud-enabled equipment, analyzing device operational data to proactively identify malfunctions before they happen and opening the door to manufacturers that can remotely monitor and manage their devices for them could help ensure that airports are running smoothly and everyone is taking off on time.