Advanced Telematics on Track for Continued Ground Handling Improvements

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According to the global market research firm, Technavio, the global airport handling services market is projected to post a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of approximately 5% from 2018 through 2022. Consider that projection in conjunction with the projected CAGR of the global commercial telematics market of 20.3% to reach $69.3 billion by 2022. While the global commercial telematics market takes into account all industries sector and not just airport handling, it is still clear that the application of telematics is growing. To illustrate the point, Berg Insight estimated that the global installed base of active airport tracking systems was less than 0.2 million units in 2017, but  the installed base is estimated to reach 0.3 million units worldwide by 2022. With the number of air travelers expected to grow at a CAGR of 4.5% during the 2018 to 2022 period, and the continued new solutions being introduced specifically for airport ground handling, it is clear that telematics is on track for increased application and  process improvements for ground handlers. These improvements can be seen across many operations, from asset management and worker safety to equipment maintenance, regulatory compliance, cost reductions and environmental conservation. For a technology that had its roots in another industry, it’s interesting to see how many of its advancements are now happening in the aviation industry. Understanding how the technology has evolved, how ground handlers are now benefiting from it and where telematics is heading is valuable for airport managers and ground handlers.

Evolution of Telematics

For a quick history lesson in telematics – the merging of telecommunications and informatics – we learn it began in the 1960s with the U.S. Department of Defense’s development of a GPS system to track its various assets’ position and also improve battlefield communications. Momentum began building behind this technology when the then competing super powers of the U.S. and Russia began ramping up their technology-driven military tactics prompting more technology R&D and innovation. Subsequently, telematics evolved with key developments occurring from the 1960s through the late 2000s. Here are some of those major developments:

1960s – Advanced Research Projects Agency Network was invented. It was the first network to use Internet Protocol suite.

1968 – Machine to Machine (M2M) technology (i.e., technology that enables networked devices to exchange information and perform actions without the manual assistance of humans) was invented by a Greek scientist, Theodore G. Paraskevakos.

1978 – The term, telematics, was coined.

1988 – Research programs were launched to test vehicle telematics primarily to improve safety and reduce environmental impact.

1993 – GPS technologies were introduced to the consumer market when the U.S. government gave full GPS access to civilians.

Early 2000s – Wide use of telematics technologies can be seen in web-based fleet management systems with real-time information updates to remote networks.

Mid 2000s – Consumer vehicles now widely feature GPS navigation systems.

Late 2000s – Cloud and M2M technology advancements pave the way for faster, more precise GPS data and real-time reporting.

Relevant to airport ground handling operations, it was in the early 2000s, when Qualcomm became one of the first companies to introduce telematics technology for heavy equipment management. This was subsequently followed in the mid 2000s with the introduction of geofencing which paved the way for telematics’ broader application in airport ground handling operations. Since that time, there have been other significant developments in the technology’s evolution. Notably, there was additional innovation in the Internet of Things (IoT) as well as M2M based telematics data management which fostered even broader application of the technology in areas that encompassed broader resource management, worker safety, productivity and compliance improvements. On the horizon today in telematics technologies are more advanced examples of IoT solutions, sophisticated sensor and localization-based technologies, and broader visible access to data collected by these technologies on smartphones, tablets and desktops. Now, in 2019, it is apparent that airport ground handlers are deriving significant benefits from today’s sophisticated telematics solutions.

Ground Handlers Deriving Enhanced Benefits

Given the regulatory, environmental and competitive market conditions under which today’s airport ground handlers must operate, it is understandable why they would gravitate toward telematics technologies that give them a better way to manage their day-to-day operations, while also optimizing their resources. The most astute telematics solution providers recognize this and offer improved process optimization potential using their solutions’ telemetry data. By applying this data, a significant reduction in the size of ground handling/ground service equipment fleets can be achieved which, in turn, saves direct costs, while also reducing various resource requirements and CO2 emissions.  The technology can be used to track a wide range of ground support equipment, from belt loaders, container loaders, ground power units and baggage trackers to portable water trucks, deicing vehicles and catering vehicles.

Using the telemetry data, refueling and recharging data can be calculated precisely which enables the effective use of dispatching equipment. Asset management for fleet equipment and ground support equipment is achieved by promoting their more efficient use. Further, when contingencies arise, the technology can promptly calculate and suggest equipment alternatives thereby minimizing delays and facilitating adherence to Service Level Agreements (SLAs). The telematics provide advance notice of the SLA terms and documents services to demonstrate fulfillment. Regulatory compliance is also supported by telematics. The technology generates legally enforceable reports in support of airline audits, while also providing decision making support.

Another key area where telematics demonstrates its value in airport ground handling operations is that of worker safety. By providing automatic worker qualification checks and controlling access to equipment, workers are managed such that they are only performing tasks and on equipment for which they are qualified. The technology further ensures worker safety by monitoring worker behavior (e.g., driving speed) so that unsafe operations can be prevented.

Fleet and equipment maintenance also benefits from telematics’ facilitation of uniform fleet utilization and accurate adherence to preventive maintenance schedules by recording and evaluating operating hours/kilometers in real time.         

Fiscal Considerations

Since financial matters are paramount to all operations, telematics’ ability to deliver financial benefits is also important in ground handling. Telematics supports sound fiscal goals by giving ground handlers immediate access to accurate data on fleet usage and maintenance, and the ability to help operators utilize their assets and control related costs. Going forward, there are other ways in which the technology can potentially have financial ramifications. For example, since telematics can precisely determine the utilization and billing associated with different assets and make best user assignments, more effective pooling of assets can be achieved promoting lower operating costs. Additionally, by immediately providing reliable data as to when a piece of equipment or vehicle was on site and used (e.g., to remove snow from the tarmac), the data can be used to proactively manage potential complaints and/or to satisfy equipment utilization proof requests, both of which if mismanaged can lead to loss of business.

What’s Ahead in Telematics for Ground Handlers

Given how dynamic the field of telematics is right now, ground handlers can be optimistic of future beneficial developments from leading-edge solution providers.  While the field of telematics for motorized units/assets is fairly stable right now and well covered, there are developments occurring in the area of indoor and outdoor localization of assets. At INFORM, for instance, the company has placed several installations where the key factors for clearance/handling are no longer logged in by a driver, but instead are fully-based on telematics. The company has already established a standard for Catering and PushBack procedures; a procedure whereby an aircraft is pushed backwards away from an airport gate by external power, typically low-profile vehicles called pushback tractors. In addition, INFORM is currently developing solutions for non-motorized units and load detection for dollies. Its solution-driven processes will help to determine a connection between a unit load device (ULD) and a dolly; that is whether a dolly is loaded or not. The solution has already proven itself at an airport and the telematics unit operated reliably. The next challenge will be to apply telematics in order to identify which ULD should be on the dolly (i.e., matching specific containers to specific dollies). Further, the company’s telematics R&D is focused on advancing support of autonomously operating equipment. 

INFORM is currently providing a fleet management solution for FRAPORT which is focused on the availability of the fleet and its maintenance with its primary goal being to provide high quality ground handling in the shortest time. The company’s telematics solution is also being deployed by Qantas where the telematics directly supports its ground handling. In combination with INFORM’s resource management system, the solution optimizes Qantas’ utilization and scheduling of available equipment by collecting key data automatically.  

Other companies are also launching solutions to advance ground handling operations. In December 2018, Swissport International, the world’s largest airport ground service provider, announced its five-year agreement with Honeywell to deploy a solution that would connect the ramps it uses in airports by providing real-time data relating to ground-based equipment activity (e.g., aircraft loading/unloading, baggage handling, passenger and crew transportation). Also  in developments are solutions that collect telematic data (i.e., vehicle/equipment engine hours, operating modes, operator/worker ID, fuel levels, peak utilization periods, etc.) to support improved asset utilization and maintenance procedures.

The future of telematics is also poised to further leverage Big Data, Artificial Intelligences (AI) and IoT for tasks ranging from fleet tracking and better integration with other operating systems, to improved performance benchmarking and an enhanced environmental impact role.

Also look to the future, to see pure telematics solutions disappear as ground service equipment manufacturers increasingly install their own telematics hardware. Still, the software solution providers will continue to have a leadership role in telematics technologies, pushing the envelope to address new challenges and identify new ways to apply the technology in the airport environment.

Currently, IoT is helping to collect data and promote efficient fleet utilization. In the future, we expect to see higher efficiencies achieved only through the sharing of ground handling equipment between the various ground handlers at the airport. Equipment pooling will become a critical aspect of future airport operations and it will be further advanced by telematics. The use of autonomously driving vehicles is likely to increase and will depend on reliable, robust telematics. Because telematics generates more accurate data than derived from manual procedures, it gives AI algorithms many more ways to analyze data and draw the right conclusions. Using the example of a medium-sized vehicle fleet with 400 devices, telematics can accomplish 400 feedbacks with high quality from which an AI application can draw conclusions in a short time period, almost instantly and suggest measures to be taken in real-time. Without telematics, this proactive response would be very difficult. With IoT and AI, there are many more ways to address various circumstances before they occur.

The biggest challenge in the future development of IoT and telematics is in communications. To be more successful, the cost-effective transfer of an appropriate amount of data, even in areas where WLAN coverage is not sufficient, must be attainable. To date, new communications technologies such as LoRa WAN (LongRange Wide Area Network) and NB-IoT (NarrowBand IoT) are not fully established. Expectations regarding data quality are also a challenge stemming from the need to supplement positioning tools such as GPS with assistance systems. A continued objective will be to support the ground handling vehicles/ground support equipments’ energy-efficiency and optimized maintenance-free operations for at least a year.


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