Airports International: Stuttgart never sleeps

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The professional journal Airports International spoke to Michael Gassner, Director of Consulting Aviation, about how technology continues to enhance Stuttgart's operational performance.

A little over 9.7 million passengers flew from Stuttgart Airport (IATA: STR) last year, making it Germany’s sixth busiest airport. About 400 aircraft movements to more than 100 destinations are handled daily and some 20,000 tonnes of air freight is own from there each year. However, even mature operational set-ups like Stuttgart’s need constant monitoring if efficiency is to be maintained and improved.

INFORM’s GroundStar – its Airport Management software solution – went live in April 2006. It supports Stuttgart’s ground handling operations and includes an airport operations database (AODB), plus resource planning, administration and real-time allocation system tools, which went live in April 2006. GroundStar was originally implemented within the airport’s bus and apron/ramp ground services but, over the years, has expanded into many more operational areas. It creates and assigns tasks for the ground handling resources and monitors the daily operation as it develops. In order to ensure a continuous flow of information, mobile data terminals that communicated via wireless LAN (later replaced by universal mobile telecommunications [UMTS] connectivity) were placed in the buses. Apron staff are equipped with PDA handhelds for automated communication with job allocators and the overall system. GroundStar’s AODB serves as Stuttgart Airport’s central data source. The necessary base, flight, and some other airport data needed by the different systems operating at the airport, are all provided by the AODB. Its Message Broker takes care of the entire communication between the database and all of the external applications. Additional applications connected to the AODB include modules for docking and guidance systems, aircraft noise monitoring system, air traffic control system,  flight information display system (FIDS), invoicing, airport infrastructure systems, weather and radar systems, plus the intranet and internet. Another important aspect of the GroundStar implementation is the integrated allocation of terminal resources. The quality of terminal resource planning relies mainly upon interaction with other stationary resources. For example, the stands determine which terminal, baggage belt area and often which passenger gate will be used. The passenger gate then establishes which aircraft exits are available; which then governs whether a stairway or a jetty is used. With the help of GroundStar, Stuttgart Airport plans and manages the use of its terminal resources (including stands) concurrently, considering all the constraints triggered by the various linkages of the resource types. This means allocating 55 stands and positions plus 70 gates and exits, 119 check-in counters and 11 baggagebelts. The FIDS receives information from GroundStar so that the current gate information is displayed in realtime. Baggage belt displays are also fed with the necessary data from the management application.

The airport’s ground handling subsidiary, Airport Ground Services (AGS) has recently introduced INFORM’s GS RealTime PRM module. From a public relations point of view, passenger with reduced mobility (PRM) duties are a particularly sensitive part of every airport’s day-to-day operation, so the pressure to deliver a quality service – usually at a low-cost price – is exceptionally high. Obviously, the software is designed to enable AGS’s job allocators to facilitate maximum ef ciency, but while also providing greater transparency on the daily operation. Every day around 24 employees take care of up to 150 passengers who need special assistance. These might be unaccompanied minors, passengers with impaired sight, hearing or movement, or perhaps travellers without any kind of disability but who have ordered special assistance. Outbound passengers are accompanied from the check-in area to the departure gate and from there on to the aircraft. Arriving passengers are taken from the aircraft to the terminal by an appropriatelyequipped vehicle. Ground handling staff are grouped in the terminal and apron operational areas accordingly. In the past, two allocators were each responsible for assignment in one of the two areas. It was part of their work to join in and act as an agent; assisting passengers as and when needed. Now, technology has changed the situation. Michael Gassner, Director Consulting Aviation, told Airports International: “Before implementing INFORM GS RealTime in the PRM handling business unit the ground handling company had predominantly manual processes. “All its information was kept on paper and communications were made via radio or phone.” Asked if any perceivable savings had been achieved by using the GroundStar PRM system he concluded: “Before GroundStar’s introduction AGS had used two dispatchers per shift; one each for the apron and terminal operations. Introducing the GroundStar system enabled one centrally-located person to dispatch the entire operation while simultaneously increasing staff crossutilisation opportunities. However, Mr Gassner says he thinks the software’s key advantage is its complete real-time transparency which reveals exactly what is going on as and when it happens. The AGS agents are now equipped with handheld devices on which they get their tasks, including all relevant information such as the aircraft stand, gate, in fact everything, automatically, as and when the INFORM AODB is updated. It is now obvious which agent is working on which job and, via their hand-held devices, the ef ciency of the entire process can be tracked. In this way the agents tell the allocator when their particular task starts and ends and socalled time-stamps record pick-up times, etc, which are then stored in the AODB. “This data enables compliancy research and reporting, [almost immediately] thereby providing a continuous improvement process regarding evaluations, utilis ation and process times,” said Mr Gassner. He also notes the wider benefits of using the system; specifically mentioning the overall – and traceable – improvement in passenger services, stating: “[GroundStar] has given us better dispatching [capabilities], cutting our reaction times so that the agents can reach where they need to be quicker. “It also cuts the time required for billing out forms and, thereby, gives them more time to care about the passenger – better information for better service.” He described the interaction between the AODB, the handling agent and
the dispatcher as: “seamless,” adding: “The operational impact has been considerable. We are very satisfied with the new PRM application and we would like to continue enhancing it to meet our ever-increasing special assistance requirements.
“Using the GroundStar data on a long-term basis has certainly paid off, through improving decision-making and boosting efficiency.”


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