Airports aiming to enhance and improve airside operations unveiled their main digitisation priorities in an ADB SAFEGATE-Frost & Sullivan worldwide study.

As airside digitisation grows globally, a study titled Digital Transformation Of Airport Airside Operations, commissioned by ADB SAFEGATE and conducted by Frost & Sullivan, offers valuable insights on what areas and technologies airports are investing in.

The study reveals that capacity-constrained airports are investing in digitisation to optimise processes and support traffic growth, and measuring outcomes through key performance indicators like on-time performance and inbound/outbound traffic efficiency.

ADB SAFEGATE CEO Christian Onselaere said: “With big data technologies becoming more mature, artificial intelligence competencies rising, and the projected air traffic growth in the coming years, we have a unique opportunity to be a part of and shape the future of aviation.

“We’re the only airport solutions provider with expertise from the tower, over the airside to the gate, and now with our concerted focus on advanced analytics, we’re best placed to help airports create the fastest return and greatest impact from their digitisation programmes.”

Advanced analytics is a key domain for ADB SAFEGATE. The focus is on developing innovative solutions that will provide airports with the first complete suite of intelligent data management software, optimising operations from aircraft approach to departure. The company will collaborate with existing partners, airports, air navigation service providers (ANSP) and airlines, in addition to engaging with innovation departments to support airport digitisation.

The digital transformation study offers an interesting perspective across four areas of the airport: the tower and air traffic control (ATC), gate and apron management, operations control, and the airfield as well as summarising other trends.

Airport Tower and ATC

Digital air traffic control is the main focus of most programmes, with 25% of airports surveyed naming this as a priority. ATC digitisation seeks to enhance capacity and safety, improve situational awareness for pilots and ATC, and improve operational agility to manage unprecedented air traffic growth. Projects relating to digital ATC include process automation, optimising aircraft and vehicle surface movements, and drone management systems. All tier 2 and most tier 1 and 3 airports want to upgrade their departure management systems.

Gate and Apron

22% of the airports surveyed named gate and apron management as a priority, with a focus on gate management and safedock advanced visual docking guidance systems (A-VDGS). Seven out of ten airports in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), and nine out of ten Asia-Pacific (APAC) airports, are looking to upgrade their docking guidance systems to A-VDGS.  By fully automating docking, airports expect to improve situational awareness and enable seamless communications among stakeholders, capture data valuable to airport managers, and improve on-time performance and predictability of turnaround times.

Airport Operations Control

Software and systems that plan and control airside operations are equally important, with 22% of the airports naming them as a focus for new deployments. Projects focus on airport-collaborative decision making (A-CDM) management, forecasting, quality and safety management, and the airport operational database (AODB). Airports are gradually adopting total airport management, and the overall goal is collaboration among airside partners to improve airside situational awareness and operational efficiency.

Airport Airfield

Almost two thirds of tier 1 airports are planning to upgrade their airfield control and monitoring, as well as their aircraft and vehicle detection systems. An increasing number of tier 2 and tier 3 airports are considering automated foreign object debris detection (FODD). Airfield projects focus on improving operational visibility and infrastructure expansion rather than performance improvement. Energy efficiency is a primary focus, driving the demand for LED lights and smart systems that can regulate usage.

Other Trends

Among other notable trends, more than 80% of the airports surveyed expect the biggest impact on operations to be from technology implementations related to integrated airside data platforms and disruption management.

The study also identifies the following five areas as the major focus for digital transformation programs:

Collaborative platforms to reduce silo mentality among airside stakeholders and open exchange of real-time information.

Predictive operations, such as machine learning and big data to predict and manage bottlenecks.

Mobility and staff communication, including handhelds and smartphones with apps to manage airside processes.

Asset management, which entails the tracking and monitoring of equipment.

Airports also identified sensitisation, the use of data from sensors and the wider airport internet of things (IoT) network, as a focus area.