Dublin Up

31 August 2008 (Last Updated August 31st, 2008 18:30)

Andy Murphy, IT manager at Dublin Airport, tells us about preparations for Dublin's upcoming second terminal. Due to open in 2010, it will help the airport's plans to improve the efficiency of its baggage handling processes.

Dublin Up

Dublin's new terminal 2 building, due to open in April 2010, is designed to handle 15 million passengers annually, allowing the airport to process a total of 35 million passengers a year. A robust new baggage management system will need to be in place to cope with such huge passenger capacity but, after its rapid growth in previous years, Dublin is well accustomed to the technological and logistical pressures created by expansion projects of this kind.

The airport's existing terminal, referred to by staff as '8 Bay', featured a baggage hall that relied on a manual system, with bags entering the carousels and handlers loading them on to the appropriate carts and then the aircraft. "A few key carriers at Dublin have done this for years and it has proven a highly efficient method for them, but the advent of the six-bay extension of the terminal 1 building brought a different dynamic," says Andy Murphy, head of IT at Dublin Airport. Murphy explains how the extension introduced an automated baggage system, using shoots where luggage tags are read via bar coding. This is the basis of the Fabricom system that Dublin uses today.

"Dublin Airport chose a Siemens baggage system for terminal 2."

While the Fabricom installation is an advanced and effective solution, it could not be easily integrated with the manual system in the original eight bays of the terminal. The terminal at the front of house looks like one continuous check-in hall, but there are in fact two baggage halls behind it, which limits the flexibility across check-in.

The DAA, along with its airlines and handling agents, has become adept at managing T1 effectively but it was clear a better model would be required for T2.

Following detailed consultation with the airlines and handling agents, Dublin Airport took a different approach in its planning for terminal 2, with integration and flexibility at the top of the agenda. "We want passengers to be able to check in at any desk for any flight," says Murphy. "We also wanted to make sure the system was simple but capable. We didn't want to overcomplicate and introduce unnecessary risk."

The airport chose a baggage system manufactured by Siemens, which Murphy describes as one of the top three providers in the field. "The system won't be at the cutting edge, where risks lie, but it will be at the leading edge. It will give us flexibility and robustness. Resilience is crucial to us," he adds.

All systems go

Terminal 1 houses several key systems involved in the running of the airport, including an airport operational database (AODB) – for which Dublin uses an IBM system – flight information systems provided by Intersystems, and an UltraCUSE check in solution. These core systems will need to run in both terminals.

The ramp at Dublin Airport is controlled by the Stand Allocation unit. Murphy points out the impracticality of having two systems controlling the same ramp. "Any new implementation needs to be able to drive both terminals, albeit with locally deployed client equipment such as FIDS displays and check-in stations for T2. These are, after all, the main systems running the airport."

"The baggage handling system at Dublin Airport represents a €40m investment."

The IT strategy for T2 was to ensure that these three critical airport systems were either fully upgraded or replaced two to three years before T2 opened. Failure analysis shows that technology in the early stages of use is more likely to experience operational problems, so putting a brand-new system critical to the operation in T2 would have been a risk. "If the systems we deploy turn out to have a life span of five years, they will be right in the sweet spot in the middle as the terminal opens. They will be reliable yet current when we go live."

Dublin Airport has also made use of common facilities, such as data centres. There are dual data centres on campus that are a year old, built primarily for T2, as well as campus area networks. Murphy plans to deploy an integration broker or enterprise service bus to connect disparate systems at T2. "We're doing all this fairly lightly, again with a view to minimising risk," he says. "We're putting the technology in but not yet using it to its full extent. We have a roll-out plan beyond T2 in which we move towards integration with a service oriented architecture (SOA) approach."

The new Siemens baggage system represents a €40m investment. A number of fail-safes are built in, including misallocation prevention, but Dublin Airport stopped short at introducing a reconciliation system. "Reconciliation tends to be more of a concern for the airlines," explains Murphy. "At some airports they will join forces to invest in a system as a group. In the UK the airport authority tends to be the spur because legislation makes it necessary. But we're not delivering this at T2 for the time being. The basic system is giving a greatly improved capability with baggage delivery."

Package approach

In order to meet a challenging build schedule, Dublin took a package approach to various aspects of the expansion project rather than using prime contractors to build the entire system. This allowed the airport more flexibility with the phasing of the packages and accelerated the process. The packages include steel, structure, fit-out and specialist systems, and MEP (mechanical, electrical and public health), which spans communications infrastructure and alarms.

Dublin is taking on a new management system for T2, using building systems integration (BSI) to enable a range of technologies, such as the building management system and the airport's power management systems, to communicate using OPC (OLE for process control) technology, which Murphy describes as being at the leading edge. "We could have gone for a higher-level communications protocol but there are a limited number of providers at that stage, so it would have entailed introducing a certain risk."

"Dublin took a package approach to its expansion project rather than relying on prime contractors to build the entire system."

Dublin enforces strict security policies, which are continually reviewed. In the next 12 months Murphy plans to bolster security further with three-layer architecture, more use of virtual local area networks and effective use of firewalls. For business continuity purposes, at terminal 1 the airport has traditionally employed several networks to handle check-in. "Self-service in T1 comes through the airline," explains Murphy.

"We have a common-use check-in system that takes in communications feeds from the departure control systems (DCS) via two resilient routes coming in from the two data centres we have. That delivers reliable services down to the floor. However if there is a problem, the kiosks operate over separate networks, so the self-service kiosk will continue running."

This has proven such an effective measure that some big airlines have requested separate network connections for self-service.

"Strategy is crucial when you are running an IT project on this scale," Murphy concludes. "You need a clear business strategy first. IT strategy suffers when this is lacking. In the case of Dublin Airport we've been fortunate in that we had a clear message from above, from the outset."