George Saounatsos, Manager of Operational Readiness & Airport Transfer (ORAT), discusses the successful opening of the new Larnaca International Airport.
On November 7, 2009, the new main gateway of Cyprus, Larnaca International Airport, was inaugurated in an elegant ceremony attended by 1,500 guests. Representing the beginning of a new era for all involved in the region’s air transportation business, the airport’s green-field facilities comprises a five-level 1,098,000 sq ft (102,000m2) state-of-the-art terminal with 22 gates, 16 boarding bridges, 72 check-in counters, a new taxiway system and apron with 26 aircraft stands, as well as a new fuel farm and cargo terminal.
Following the inaugural ceremony, and eleven days ahead of schedule, the new facility operated by Hermes Airports Ltd, opened its gates to the travelling public. The opening was a resounding success in terms of operational performance / efficiency (quantitatively) and in the perception of both public and staff (qualitatively).
The ORAT programme itself was established eleven months earlier with the assembly of a core team comprising seven experts in the fields of operations, training, transfer, information technology & telecommunications, technical systems and maintenance. An integral team of nine stakeholders was also formed and assigned the ‘ownership’ of certain domains for the follow-up and implementation of pre-defined action lists prior to the opening. This structure was supplemented by about 40 external ORAT representatives from all functional airport end-users. The programme and its implementation was based on four main pillars:
a) the airport opening and transfer strategy,
b) the training/familiarisation planning and monitoring,
c) the operational readiness review and evaluation,
d) the technical readiness assessment.
The opening strategy was based on a two-phase progressive activation (often referred to as a ‘soft opening’) with flights beginning on November 10. The nation’s flag-carrier Cyprus Airways and low-cost carrier easyJet were set to carry out the first services from the new airport.
The key objective was to give the ground staff involved in all major processes – and the wider airport community – the opportunity to build-up operations gradually while the traffic volumes were lower. During the first phase, the traffic through the new facilities was 34% of the total, leaving the remaining 66% working from the old airport. The second phase leading to the full opening was scheduled to be seven days later, on November 17.
The ‘soft opening’ strategy achieved considerable benefits, including the:
• Gradual and smooth adaptation of the airport community to the new environment under real operating conditions and the ability of the airport company’s staff to monitor and support effectively every major function of the key processes ensuring familiarisation of airport users
• Mitigation of risks due to the reduced traffic volume and minimization of operational impacts from possible technical or awareness matters
• more time and flexibility to fine-tune technical and operational issues until the airport fully opened in the second phase
• Smoother and logistically easier physical transfer between the old and the new facilities
The ‘media plan’ of announcements and advertisements launched a couple of weeks before the opening and the manipulation of public road signage proved to be very effective for the orientation of the travelling public in the interim period between the two opening phases. Additionally, a bus shuttle service ran between the two terminals for the first two weeks to address the needs of a few ‘code-sharing’ passengers as well as staff.
A significant challenge during the preparations was the training and familiarization of the whole airport community which unavoidably coincided with the busy summer schedule. All airport and end-users’ staff had to participate in a three-stage intensive technical training and familiarisation scheme while simultaneously operating the existing facilities under congested conditions.
As training was of the upmost importance for a successful opening, it was systematically monitored to identify any additional requirements or perhaps, the need for intervention in the process.
The evaluation of the operational readiness was realized through five tiers:
i) reviewing and developing standard operating and contingency procedures.
ii) planning and implementing operational and technical Integrated Validation Tests.
iii) preparing and executing operational trials.
iv) defining and carrying out airside/push-back trials.
v) organizing table-top exercises.
More than 100 newly developed or updated standard operating and contingency procedures were brought to a first draft stage before the trials commenced in mid September. Furthermore, a series of more than 110 operational, technical and IT Integrated Validation Tests (IVT) were performed prior to and during the test runs. The aim was to explore operational or technical parameters not considered or adequately examined in the commissioning period, as well as test interfaces and interactions between systems and validate system redundancy.
Some results confirmed the design parameters, and others revealed the need for remedial actions and changes. In addition, these tests helped to build confidence in system performance in a methodical manner by giving maintenance staff invaluable experience through running the system.
Essential to the readiness assessment were the operational trials that involved the entire airport community and people posing as passengers. The aim was to use up to 3,500 ‘passenger’ volunteers for the seven test-runs scheduled within a 45-day period. Each test was designed to last about two hours, starting with 200 participants and climaxing with 1,500. It was established that the progressive escalation of participants up to a figure resembling the intended hourly peak capacity helped to generate the necessary complexity, challenged the staff adequately and provided hands-on practice under near-real conditions. It also offered valuable insight into the robustness and sustained performance of various systems.
A total of 54 special scenarios and contingencies were examined, along with 36 standard functions. Through a formal Internal Resolution Process (IRP) all issues were recorded in a database, investigated where appropriate and followed up until they were resolved.
Moreover, a series of push-back trials with escalating levels of difficulty was implemented in order to help the air traffic controllers and ground handling staff with the newly developed procedures, communication and co-ordination. Elements of emergency planning were also tested on a reduced scale through table-top exercises in order to familiarise both the airport community and external responding agencies with the new areas defined in the emergency preparedness plan.
As with all ORAT projects, the opening of Larnaca International Airport was a demanding and intriguing logistical project which required three fundamental elements:
• the ability to capture and analyse all critical details, based on a broad and solid operational know-how, as well as the capacity to observe and assess subjects globally.
• thorough planning, organisation and methodical implementation, are necessary as the large number of organisations involved has added to the challenge and complexity of the project.
• the bonding of the entire airport community and the high-level commitment of every company or state authority involved.