Airports of the Future: Australia

Facilities participating in the Australian Airports of the Future project include Brisbane (seen here), Cairns, Canberra, Hobart, Kingaroy, Northern Territory Airports, Mackay, Melbourne, Perth, Queensland Airports, Rockhampton, Sunshine Coast and international hub Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. (Image-BNE)

Emma Kelly explains how Australia’s airports are being developed to meet tomorrow’s requirements.

Facilities participating in the Australian Airports of the Future project include Brisbane (seen here), Cairns, Canberra, Hobart, Kingaroy, Northern Territory Airports, Mackay, Melbourne, Perth, Queensland Airports, Rockhampton, Sunshine Coast and international hub Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. (Image-BNE)

An airport today is a complex environment, but a major Australian research project launched at the beginning of the year is aiming to reduce this complexity.  The Airports of the Future project, led by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), is studying the passenger facilitation chain with the aim of reducing security costs; improving the throughput of passengers, passenger experience and the use of airport spaces; and reducing operational costs at complex and busy airports.
The project recently received funding to the tune of A$2.4 million (US$2.2m) from the Australian Research Council (ARC) as part of its Linkage projects scheme which supports national and international collaboration and encourages research of national importance.  The project also has a further A$1.9 million (US$1.7m) committed from industry partners.
The university team − from the faculties of Built Environment and Engineering, Science, IT, Science, law and Business − is leading a group of airports, airlines, service providers, government agencies and research institutions in a four-year effort with the aim of enhancing the capabilities of airport operators to design and manage complex airport systems.  Airport participants include Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Hobart, Kingaroy, Northern Territory Airports, Mackay, Melbourne, Perth, Queensland Airports, Rockhampton, Sunshine Coast and international hub Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.  Airlines Emirates and Qantas are involved as well as security service provider ISS Security, which provides security services at a number of Australian airports including Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth.  Agencies involved include the Australian Airports Association; Airport Corporation Australia; the Australian Crime Commission; the Australian Federal Police; Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service; Australian Customs Service; Department of Immigration and Citizenship; Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government; and the Tourism and Transport Forum.  As well as QUT, educational and research institutes participating include the University of Melbourne, Edith Cowan University, the University of Technology Sydney, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States and the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.
Collaborative research agreements were executed during December 2009 and work on the project started in January, according to Dr Clinton Fookes of the QUT’s Faculty of Built Environment and Engineering.
Such a complex system as a modern airport has diverse and sometimes potentially conflicting aims, in the areas of security, operational costs/efficiency and positive customer experience, says Fookes.  To complicate matters further, an airport is a unique system in the sense that no single stakeholder has ownership of the entire end-to-end process, for instance the passenger facilitation chain.  “As a result of this, there are often strong interdependencies between the different stages of facilitation that are not easily managed, understood or catered for,” says Fookes.  QUT believes that no single research discipline has the tools or the capability to address some of the challenging problems involved, he adds.  “Rather, we need to draw on the expertise of a whole range of disciplines through a multi-disciplinary team embedded within a complex system approach.  Addressing multiple facets allows fulfilment of the diverse aims with a more integrated and holistic approach.  A gap is certainly present in this domain of the aviation industry regarding such a collaborative attempt at problem solving in the space of airport operations,” he adds.
The Airports of the Future project is primarily focused on the passenger facilitation chain − for outbound, inbound, domestic and international travel − and aspects that impact upon this process. (Australian Customs)

The official launch of the project follows a pilot project which was conducted from October 2008 to October 2009.  The pilot involved studying the outwards international processing of passengers at Brisbane Airport’s international terminal − the country’s third busiest airport and one that is growing rapidly − from the perspectives of business process management, business continuity planning, human and systems interaction, and intelligence surveillance, says Fookes.  “The outcomes were potential points of improvement for the facilitation process and we identified focus areas for further study, as well as some deliverables in the form of process models, technology prototypes, issues register and recommendations reports,” says Fookes.
As a result of the successful pilot project ARC funding was sought for a four-year project.  Following consultations within the industry, seven work packages have been generated − complex systems, business process modelling, business continuity, human systems, intelligent surveillance, identity management and airport information model.  “We have a clear definition of the main milestones and deliverables in each of the seven work packages,” says Fookes.
The Airports of the Future project will enhance the capabilities of airport operators to design and manage complex airport systems, according to QUT.  Research outcomes will enable the identification of patterns of behaviour and will provide tools to manage airport effectiveness and balance conflicting security, economic and passenger-driven pressures.
The project is focusing on a number of aspects of airport operations, says Fookes.  “It is primarily focused on the passenger facilitation chain − for outbound, inbound, domestic and international travel − and aspects that impact upon this process,” he explains.  “As such, the project will focus on aspects such as efficiency and the customer experience in processing of passengers.  In particular, we are interested in the interdependencies between the various stages of passenger facilitation and the inter-relationship between the goals of various stakeholders, for instance efficiency, security and customer orientation.  Current events also demonstrate the requirement for a highly adaptive passenger flow and the demand for a shared global body of best practices,” Fookes adds.
One of the aims of the project is to come up with solutions to reduce the cost of mandated security at airports − an area that is estimated to grow to A$152 million (US$138m) this year for the five major Australian airports.  “Airports are complex environments and the security experiences faced by air travellers have changed a lot in recent years,” says project direct Professor Prasad Yarlagadda.  “Airports of the Future is investigating this changing, complex environment and identifying ways to balance conflicting security, economic and passenger-driven pressures,” he adds.
Fookes says it is hard to forecast by how much the cost of security could be lessened.  “However, it is our intention to improve the throughput of passengers and reduce time spent per passenger while improving the accuracy and effectiveness of security.  Exact cost savings would depend on airport-specific circumstances.  Cost-reduction potential is seen in optimising the allocation of different staff, resources, passenger-centric processes and the better use of technology to the various roles and stages along the passenger flow,” says Fookes.
Other aims of the project include improving the passenger experience, a better utilization of airport spaces, making the passenger flow more secure and overall reducing airport operational costs.  He adds: “We also aim to develop an integrated decision support tool to support the management of complexities of airport operations and to contribute to the development of a shared body of global knowledge on airport best practices.”
As well as being one of the largest industry studies ever undertaken by QUT, the project is believed to be the first project of such a scale that takes a multi-disciplinary complex systems approach in addressing contemporary issues in the design and management of passenger flows, according to Fookes.  “It’s a unique project both nationally and internationally,” he adds.
QUT is also keen to attract other project participants.  “There is always the opportunity for other interested partners from industry and academia to join the project at any stage,” according to Fookes.  For example the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is expected to be a participant in the future.  IATA has a dedicated passenger experience department with which QUT is in close contact with.  “Right now we are finalizing the details of our co-operation with IATA.  Both sides see significant potential in providing further evidence for the quality of IATA’s so-called recommended practices,” says Fookes.
Although the pilot project focused on an Australian airport, the larger-scale four-year programme will include airports worldwide and the findings are expected to be applicable globally, says Fookes.  “This is where potential collaboration with IATA and the already involved academic partners in the USA and the Netherlands play an important role,” he adds.
The research also has implications beyond airports, according to Yarlagadda, offering the potential to be applied to a range of critical infrastructure and transportation hubs by improving the systems that move people around.