Portland’s new MUFIDS serves many masters. Carroll McCormick reports.
Replacing the 15-year old Flight Information Display System (FIDS) at the Portland International Airport has involved much more than a new look and new capabilities, such as digital paging. It has also required a high level of integration with, for example, legacy and third-party equipment, systems available only at Portland and custom software.
The airport chose Miamisburg, Ohio-based Com-Net Software to provide what it terms an ‘integrated passenger communication system’, or Multiple-Use FIDS (MUFIDS). Portland has been working actively on installing the US$1.3 million replacement project since September 2009. The MUFIDS was scheduled to go live in February, 2010, followed closely with the beginning of the implementation of an audio-visual paging solution.
“We are the only vendor to look at an open-architecture solution that can accommodate lots of vendors’ software systems,” says Amber Leraas, marketing manager, Com-Net Software. “The Portland system is unique. They have a very savvy IT staff. We did a lot of custom work and custom integration. It is a highly-integrated system with numerous touch points with third-party systems.”
For example, the TriMet MAX light rail system was integrated into the old FIDS and its scheduled displayed in the baggage claim area. It is now integrated into the MUFIDS. The MUFIDS has also been linked with airline data interfaces, the airport website, the interactive voice response system, visual paging and the bag makeup area displays.
The MUFIDS will have new flight information capabilities, such as the ability to display code-share partners. This will let passengers immediately see the connection between the carrier names on tickets and the carriers on which they will fly. “Before, we had no ability to accept that information and link them,” explains Linda Dyson, senior manager, information technology operations, Port of Portland/Portland International Airport. “We did just about everything we could do with the FIDS, such as add a variety of interfaces and applications to leverage flight information data. But the architecture was old and we had pretty much reached the capacity that was possible.
“We appreciate how Com-Net has worked with our technical staff to leverage the information in many ways to serve our customers. We also appreciate their efforts to embrace airport/airline industry data integration standards,” Dyson adds.
The airport has one main terminal and five concourses. The old FIDS displayed flight information inconsistently: All airlines’ flight information was available in some locations, but in other areas, only some airlines’ flight information was available. This has all changed with the MUFIDS. “All the airlines’ flight information is being displayed on the monitors in all locations. We wanted a consistent structure and consistent information throughout the airport,” Dyson says.
The MUFIDS system includes new 40-inch (101.6cm) flat screen liquid crystal display monitors, with a standardised size and presentation across the airport. In all, there will be about 270 of these monitors clustered at about 18 locations around the airport. Each typically has an array of 15 monitors mounted in a stainless steel frame. There will be six departure and six arrival monitors, a visual paging monitor and two monitors dedicated to terminal maps. In some of the locations the arrival and departure monitors have been mounted back-to-back in the frames to allow passengers to obtain departure and arrival information from either side. In other locations all of the monitors are mounted against a wall.
There will also be on-demand visual paging on the dedicated visual paging monitor, integrated with audio. “When a visual message is being displayed on the screen, the audio equivalent will also be heard,” explains Leraas. Some audio messages will be generated automatically by the text, and some will be read by staff.
The terminal map on display at each array will be the same in all locations, but the second map will show detain specific to the concourse or area in which the MUFIDS array is located. The screens will also carry standard security messages.
There are also new baggage claim monitors and gate screens. New monitors have also been installed in the two primary ‘meeter and greeter’ waiting areas, with international arrivals displayed in the international ‘meeter and greeter’ area. This will be an improvement on the old system, where one of the areas had monitors that were not well located and the other area had no monitors at all. Monitors have also been installed in the food court so passengers do not have to abandon their tables (and concessionaires lose their customers) just to go check the status of their flights.
There will be unique signage in the international arrival processing area, such as information in foreign languages.
A research team at Portland that conducts regular passenger surveys obtained information that was used to help select the larger monitor size, the size of the lettering and also let the airport conclude that it should deploy the MUFIDS with more monitors.
Most of the monitors will be at eye level and above. They will be double stacked. The top of the top screen will be about nine feet off the floor. “We took a paper mock up around the terminal one time and passengers gave us unsolicited comments about how the monitors should be placed,” Dyson says.
Portland has purchased several modules for the MUFIDS from Com-Net. They include ECLIPSX-Monitor, which monitors the system’s hardware and application software; and ECLIPSX-Design, which allows easy screen design, in much the same way website design tools replace writing code to create pages.
“This gives us the ability to design what the screen will look like; for example, the placement of text and video. Unlike the old FIDS the MUFIDS will let us design pages without writing code,” Dyson explains.
The MUFIDS also gives the airport the ability to present advertising or internal promotions, although that possible use of the system is still in the future. “So far, we have had very preliminary discussions with our advertising agency,” Dyson notes.
Once the Com-Net system is completely installed, many of the gates will have paging stations, with as many as 60 to be installed altogether. Gate agents will be able to use the nine-inch (23cm) touch screens to update the time that a boarding will begin, show gate changes and display other information. Gate agents will be able to manipulate flight data and perform tasks such as starting automated boarding procedures or choosing from a variety of message options.
There are no immediate plans to put any MUFIDS monitors in the cell phone waiting area, nearby hotels or parking garages, but some local hotels pick up flight information off the Portland ftp site, Dyson says. “We provide the data and they display the information on their own screens.”