The model solution…
Keith Mwanalushi speaks to Jeppesen's Tony Weatherington to explore the growing popularity for airport and airspace modelling systems and, in particular, their application in the Middle East region.
In June this year, Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen, announced a new technical assistance agreement with iGA Havalimani Isletmesi AS (IGA), the developer and operator of Istanbul New Airport in Turkey.
The announcement sparked renewed interest in modelling systems for air traffic management and airport operations.
Through the agreement with IGA, Jeppesen will provide its total airport and airspace modeller (TAAM) solution to assist the Turkish airport authorities – the General Directorate of State Airports Authority (DHMI).
Airspace and airport modelling tools are used to create and analyse virtual, simulated scenarios to test various air traffic management (ATM) theories.
Tony Weatherington, Jeppesen TAAM product manager, refers to these systems simply as simulation and modelling. “Within this paradigm, a computer model of a given scenario is created in which a user is able to build and form a world in which ATM operations are governed by a certain set of rules, procedures, and settings,” he explained.
This model is then simulated using a simulation engine, such as Jeppesen’s TAAM solution. “The simulation moves traffic through the world model, and the user is ultimately able to analyse how that particular model performs in relation to other models,” said Weatherington.
For example, he described a scenario where a user may choose to compare a “today” version of an airport’s infrastructure and standard operating procedures to a master plan depiction of the airport in 20 years’ time to analyse the potential benefits of implementing the master plan. “By attempting to utilise the same flight traffic schedule for both models, the user receives a quantitative comparison of the manner in which each option is able to cope with the traffic demands being placed upon it. In this way, stakeholders can make more informed decisions regarding projects, ranging from major infrastructure upgrades, such as runway and taxiway construction or airspace reconfiguration, through to minor changes, such as taxiway path reconfiguration or revised route assignments,” Weatherington elaborated.
Jeppesen believes that any entity wishing to better understand the world in which they operate, and plan for the future, should be using simulation to analyse available alternatives to present conditions.
The company’s TAAM solution is used by three types of entities: civil aviation agencies (CAAs)/air navigation service providers (ANSPs), airlines, and airports.
“The most common usage of TAAM, especially within today’s environment, is to better understand how to best utilise existing infrastructure,” said Weatherington. “Because TAAM allows for unlimited what-if scenarios, airports, airlines, and ANSPs can test different operational scenarios utilising the infrastructure currently at hand and compare those options to future expansion plans, or future operational shifts due to implementation of advanced technologies.”
Looking closer at the solution, TAAM is also used by entities seeking to expand their operations, whether it is an airport planning a major infrastructure upgrade, an airline looking to significantly increase its scheduled operations, or an ANSP seeking to mitigate the impact of an increasing traffic forecast.
The virtual “what-if” environment of the simulation allows for experimentation that otherwise could not be done in real time, or would cause significant negative impact upon a real-time operation should the alternative prove to be untenable.
The implementation process for acquiring a product such as TAAM is fairly basic. Weatherington said: “Once an airport chooses to move forward with a software license or licenses, Jeppesen provides a basic training course to airport staff in order to familiarise them with the basic functionality of the software. Advanced courses may also be arranged on an as-needed basis.”
Following training, it would be possible to construct a model of the airport from scratch and begin performing analysis as needed.
Weatherington said the largest investment for a new user is simply time. “Time must be allotted to training users and to allowing those users to construct and analyse simulations.”
For airports that do not have dedicated staff to perform simulation tasks, Jeppesen can provide end-to-end simulation consulting services, where its staff perform a complete analysis, or it can provide partial project assistance.
Weatherington explained: “Many customers will contract Jeppesen to create the initial model of their airfield and to work side-by-side with their staff on the first simulation project undertaken. Following such a joint project, data files are handed off to the airport so that it may continue on with its own studies independently of Jeppesen.”
Back in Istanbul, the Jeppesen TAAM analysis tool will be used with the IGA and DHMI teams to conduct studies that would potentially maximise Istanbul New Airport runway operations and overall airspace capacity and efficiency. Maintaining safety and minimising airspace conflict within the regional Istanbul terminal control area is another key aspect of the project.
Several operational procedure alternatives will be simulated and analysed by TAAM to assist the new airport’s airspace and runway optimisation process. Both IGA and DHMI personnel will be trained to use the TAAM solution, allowing active participation in the project, as well as the ability to conduct their own continuing analysis projects, following the delivery of Jeppesen’s analysis. The project is currently on-going.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is fuelling $100 billion in airport expansion and construction projects on the back of a projected annual surge in travellers over the next 20 years. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is projecting that Middle East passengers would grow by 4.9% per year to 2034.
Airports in the Middle East ought to prepare and not become a victim of their own growth. As airports begin to get busier, airport operators will, no doubt, be seeking a means of maximising the overall efficiency of their airports and planning for the future.
“TAAM allows them to do both,” Weatherington suggested. “It is an ideal platform for analysing every possible potential scenario for utilising existing infrastructure at an airport, providing a consequence-free environment for testing all possible ideas for maximum utilisation, whether those ideas are related to gate usage parameters, taxiway patterns, runway sequencing, or full-on construction or reconfiguration options.”
It’s clearly imperative that systems such as these are able to provide airport operators with a quantitative view of how all possible outcomes will potentially perform, as well as a graphical depiction of the given scenario. “When the time comes to plan for major future projects, TAAM can assist in providing valuable insight into how those future systems are likely to perform.”
Weatherington feels simulation at the start of any major project can potentially save millions of dollars, as the consequence-free environment of the simulation is such that airports can identify infrastructure that will be underutilised or counterproductive before going to the expense of construction and implementation of real-world operations.
“Airports embarking upon major master plan projects spanning many years can definitely benefit from this analysing all possible scenarios for overall throughput, delay, and conflict numbers in order to choose the best possible solution for their individual demand requirements,” he added.
An increasingly congested airspace over the Middle East could cost the region $16 billion over the next 10 years if the issue remains unresolved, according to air traffic management company NATS.
These will primarily be in terms of significant traffic delays and fuel costs.
It seems the overarching problem in the Middle East is a lack of regional coordination in airspace management, due to concerns over sovereignty issues and also political involvement.
Organisations such as NATS support the concept of a regional ATM solution, as many of the issues being faced by GCC states cannot be completely addressed within their own borders. If one state invests heavily in new systems and training for its people to raise the capacity of its airspace, it will not fully achieve the benefits unless enhancements are coordinated with its neighbour.
Weatherington acknowledged the problem but noted that airspace congestion was not an issue exclusive to the Middle East region, “though with the rapid rise of the Gulf carriers in recent years, it is being felt quite rapidly and acutely”.
ANSPs and airports face similar problems, in that both are asked to process a given number of aircraft at specific times. “Unlike airports, airspace is a much more finite resource,” he said.
It’s obvious that the volume of airspace available cannot be changed, so it must, therefore, be used more efficiently. Refining and validating airspace design becomes more and more significant as demands upon airspace increase.
“Airspace must, therefore, constantly be re-evaluated as technology advances and the means develop to process more aircraft through the same volume of airspace.”
New surveillance technologies, such and aircraft navigational functionality, are allowing for more densely utilised airspace while maintaining an acceptable level of safety.
Weatherington concluded by saying Jeppesen’s airspace solutions team specialises in the evaluation and design of airspace, from individual procedures to complete systems. “Utilising this expertise in conjunction with simulation, a complete picture can be provided of airspace performance before and after any refinements or updates are made,” he said.