Airport communication systems have advanced in the last five years and airport operators are looking to suppliers to make system migration a smoother process.
Audio, visual, mobile, satellite, digital, common networks, IP technology... Airport communication equipment takes many forms and ensuring the integration of various technologies in environments where safety and security are the main drivers is imperative.
Without communication in airports passenger services would grind to a halt, literally. Navigation and surveillance would go untracked; flight information would not be shared; runway systems would not be managed; ground movement would become static. The list goes on.
Bayanat Airports Engineering & Supplies specialises in integrating airport systems in some of the region's major airports. Alain Bourjeily, general manager for Bayanat Airports understands the importance for systems to communicate to each other, but recognises that this has taken some time to evolve. "New airports are using standard technology but demanding an advanced infrastructure," Bourjeily explains.
"If you want to look at how communication systems are evolving then compare them to a time when every system had its own legacy network. It was difficult for systems to communicate to each other and this was where the problems lay. In the past each system had its own network and exchange of data was very difficult. That introduced delays and reduced the overall efficiency of an airport."
At Abu Dhabi International Airport, Bayanat is furnishing all the air traffic control and communications systems for the emergency control tower and is implementing the airport communication systems for the new Terminal 3 (T3), which will be leased to Etihad Airways.
Flight information display screens, departure control systems and baggage reconciliation technology are all required and as Bourjeily admits, integrating the systems together has not been easy.
"At Abu Dhabi International Airport all the technologies were very old and we are still finding that we are working with old systems." Bourjeily explains that this is a common problem and projects at existing airports requiring updated communication systems can be complicated.
"It is not an easy task to implement new systems because airports cannot close. It requires a lot of planning as the old system has to be migrated to the new one while the airport is still operating. Our engineers also find that not all of the current systems will work with the latest IP technology.
"Nowadays the systems available offer a common network, which is IP-based and this ensures the flow of data. In a good airport this is how you have to do it. You need one database that stores all the parameters of information."
Operating communication systems from a common network makes exchanging information very easy. IP phones provide flight and access information and increase efficiency and flexibility while reducing costs.
But lack of planning is a major contributor to implementation problems and is also resulting in many airports paying out large and unnecessary sums of money updating current systems as new ones emerge.
"Airports want existing systems to interface with new ones and this can be costly," Bourjeily admits. "Airports need to look at the specification thoroughly and plan what they need before contacting the supplier.
Suppliers and airports will work better if airports make it clear to the supplier their requirements from day one - this will also save a lot of money."
Advanced communication solutions may be costly to implement initially but as Bourjeily states, new technology is providing a long-term means of contact that goes far beyond the confines of an airport terminal. "Internet based applications can help in communicating with remote locations outside of the airport's grounds such as hotels and offices but it is satellite technology that is providing the most benefits, particularly with air traffic control."
Five to six years ago air traffic control staff could only talk to aircraft pilots via voice. Now, thanks to advancements in Voice Data Link (VDL), the controller can send data using satellite technology. "In the aircraft there is a transponder and at any time this can broadcast all the information it is collecting," Bourjeily explains. "The transponder gets its information from a satellite and sends it to the controller. Previously this was done through the ground radar, which was limited in the type of information it could send."
Satellite technology has also provided advancements in apron management as the VDL's capabilities extend to image processing. "The tower controller can direct the aircraft on the apron via images as well as data and voice. It is like a vehicle tracking system but very advanced."
Another new field in satellite is satellite landing systems (SLS), which currently are only deployed in Norway. Satellite landing systems go beyond instrument landing systems (ILS) as the satellite technology provides coordinates making it easier to navigate mountainous areas which surround the airport in Norway. As Bourjeily identifies, places such as Fujairah would benefit greatly from this technology.
Fujairah International Airport is surrounded by mountains and for airlines using an airport in this type of environment satellite technology makes landings more efficient and accurate. It is only a matter of time before more and more applications will begin using this system to improve safety."
Bourjeily believes that IP connected devices and satellite technology are improving the facilitation of passengers as well as improving airport efficiency overall. "The information retrieved can be collected and provided quickly and the whole airport becomes unified. As with all airport developments time constraints are a big issue but United Arab Emirate airports are a model for the region and will lead the way in the Middle East, and possibly the world, when using this technology to its full potential."