Common Use Technology Trumps Physical Expansion at Fresno

Author: 
Jodi Richards
Published in: 
September-October
2008

Traffic at Fresno Yosemite International (FAT) in California has been growing by leaps and bounds, says the airport’s aviation director Russ Widmar. In the last five years, passenger totals grew from less than 1 million to roughly 1.4 million.

Previously, that kind of growth meant the airport would consider expanding its terminal facilities, but not so today. Instead of spending $30 million on bricks and mortar, Fresno is deploying common use technology for a mere $3 million.

Although the airport experienced “historic” growth rates leading up to 2008, this year will be different. That’s because Express Jet, which carries roughly 12,000 passengers monthly at Fresno Yosemite, will cease operations in September. “I don’t know that we’ll make that up,” Widmar comments, adding that fuel costs and rising airline fares will also have negative impacts.

Even with stagnant numbers, the airport still has what Widmar calls “impressive” load factors: American Airlines ran a 94 percent load factor in June, while Mexicana Air ran 86 percent on daily service to Guadalajara.

The mixed bag of overall growth with temporary passenger losses and tough market conditions led the airport to leverage common use technology. “We looked for ways to gain more efficiency out of the building, rather than build more building to handle growth,” Widmar explains.

CommonalITy Prevails

Fresno purchased EASE™ (Extended Airline System Environment), a common use package from Air-Transport IT Services, Inc. (AirIT) that will allow the airport to put the nine airlines that currently serve Fresno in about half of the physical building space. A $3 million contract includes installation of the common use system, a multi-user flight information display system (MUFIDS) and five years of technical support.

Chris Keller, AirIT executive VP and COO, notes that EASE is different than what most people think of when they hear “common use.”

With EASE, airlines continue operating in their own application environment on airport-provided infrastructure. In traditional common use, the air carrier communicates with its ticketing application through a common software platform.

“EASE allows the airlines to operate just as they did the day before, just on airport-provided infrastructure,” explains Keller. “So we’ve eliminated the barrier for the airline to participate.”

AirIT, not the airline, supports and maintains the infrastructure. “The airline no longer has to send people out from their corporate IT departments to fix printers and replace workstations,” Keller says. “All we’re doing is extending their own system on airport-provided plumbing. It’s a utility.”

The airport provides the network infrastructure and AirIT installs a common set of equipment including workstations, printers and boarding gate readers. AirIT makes secure connections to the airlines’ host systems through the network. So when airline agents go to their workstations, they simply log on and connect to the host system at the corporate headquarters.

“It’s very simple,” says Keller. “And, they get the benefit of operating in their own environment.”

Widmar appreciates the day-to-day flexibility the new system provides: “Common use allows us to slide over and just use any ticket counter that’s available.”

It also makes Fresno Yosemite attractive to prospective airlines. “It would cost them nothing because we’re going to own all of the equipment,” he says. “And that is a selling point for an airline. When they’re looking to control their costs and we can take that cost away from them, I think that’s a pretty good deal for an airline.”

They Believe in Bricks, Too

Although Fresno Yosemite International is employing common use technology to delay the need for a physical expansion of its terminal’s overall footprint, it has its share of traditional infrastructure projects as well — the kind that make a temporary mess with sawdust and workhorses.

Inside the terminal, the airport is doubling the size of its baggage claim area and remodeling/updating its lobby for some $10 million. Aviation director Russ Widmar says the refurbished lobby will be a more streamlined, efficient space with high, dramatic ceilings, new ticket counters and new carpeting.

Outside the main terminal, a $27 million consolidated rental car facility is also in the works.

What it Entails

As for hardware installation, Fresno will have 47-inch plasma screens at each check-in position and on the back wall for every two positions. “You won’t have a hard time finding your airline,” Widmar notes.

“You get so much extra capacity by going to common use that you don’t have to build infrastructure,” says Widmar. “I don’t want a bigger box than I have. I like the size of the box and we have plenty of capacity — once we get the system installed.”

The EASE deployment at Fresno includes the network infrastructure, a main server and workstations with equipment including boarding pass and ticket printers, manifest printers for the pilots and scanners for credit cards and passport scanners.

When completely operational, there will be roughly 40 check-in positions. In mid-August, 25 percent of the common use technology had been installed and deployed. The overall project is occurring in phases as not to disrupt airline operations.

SkyWest, which flies for Delta Connection and United Express at Fresno Yosemite, is one of five airlines already employing the new common use system.

According to Marissa Snow, manager of corporate communications at SkyWest, implementation of common use has included a few hiccups and learning curve issues — typical of any technology shift. Overall, however, she says the airline expects the system will provide more efficiency.

“We’re hopeful — especially with the completion of construction at Fresno next summer — that everything will come together and the entire process will be [smoother],” Snow says.

Quick-Turn Implementation

Both Keller and Widmar say the deployment of common use at Fresno Yosemite happened in a record amount of time. According to Keller, final agreements for the system were signed at the end of April and the first phase was up and running on June 1. “[The airlines] operated in May on their own system and June 1 we cut them over to the EASE system in the new positions,” he explains. “We did that in just about a month’s period of time, which is huge. Sometimes it takes 12 weeks just to order equipment.”

Facts and Figures

Project:  Installation of Common Use System

Location: Fresno Yosemite (CA) International Airport

Cost: $3 million

System Provider: Air-Transport IT Services

Benefits: Staves off need to expand terminal by allowing nine airlines to occupy about half  the space they previously occupied

EASE is also in use at Sacramento International, San Jose International, Sarasota (FL), Chicago Rockford International and Philadelphia International airports. Keller expects more airlines to consider common use as the industry continues to adjust to rising costs.

Widmar expects common use check-in equipment to help prevent Fresno Yosemite from needing physical expansion for another 20 years.

“For me, making a $3 million investment in IT and common use makes a whole lot more sense than trying to expand this whole building to the tune of $20 million or $30 million … You can’t justify it when you have an alternative like this (common use). Why would you spend to build?”

Widmar says the airport is considering common use at the boarding gates, but funding is definitely a factor.

 

Subcategory: 
IT/Communications

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