Airports Use Digital Platform to Manage Gate Utilization, Aircraft Parking

Airports Use Digital Platform to Manage Gate Utilization, Aircraft Parking
Author: 
Nicole Nelson
Published in: 
May-June
2021

Until recently, the common-use gates at Eisenhower National Airport (ICT) were a bit like Wichita’s version of the Wild West.

“Anyone could use them at any time on a per-turn basis,” explains Brian Cowles, Airport Operations manager for the Wichita Airport Authority. “If the gate appeared to be open, then an airline could park an arriving aircraft there.”

The system worked fine when gates were, in fact, open. But when two different airlines wanted to use the same gate, there was no clear way of deciding which had priority.

To fix the problem, Cowles developed a standard operating procedure that required all airlines to submit requests for slots at ICT’s five common-use gates to the Operations staff 30 days before the next month’s flight operations began. To ensure that all carriers operated off one common form, the airport created an Excel spreadsheet to receive and track requests. Staff then manually input requests into an existing software system to provide airlines with information about gate utilization for diversions or other unscheduled arrivals.

facts&figures

Project: Gate Management/Aircraft Parking Software

Deployed at: Boise Airport (since April 2021); Eisenhower National Airport (since Jan. 2021); Spokane Int’l Airport (since Nov. 2020); Glacier Park Int’l Airport (since Nov. 2020) 

Platform: GoApron

Cost: $10,000-$100,000/yr, depending on annual flight volume

Key Benefits: Prevents conflicts between multiple aircraft wanting to use same gate at same time; automates manual processes; enhances equity/transparency of gate requests & approvals; improves billing/receipts for overnight aircraft parking; visualizes real-time gate activity, automatically tracks landing information

“This turned out to be a very time-consuming process for my staff,” Cowles recalls. “But, at the time, it was the best that we had.”

In December 2020, something better came along. Cowles and Airport Director Victor White began discussing GoApron gate management software, and agreed that the digital platform could automate the airport’s entire gate request/assignment process. They saw the potential for it to make financial reporting about gate utilization more accurate and less labor intensive.

“I brought in several other members of the airport staff to look over GoApron, and we all agreed that if it would work as advertised, it would be a big benefit to the airport,” Cowles recalls.

After the company tailored its standard platform to ICT’s particular needs and trained airline and airport staff to use it, GoApron went live in January 2021. In April, Cowles reported that the product does, in fact, work as advertised and has already been beneficial
for ICT. 

“The process for making and viewing requests is very simple to use,” he remarks. “And I like the fact that my staff is automatically notified when a request has been made, and that we are the approving authority for these requests.”

Airport personnel can choose to receive notifications via text messages, emails or both.

Beyond Paper & PDFs

Shadrach Vaughn, chief executive officer of GoApron, reports that four U.S. airports (including ICT) use customized versions of his firm’s proprietary software to improve gate utilization, management of remote parking spots and per-turn use landing billing.

“Before GoApron, our customers were using manual workflows such as pen, paper, PDFs and spreadsheets,” Vaughn says. “GoApron’s features have helped streamline manual workflows, identify availability and capacity with gates, improve relationships with air carriers, and eliminate revenue leakage.”

Spokane International Airport (GEG) falls squarely into this category. Ryan H. Sheehan, chief operating officer for the Washington airfield, recalls how different it was to manage GEG’s 14 jet bridges, various ground loading locations and remote parking situation back in mid-2019, without the significant data the airport has now.

“All of the jet bridges were full, and we had four or five aircraft that we were parking off gate,” Sheehan explains. “It was emails and paper schedules or Excel spreadsheets and manually tracking and recording which aircraft was on which spot each night. It was taking several hours a week out of our staff time just to manage who was going to be parking where any given night.”

And increasing volume only compounded the issue. 

“We received a notification from one of our carriers that they were planning to increase their overnight parking by another two to three aircraft, and we were scrambling with how to manage all of that,” he recalls. “GoApron came along at the right time for us to be looking for a solution that would automate some of those processes and get us off the Excel spreadsheet, paper-based system that we had been using for a long time.”

GEG signed up for a one-year subscription effective November 2020. Looking back, Sheehan notes that some of the biggest improvements involved the way reservations are displayed on the daily schedule.

“GoApron developed a Gantt chart-type schedule that allows us to see at a glance what gates are occupied and which ones are available,” he relates. “Initially, the product was set up to report aircraft in terms of tail numbers, and when we explained that tail numbers mean a lot less to us than flight numbers do, they were able to modify the product to show the air carrier or the flight number.”

Sheehan and GEG personnel also appreciate the presentation format, because it supports quick interpretation of data. For instance, gate conflicts are color-coded in red.

“Visually, it is easier to use, and it also works well with each of the air carriers,” Sheehan says, noting that each airline can log in to submit its reservation requests, and Operations automatically receives notifications. “Having those requests come into a central location and having them cataloged, and being able to see when the request was made, who reviewed the request and who approved it, is probably the biggest benefit.” 

He also appreciates being able to resolve request conflicts before aircraft land at the airport.

“You don’t have an aircraft arrive, assuming they are going to the gate they always go to, find out it’s occupied, and have to coordinate use of a different gate on short notice,” Sheehan explains. “You’re able to do that deconfliction earlier in the process and make things more streamlined for the airlines and for the customers.”

Improving Equity, Accountability

Sheehan finds that the GoApron platform also helps democratize aircraft parking.

“It definitely brings some fairness to the process, because everybody is seeing the same data,” he relates. “The requests come into a single location, so it is not a first-come, first-serve situation, where whoever sends the email first gets the gate. We are able to look at what we have available and assign the gates in a more democratic, equitable and efficient way.”

Vaughn reports that the gate management portion of GoApron gets heavy use, and airports with apron construction find it particularly helpful. Additionally, he notes that the digital platform helps airports identify and bill for remain over night costs that are not always self-reported.

Boise Airport (BOI), which added GoApron this April, has yet to see its effect on revenue leakage and other financial measures. But Airport Operations Manager Scott Gwiazda fully expects it to provide a more accurate accounting of gate use and aircraft parking.

He reports that carriers at the Idaho airport have been positive about transitioning from outdated spreadsheets to the automated platform. 

“They realize we are short on space to park aircraft, and at the same time, many of them would like to increase flights,” Gwiazda shares. “This system versus a spreadsheet is much more efficient, much more accurate, and much easier to use. It is a lot quicker, and the information is much more accurate.”

Subcategory: 
Operations

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