WHITE PAPER. Post pandemic airport recovery depends on how airports and airlines can tackle volatility in an affordable way, without sacrificing safety and efficiency. In a white paper titled The Elastic Apron, which ADB SAFEGATE’s Thorben Burghardt recently co-authored with Michael McElvaney from Jacobs, we explore the concept of operational elasticity and how it can aid airport recovery.

From what we’ve seen so far, post pandemic airport recovery is unlikely to be linear and predictable. Air traffic demand has been volatile globally, for example, in the U.S. traffic is starting to decline again as passengers cancel reservations. This is happening even while airlines and airports are still in a full court press to service the unexpected surge of the summer. Elsewhere, border closures have resulted in staff being stood down. This leads to particular challenges when downscaling operations during lows, and while trying to restart operations with minimal impact.

Operational elasticity at the apron is imperative

As a connector between flights and terminal operations, the apron is where most of the action is. Gate and apron operations have always been under constant change with many stakeholders involved in the successful turnaround of an aircraft. Elasticity at these areas perfectly describes the multidimensional challenges that these stakeholders face.

Think of elasticity as a stress ball you’re holding. As your hand flexes, constantly and drastically changing the environment, the stress ball flexes and adapts quite easily, returning to its original shape or assuming a new shape. The ball is resilient – it cannot leak or burst. Nor can the fun factor (smiley face) be compromised.

Now what if apron operations were supported by truly elastic technology, systems and processes? This would allow the airport apron to maintain a consistent level of safety, productivity, efficiency, and passenger experience despite volatility.

Apron technology is moving towards elasticity

The advanced visual docking and guidance system (A‐VDGS) which is the first and last contact for an aircraft on the apron, starting with docking of an inbound aircraft and ending with pushback during departure, is a vital piece of this puzzle. When it was first deployed in 1997, safety was the primary driver. Operational efficiency quickly followed, allowing more productive use of real estate and assets. Scalability followed, taking capacity management to the next level. The pandemic has added elasticity to this list of need drivers. It is multidimensional, responds to the hard-to-predict volatility and therefore, key to recovery.

A truly elastic solution is:

  • Adaptable: can change and adjust as needed to meet new and changing conditions.
  • Flexible: allows the operation to adapt easily, quickly and cost efficiently.
  • Resilient: supports consistent operations, while allowing quick recovery from unexpected or difficult conditions.

Not only does an elastic solution support the ability to scale up quickly, but it also allows airports to ramp down just as easily and effectively when another event occurs.

Elasticity demands technical and commercial innovation

Traditionally, safety or operational improvements in aviation have been people-driven. The challenge is to pursue technical innovation to create solutions that reduce dependencies on humans without compromising safety.

In an elastic environment, commercial offers must also be elastic. A crisis typically puts pressure on budgets, as some airports faced during the pandemic. Commercial innovation must enable CAPEX and OPEX flexibility, through a mix of CAPEX-OPEX models that allow stakeholders to derive benefit at a later date.

Airports must be prepared for the next disruption, be it another COVID wave or any event that impacts demand. With elasticity, there is no “standard” customer or product. This enables adaptability, flexibility, and resilience, and a long-term, end-to-end approach where aviation stakeholders pursue technical and commercial innovation, and partner through good and bad times.

Read the full white paper titled The Elastic Apron to learn how operational elasticity can be achieved.

VP Gate Services & Asset Management