Airport IT - not just a piece of the puzzle

When we talk about IT systems in airports today, we’re not just talking about a piece of the puzzle, responsible for part of an airport’s workings; we’re really talking about the entire operation. 

The majority of business processes at airports around the world – from check-in to baggage handling and from video surveillance to access control – are dependent on IT systems and IT infrastructure. Whether we’re talking for example about cabling, access switches, core switches and servers, this IT infrastructure literally never sleeps. 

For the bigger airports, redundancy measures are often in place to make this “always on” approach happen. This involves critical infrastructure such as servers being hosted in two alternative geographical equipment rooms to avoid a single point of failure. 

One example of this is the common use passenger processing system (CUPPS). When this fails and no redundancy is in place, the passenger handling process is directly affected at check-in and boarding. In many airports, the CUPPS server is installed in two separate locations to ensure greater systems reliability and availability of the servers. That way, if one CUPPS server experiences a failure of any kind, the other can take over to ensure there is no loss of service or disruption to the airport.

The value of checking and maintaining systems

Although providing redundancy can mitigate single points of failure and prevent total loss of functionality, equipment will fail occasionally. The question is, how do you identify which piece of equipment or critical infrastructure (such as a server) is out of order? 

This is where network management systems (NMS) come into play. When multiple assets are in operation, they are constantly sending signals and messages to the NMS confirming their operational status. If the messages are not “received”, visual and audible alarms are sounded signalling that there is an issue and pinpointing the exact location from which the issue originates. 

All airports should have a network management system in place but in reality, not all airports do, and this can happen for a number of reasons. Sometimes the organisational or financial planning is not in place to make this possible. In other cases, where critical IT infrastructure management is outsourced for example, an NMS may not be part of the service level agreement (SLA).

But even for airports that do have an NMS in place, responding to incidents is typically just the first step. There are two key questions that need to be asked here:

  1. Do you understand fully the IT assets and IT infrastructure currently in place? 
  2. Do you know the status (e.g., location, age or end-of-life) of each asset? 

These questions signify the move that some airports need to make away from reactive and towards more proactive approaches, since these are likely to lead to significant savings in time and money

The consequences of systems failure

CUPPS failures, for instance, can cost millions of Euros in claims from airlines affected by systems going down. But the effects of poorly managed and maintained IT systems aren’t just felt by the operational teams. They can also have a huge impact on passengers and third parties (such as retailers) alike. For passengers, a fault in IT systems could lead to baggage being left behind as well as delays at security, check-in and during boarding – all of which have the potential to cause significant flight delays.

Having redundancy in place, an effective network management system, and the ability to track the status of airport IT assets in place, are all vital to the smooth-running of any airport. More importantly however, they ensure that failure of the core IT infrastructure can be managed proactively so that they do not in the first instance result in a total outage of your IT systems.

How you can take the first steps to improve your airport IT systems

At NACO, every airport IT project we deliver starts with a thorough examination and understanding of the status of existing IT networks and systems at the airport. 

These studies are typically carried out by a multidisciplinary team of experts within a reconstruction or expansion project. The resulting insights provide the client and us with a comprehensive picture of the status of the IT infrastructure and its corresponding IT systems at the airport. 

In fact, this first step is crucial to building a system that is not only functional but also robust; which is where our Airport IT Scan comes in. Moreover, as we have an impartial view on the systems available, our approach is both neutral and focused on what is most optimal for the specific needs of each individual airport.

It may seem daunting at first, but taking this initial step could mean the difference between a smooth-running airport and a delay which could have costly implications for you, your airport and your passengers.