What Can U.S. & EU Airports Learn From Each Other?

August 17, 2016 Leidos Editorial Team

Our aviation experts spend a great deal of their time between the U.S. and Europe, engaging with operators on their challenges and transformation initiatives. As a result, we have been able to develop a fairly unique perspective on the best of what are typically two very different operational models. As it turns out, the rest of the world could learn a lot from US airports when it comes to executing their airside operations. On the flip-side, the US could learn a lot from their European colleagues when it comes to terminal operations.

US airports’ strength: Optimising airside operations

Let’s have a look at US airports. Regulations have pushed airport operators to look at how best to optimise and improve their airside operations whilst cutting down on fuel burn, taxi times and CO2 emissions.

Almost all of the airports we engage with had implemented some form of surface management system which allows them, alongside their stakeholders, to more effectively measure and manage their airside operations.

By utilising different data feeds, airport operators can focus on airside operations to maximise runway capacity, optimise surface movements and improve gate and stand allocation. These measures have helped reduce CO2 emissions, decrease apron delays and improve performance during IRROPS, but above all, the surface movement solutions are providing airport operators with real-time information, resulting in better situational awareness. 

What European airports are doing better: Maximising Terminal Resources

In contrast, European airports have focused their energy on terminal operations and have put the passenger at the heart of their processes. According to Finnish airport operator Finavia, one in three passengers choose their transit airport based on their experience of an airport.

Passenger process monitoring and wait time measurement tools are some of the methods airports use to manage their terminal operations in real time and ensure a positive passenger experience. Airports also apply forecast planning, prediction and resource management tools to improve efficiency and reduce operational cost by optimising the resources they have.

By combining a queue measurement solution with a forecast planning solution, operators have the ability to predict pinch points and take corrective action before queues build up.

Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS) is an airport at the leading edge of Terminal Operations. By utilising queue measurement, forecast planning and optimisation tools via the BEONTRA suite, AMS were able to optimise their resource planning at Border Control and Security with their stakeholders. This, in turn, lowered costs and improved passenger experience, as well as allowing airport stakeholders to act instead of react to any impending issues. This decision was well received by multiple airport stakeholders and is now allowing them to make the most of their resources.

So US airports could certainly show the Europeans a thing or two about airside operations. But by the same token, EU airports could give the Americas a good example of how to improve customer satisfaction, non-aviation revenue generation and terminal operations.

How are US and EU airports handling capacity challenges?

It’s clear that there is a different approach to handling the challenge of passenger growth on both sides of the Atlantic. There are indications from US airports of a focus on improved passenger processes, with the likes of Cincinnati and JFK looking at wait time measurement technology, and Orlando Airport implementing forecast planning via BEONTRA. Likewise, some EU airports are taking a leaf out of the US airports’ book by looking at airside optimisation.

On the European side, London Heathrow (LHR) is known for having an extremely efficient and effective terminal and airside operation but is always looking to squeeze more out of its resources. One of the key areas of focus is reducing delays and cancellations due to high winds.

Working alongside NATS and Leidos, LHR has implemented Time-Based Separation a solution which will allow them to increase runway usage during high winds, an issue which has caused many cancellations and delays. LHR will move from Distance Based Separation to Time Based Separation during the 60+ days of high winds, increasing its runway capacity.

This project is similar to an existing FAA tool called Automated Terminal Proximity Alert installed in 2011 – yet another example of best practice making its way across the Pond in one direction or another! Layer in additional systems and processes such as Time-Based Flow Management and it's clear that the sharing is most definitely two-way. 


The Leidos Editorial Team consists of communications and marketing employees, contributing partner organizations, and dedicated freelance designers, editors, and writers.

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