Airport Operations Control Centers 

The key to efficient airport operations

November 30, 2023

In the dynamic world of aviation, where precision and efficiency are paramount, countless cogwheels have to mesh to guarantee punctuality, safety and passenger experience: Aircraft takeoffs and landings, arriving and departing travelers, baggage handling and cargo. 

Airport Operations Control Centers act as core units to centrally coordinate all these processes to ensure smooth operations. These command centers have undergone a remarkable evolution, transforming from basic operational hubs to highly sophisticated integrated entities.

Control Centre at Munich Airport
AOCCs serve as core units to coordinate and optimize airport operations. 

At linchpin of an airport

Airport operations are multilayered and highly complex. To master this complexity, Airport Operations Control Centers (AOCCs) serve as core units dedicated to coordinating and optimizing airport operations by bringing together decision-makers from all relevant disciplines, thus making them linchpin of an airport.

Establishing lean communication protocols, creating a common situational awareness, and leveraging data integration are key parameters for laying the foundation of a fruitful collaboration between stakeholders. This is essential for 

  • improving efficiency,
  • enhancing the passenger experience,
  • ensuring on-time performance,
  • promoting sustainability, and
  • minimizing emissions.

After all, these are the goals all involved parties share collectively. 

Key ingredients for a successful AOCC

While there are a variety of different configurations when it comes to operational coordination, the underlying principle remains the same: a command center that orchestrates operations and acts as a central hub for communications. The center fosters collaboration and provides stakeholders with a common situational awareness, streamlining landside and airside processes.

You can think of an AOCC as a clockwork; it works best when all the gears mesh together neatly. This requires establishing procedures that define the framework on how the center operates and communicates with remote control rooms and external stakeholders. This framework lays the groundwork for collaboration among various entities such as airlines, ground handlers, security personnel, and airport authorities.

Integrated systems and technological advancements are essential drivers of the control center operation. Technology enables the integration of various data sources, such as air traffic information, resource management, passenger data, and flight status. Having access to real-time data from multiple systems, allows the team to make informed decisions and respond quickly to changing situations. Emerging problems can be identified at an early stage and can be responded to in a coordinated manner, e.g., in case weather-related deviations from regular operations.

With the availability of large amounts of data, AOCCs can leverage advanced analytics tools to gain insights and improve performance. The rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning is opening new data processing capabilities that are transforming the way we use data: Analyzing historical data patterns, predicting future trends, and optimizing resource allocation are benefits that lead to better planning and decision-making.

ACDM – taking operational efficiency to the next level

Airport Collaboration Decision Making (ACDM) sets a roadmap to reach the next level of maturity in control center operations, based on more accurate and higher quality information obtained mainly through the collaboration with air navigation service providers. By fostering effective teamwork across all involved parties, the control center and air traffic control can streamline processes, actively prioritize departures, avoid taxiway congestion, minimize aircraft holding times, and optimize the flow of traffic. As a result, departures become more efficient, which ultimately improves the overall punctuality of flights.

Reported benefits confirmed by airports as part of an ACI analysis that compared the operation pre and post ACDM implementation included:

  • Average taxi-out time savings up to 3 minutes per departure.
  • Average schedule adherence improvements up to 2 minutes per flight.
  • Reduction in push-back delays after start-up approval.
  • Improved ground handling resource utilization.
  • Reduction in the number of late stand and gate changes.
  • Improved management of and recovery from periods of adverse conditions.
  • Improved take-off time predictability – typically by as much as 85% during adverse conditions.

The study has shown that even the lesser constrained airports stand to benefit significantly from A-CDM, particularly during periods of adverse conditions.

Sharing relevant information allows the team to make informed decisions. 

Identifying areas of improvement

When evaluating the maturity of a control center and seeking areas of improvement, we focus on the analysis of these five parameters:

  • Capacities (new due to regulatory compliance, integration of processes, implementation of technology advancements)
  • Processes (map out processes, streamlining and/or integrating)
  • Collaboration (functional coordination, communication protocols)
  • Technology (scalable solutions, automation)
  • Data integration (system interfaces, share relevant data)

Diving into the mapping and analyzing the traceability of processes will lead us to know the interfaces in terms of collaboration among the involved stakeholders and lay out the center capacities. The objective is move towards a lean process map reducing wasteful practices that influence operational results.

The degree of automation and data integration is key in understanding how technology supports this complex interconnected ecosystem and promote a more responsive and agile control center.

Ongoing technological advancements play a significant role in shaping the landscape of aviation operations, influencing the evolution of control centers.

Some of the technologies creating new trends are:

  • The integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms for predictive analytics, may enable to predict potential disruptions, predict equipment failure, optimize the use of resources and enhance decision-making processes and has a transformative potential with a growing impact on the aviation industry.
  • Automation and robotics are revolutionizing routine tasks. e.g., Implementing autonomous ground vehicles for tasks like baggage transport, security patrolling or autonomous boarding bridges.
  • The combination of increased speed and network capacity on 5G networks will create the potential for larger amounts of data to be transmitted nurturing big data analytics, turning large volumes of data into actionable knowledge. e.g., Providing more reliable communication channels ground-ground and air-ground. Analysing big data on real time and reducing latency on connectivity to identify potential failures related to maintenance.
  • The application of Internet of Things (IoT) introducing interconnected devices and sensors contributes to data-driven insights. e.g., monitoring aircraft turn-around, passenger flows and infrastructure, providing real-time data on various operational aspects.
An AOCC brings together decision-makers from all relevant disciplines.

Initiatives by international organizations

International organizations work towards developing solutions that enhance the collaboration between airports, air navigation service providers, as it is e.g. the System Wide Information Management (SWIM) a global industry initiative to harmonize the exchange of aeronautical, weather and flight information for all airspace users and stakeholders. Other concepts evolve driven to facilitate better situational awareness among operational partners in a collaborative environment, some of these concepts are CDM, A-CDM, APOC, AOP, TAM, Ground Coordinator…
The differences between these are mostly a matter of the functional scope of collaboration and of the domains where collaboration is applied. For example, the Ground coordinator concept focuses on process streamlining through active communication with airport stakeholders and seeks to unlock latent pockets of capacity and efficiency across the operation.

Since June ’23, Munich Airport has successfully implemented the first stage of the Ground Coordinator role with 6 experts with different operational backgrounds, i.e. APOC, Handling Agent, Ground Handling, Airside Duty Manager or Airline Operations.

In order to enhance the operational performance and achieving a high level of stability of a departure sequence based on active stakeholder communication, the Ground Coordinator ensures that all TOBT responsible parties adhere to the local ACDM rules.

The future responsibilities of the Ground Coordinator will mainly include capacity monitoring across all operational areas and coordination of responses to existing or arising capacity shortfalls to minimize the impact of possible irregular operations.

As AOCCs continue to evolve, they will embrace new technologies and data-driven approaches to further advance operational efficiency, safety, and passenger experience. The future holds great promise as AOCCs become even more adaptable, leveraging real-time data analytics, predictive modeling, and advanced automation to meet the evolving needs of the aviation industry.