Trial operations - The key to a successful opening of a new airport facility

Trial of Check-In Process in an ORAT trial © Munich Airport International GmbH

Opening a new airport or terminal is a highly complex venture. It is not just about the infrastructure being ready at a specified date. It involves hundreds of stakeholders, processes, and systems that all need to be aligned and properly trained beforehand.

Operational Readiness and Airport Transfer (ORAT) is the coordinated program to bring a new infrastructure, such as passenger / cargo terminal buildings or logistics and MRO facilities, into operation with limited to no disruption. Whilst ensuring smooth operations from day one onwards, the ORAT methodology ensures a safe and secure environment for passengers and staff alike. 

There are seven distinct phases in an ORAT project:

  • Phase 1: “Set-up”
  • Phase 2: “Operational Readiness Preparation”
  • Phase 3: “Familiarization & Training”
  • Phase 4: “Trials”
  • Phase 5: “Operations Transfer”
  • Phase 6: “Opening Support”
  • Phase 7: “Post Opening Support”

While the first two phases lay the groundwork for future success, the shared objective of phase 3 and 4 is to ensure that knowledge is not only taught but actually transferred. The subsequent two phases represent the actual opening of the facility, while phase 7 comprises any support that is provided post-opening.

These phases ensure a structured and well-organized opening and make sure, everything has been thought of and happens at the right time. It is thus pivotal for a successful and seamless transfer of operations that they are conducted comprehensively and conscientiously.

Having completed around 50 ORAT projects to date, we gauge that trials are among the most crucial phases of an airport or terminal opening. Yet, with technological progress and unprecedented digital developments, the complexity of trials has increased significantly in recent years. This article will give an overview over the scope and the execution of trials and explore in which way technological advances have changed the way trials are performed.  

Purpose, requirements and benefits of trials

Trials are the “dress-rehearsal” - the simulation of real-life operations prior to the actual opening of the new infrastructure.

The three ORAT phases preceding the trials form the theoretical framework in which all processes have been carefully defined and all people involved have been thoroughly trained. Yet, real-life operations are highly complex and not every eventuality can be foreseen, therefore the processes developed in previous phases are verified through the simulated operations.

Identify and resolve potential issues

The purpose of trials is to identify and resolve potential risks and issues that may arise at an early stage, thus avoiding financial or reputational damage during or after the opening of the new facility.

Trials require accurate planning prior to execution due to the tight schedule of an ORAT project and high costs, which are, among others, incurred for

  • the team for preparation, coordination during the trial and review afterwards,
  • transportation and catering for participants (trial passengers),
  • baggage for check-in and running the BHS (baggage handling system),
  • making staff of all stakeholders available, sometimes through double staffing,
  • taking equipment out of rotation (e.g., ground handling vehicles),
  • materials for a correct simulation such as bag tags, boarding passes, baggage carts,
  • and much more.

Benefits of trials

  • Potential risks and issues can be identified and resolved long before opening,

  • All staff is confident and familiar with the processes and the infrastructure,

  • All Stakeholders involved are able to deliver their operational duties, 

  • The risk of operational incidents during the opening is minimized and negative publicity associated with such incidents avoided. 

What trials are not

It is equally important to have a clear understanding of what trials are not. Trials are neither testing & commissioning activities, nor training programs. Systems need to be fully tested and staff comprehensively trained before the actual simulated operations. Any delays caused due to untested equipment will have adverse effects on the efficiency of the trial, and if reoccurring, might also impact trial morale. The same applies to training. Although it might be enticing to use trials for training of staff, real-life operations cannot be simulated properly if the staff is not adequately instructed in their tasks and the underlying procedures. Untrained staff will cause delays and insecurities. 

Scope of trials

Trials take on different forms and scopes, depending on necessity and the overall stage of the project.

Especially at the beginning of the trial phase often only specific areas, e.g., the check-in, are fully completed. In this case, trials will start with basic simulations of the processes around this area and will be combined with further areas as the project progresses once these become available.

Concentrating first on individual areas and eventually combing these into full-fledged, integrated trials that encompass the entire passenger journey and all related processes, ensures maximum efficiency.

The importance of stakeholders

Numerous stakeholders are involved in each trial, starting from cleaning staff to check-in employees and security personnel. The closer a trial reflects reality, the greater the benefit for all stakeholders involved. A trial will therefore be aligned with all stakeholders in advance to ensure all relevant processes are covered. At the same time, processes must be taken into account that may differ between the individual stakeholders. For example, the process for unaccompanied minors may include parents escorting their child up to the gate in one case, whereas in a different scenario, they may say their good-byes already prior to security, necessitating an accompanying person for the minor.

Staffing and equipment levels are adjusted according to the scope and duration of the trial, materials required, areas to be cordoned off, number of bags needed, and much more. 

Trials: An in-depth briefing of the participants is pivotal.  © Munich Airport International GmbH

The day of the trial

To simulate real-life operations, it is necessary to have “passengers”. In the initial basic trials, these are generally staff standing in as trial passengers. Eventually they will be replaced by volunteers from the surrounding communities, schools, colleges, etc., reaching multiple hundreds of participants simulating the everyday passenger of the new facility. All participants need to have a clear understanding of their role in the trial to actively take on a role as passenger, airline and airport staff, members of the security agencies, etc. They need to know where to be when, and what is expected of them. Therefore, an in-depth briefing of all participants is pivotal to the successful execution of the trial. Passengers, for example, will need to know that they check-in at a counter rather than a self-service kiosk, the number of bags they need to check including oversized such as skis, whether they are traveling alone or accompanied, maybe even with a minor, whether it is international or domestic travel, the former requiring a trial passport for this purpose. 

Trial passengers can be asked to be unruly, lose their boarding pass on their way to the gate, check-in a firearm, require mobility assistance, look for a restroom, forget an object at the security check, and any other scenario that might occur in real life. Each of these in turn requires a response - either an action or reaction - by another party. 

Special attention is given to unforeseen issues: equipment may be needed elsewhere and not be available, technical components be down for inspection, and just about anything else you can think of.

The complexity of real-life operations is simulated as closely as possible to prepare for all eventualities, identify potential issues and tackle them by adapting the underlying procedures. It can easily be increased by adding further elements: a delay in an aircraft causing the hold rooms to fill up with passengers of multiple flights; the arrival of a flight right next to one departing, and many more. And this does not yet include the surrounding procedures such as stocking of restaurants and shops with supplies, cleaning of the facility, running of the baggage handling system, ensuring security around and throughout the airport building and campus, etc. 

To track the duration of individual processes and the usage time of technical equipment, starting time and expected end-time are communicated.


The focus of the trial is to preempt issues that will hinder the safe and secure operations from day one. Thus, a detailed debrief after each trial is obligatory and a central project component. Any findings identified during the trials need to be precisely recorded and reported. This documentation is shared with all stakeholders, so that each can tackle the issues within their respective areas. Depending on the gravity of the particular issue found during the trials, it will be re-trialed later to ensure that this cog within the overall machinery is functioning. A close follow-up with the involved parties is crucial to ensure everything is ready for the grand opening. 

Technological Advances - a double-edged sword

New technologies add complexity

As more and more systems are used for the operation of an airport, it is essential that each system not only works individually but is also integrated into the overall ICT environment of the airport. The building management system needs to communicate with access control, departure control with baggage handling, airport management system with apron lighting, etc. These systems need to be trialed, just as any other element of the process landscape, and add a complexity to trials that has increased over the years.

The advent of biometrics is probably the most far-reaching technological advance in the last years. Scanners prior to the security check-point scan the face of the passenger and use this to facilitate the rest of the passenger journey until reaching the aircraft. This information can be used for passport control, access to lounges and eventually gaining entry at the gate itself. Many of these systems are currently still stand-alone and not connected, yet it is important to track these innovations in detail to be able to integrate them into trials once interconnected. For the time being the individual systems are already integrated into trials as they are part of what the passenger will face in live operations.

Further to biometrics enhancing a seamless passenger journey, we are keeping track of developments in passenger security, especially the security check-point. Walkthrough security checkpoints that allow passengers to carry on in the journey without taking off shoes or belts, or emptying their bags and pockets, are likely to be introduced in the coming years. This, as with biometric as well, will add to the complexity of trials, from the planning to the eventual execution.

Simplified project management

While increasing complexity on one side, technological advances at the same time simplify the project management of trials. Bespoke trial software is able to track system and infrastructure availability needed for each trial by providing an overview of overall installation progress. Those software tools can manage the registration of “passengers” for trials and the issuing of badges for each participant.

As technological progress continues, many more features are being developed, ranging from publication of trial scenarios, reporting and analysis of results to integration of trial flights, that will support the trials team throughout the project.

Trials: Baggage for testing check-in and BHS © Munich Airport International GmbH
Even if there is no aircraft available for trials: alternatives can be used to simulate many of the apron processes  © Munich Airport International GmbH

The Author

Thomas Kallmayer

Thomas Kallmayer

Project Manager

Thomas is an experienced aviation specialist and has vast experience in managing projects in challenging environments.

The core of his experience is, but not limited to, ORAT. He successfully managed a large-scale ORAT Project in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, related to passenger as well as cargo terminal buildings, handling 30 million passengers and 1.3 million tons of cargo per year. Moreover, he was the Deputy Project Manager and Trial Manager at new Terminal A of Newark Liberty International Airport. Prior to the opening of the Terminal in January 2023, he and his team conducted around 30 trials over a 6-month period, using approximately 3,000 trial bags and having in the peak around 700 trial passengers. As a Trial Manager he understands the significance and required flexibility to approach this critical and stakeholder-management intensive phase of ORAT. 

During trials, days are long, the stress level high, and the nights short. However, it is an amazing experience and highly rewarding when you see a terminal building come to life through the dedication and devotion of the people I was privileged to work with.