Virtual Apron Control – digitalization at its best  

Integrated Terminal Operations Control Center (ITOCC) © Munich Airport International NJ LLC

While the Air Traffic Control (ATC) controls aircraft movements in the air, on taxiways and on runways, the gate area is where their responsibility ends. This is the jurisdiction of Apron Control, that plays a pivotal role in managing ground movements and optimizing operations at airports. The advent of advanced technologies promises to make apron control even more efficient and thus enhance the overall performance of airports.

At Terminal A of Newark Liberty International Airport, Munich Airport International (MAI) and its subsidiary Munich Airport NJ LLC (MANJ) installed a ramp control (as apron control is called in the US) as part of the Integrated Terminal Operations Control Center (ITOCC).

Apron control units - virtual high-tech control centers

Apron control plays a pivotal role in managing ground movements and optimizing operations at airports. Apron control units not only manage aircraft movements within the apron area, but they also play a crucial role in ensuring compliance with safety protocols, coordinating pushbacks, and securing a smooth transition of arriving and departing aircrafts to the ATC movement area.

By focusing on efficiency and safety, apron control enhances the overall performance of an airport, resulting in improved passenger experience and increased profitability for airlines and stakeholders.

The capabilities of apron control units

The key for a successful implementation of an apron control unit is the perfect interaction between the operating procedures and the available technologies. With the advent of advanced technologies, apron control units have become virtual high-tech control centers with amazing capabilities, such as

  • Integrated Controller Working Positions (ICWP), providing the apron controllers with an electronic flight-strip,
  • ground-radar,
  • guidance modules for the guidance of aircrafts with lights implemented on the ground,
  • Visual Docking Guidance Systems (VDGS), and
  • high-resolution cameras that provide an out-of-the-window view, enabling apron control units to work completely in a remote environment.

The future of apron control looks exciting and promises even greater efficiency, safety, and operational excellence in the aviation industry moving forward.

Virtual Apron Control Room (VACR)  © Munich Airport International NJ LLC

Benefits of a virtual apron control

Enhanced efficiency:
Efficient apron control facilitates the smooth flow of aircraft, reduces delays and maximizes the use of airport resources. By carefully coordinating arrivals and departures, apron control helps minimize taxiing times and optimize aircraft turnaround times, resulting in improved operational efficiency.

Safety optimization:
Safety is paramount in aviation, and apron control plays a vital role in maintaining a secure environment. By regulating aircraft movements, monitoring ramp areas, and ensuring compliance with safety protocols, apron control mitigates the risk of accidents and collisions on the apron area. It also helps manage congestion on the ramp, diminishing the potential for ground-based incidents.

Resource allocation:
Efficient apron control enables the effective allocation of resources, such as ground handling equipment, fueling services, and gate availability. By synchronizing aircraft movements, apron control minimizes idle time, optimizes resource allocation, and allows for better planning and coordination among various stakeholders, including airlines, ground handlers, and airport authorities.

Airfield congestion management:
Airports are dynamic environments with limited space and multiple simultaneous aircraft movements. Apron control helps manage airfield congestion by strategically directing aircraft to appropriate holding areas or alternative gates during peak periods. By reducing bottlenecks and ensuring orderly aircraft movements, apron control keeps the potential for ground delays to a minimum and streamlines the use of available infrastructure.

Michael Oberauer (senior consultant, MAI), Stefan Zeiler (Manager ITOCC, MANJ), Sazzad Hossain (former manager Ramp Control, RVA) © Munich Airport International GmbH

Successful implementation at EWR's new Terminal A

Terminal A at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) is a modern, state-of-the-art domestic terminal which opened to commercial passenger traffic on January 12, 2023. Munich Airport’s subsidiary, Munich Airport NJ LLC (MANJ), is the operator of this brand-new facility, handling over 350 movements and about 50,000 passengers per day.

As part of the Integrated Terminal Operations Control Center (ITOCC) at Terminal A in Newark, the new Virtual Ramp Control (as Apron Control is called in the US) plays a fundamental role in providing seamless traffic flow between the Air Traffic Control Tower and EWR Terminal A ramp control. “Nine ramp controllers and one ramp control manager monitor pushback and taxiing traffic completely remotely from our Virtual Ramp Control room”, said Michael Oberauer, ORAT Expert at Munich Airport International (MAI). “High-resolution cameras and a ground radar show all aircraft movements on the airport. Additional features such as a gate allocation tool and a docking guidance system (VDGS) tool, in combination with aligned procedures ensured safe operations from day one.”

In less than 15 months from service tender to first flight, the team of Munich Airport NJ LLC and Robinson Aviation (RVA) managed to make this project a success. 

A huge thanks to Stefan Zeiler, Sazzad Hossain and everybody else who contributed to setting up EWR Terminal A’s ITOCC and bringing it into operation. It was a pleasure to work with you

Leveraging the more than 25 years of ramp control expertise from our global partners at Munich Airport provided a great foundation for the successful commissioning of the virtual apron control room at such a dynamic and complex site as Newark Liberty International Airport. It was a pleasure to work with the MAI team getting these facilities operational. Now that they are running, MANJ looks forward to managing the cutting-edge ITOCC that we created together.

Stefan Zeiler

Integrated Terminal Operations Control Center Manager, Munich Airport NJ LLC