ACI Asia-Pacific’s Samantha Solomon explores the role of simulations in airplane parking projects before, during and post pandemic.
Like all in the aviation sector, the impact of the pandemic has not left global consulting firm Beca untouched. Over the course of the pandemic, the New Zealand-company has seen airport design projects terminated, postponed, or reduced in scope.
Prior to the pandemic, expansion and modernisation projects were bountiful as airports, especially in the fastest-growing region of the world, Asia, were dealing with rapid growth, requiring optimal apron layout designs.
Unlike now, the most common problem was trying to accommodate higher volumes of new technology aircraft.
“In 2019, we were commissioned to design six remote stands on the north side of Pier B at Auckland Airport,” recalls 27-year Beca veteran airport designer, Wayne Napier.
The project called for stands with one Code E/F on the main stand centre line and two alternative lines for Code C (up to Boeing 737-size aircraft), otherwise known as MARS (Multiple Aircraft Ramping System) replicated along six stands. Whilst the stands would initially serve as remote stands, the design team had to consider future boarding bridge operations.
“What would have taken weeks to design, we were able to achieve in a few days with simulation software,” notes Napier. This is just one of many examples where software has saved an enormous amount of time.
Originally designed to calculate the swept paths of aircraft, CAD-based design application AviPLAN, created by software company Transoft Solutions, has become one of the go-to tools for parking optimisation projects.
The software simulates aircraft manoeuvring, ground services activities, airbridge operations and jet-blast contours and then brings the project to life through animated video. Used by airport teams and consultants alike, AviPLAN is commercially available software for the design of taxiways and aircraft parking stands.
By using AviPLAN, Napier, a long-time user and advocate of the software, was able to streamline the design and planning aspect of the remote stand project and easily replicate one stand design across six.
He explains that apron planning is an iterative process, and the modelling software simulation tool is ideal for that. “Being able to sit with a client and work through scenarios is an essential part of the process,” Napier comments.
Fast forward to 2020 and “COVID-19 has changed the way operators look at the airfields,” notes Napier. “New construction projects, as opposed to maintenance projects, were terminated as global fleets were grounded and parking space became a premium commodity.
“Fortunately, this wasn’t really the case in New Zealand as the grounded fleet was primarily domestic. The international fleet was parked in either Australia’s Alice Springs or in the Arizona desert in the United States.”
AviPLAN was created for use in the preliminary planning stages of an airport but equally offers opportunities for airport operators to address temporary changes such as regular pavement maintenance or unexpected arrival of diverted flights. Many airports recently turned to the application as large numbers of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft were grounded.
At Transoft’s headquarters in Sweden and their regional offices in Europe, Middle East, Americas and Asia-Pacific, the teams could not have imagined the role its application would play as the pandemic unfolded.
Every airport faced the problem of having to park large numbers of airplanes. They soon realised there wasn’t enough parking space, nor was it practical to send all to desert storage facilities.
Initially, many airports used AviPLAN to park the airplanes as close as possible to optimise the available space and accommodating as many airplanes as possible.
But, as the grounding continued, airports realised this approach wasn’t sustainable. Airplanes needed to be serviced on a regular basis to keep them flight ready, including starting the engines at regular intervals. It became evident this was not possible due to their close proximity.
As airports returned to the drawing board, with AviPLAN, they could determine how much space they had, whether they could manoeuvre service vehicles between the aircraft and how the jet blast of starting engines would impact aircraft parked nearby.
Utilising the jet blast contour drawings in the library of the application, allowed them to quickly replan the parking arrangements in a way to make the best of a difficult situation.
In describing the benefits of the simulation software, Napier stresses the point not to put blind faith into the output of the software and the criticality of incorporating ‘real-world’ experiences. For example, it’s not unusual for Napier to cross check assumptions by spending time with teams on the ground.
He recalls that during one project at Auckland Airport, it was evident that the software output wasn’t achievable in a real-world environment. He then spent the day with a tug driver to determine whether this was due to human or environmental factors or standard operating procedures.
Napier certainly has a wealth of experience with AviPLAN and has assisted in training major airports in Australia and New Zealand. “The depth of experience is necessary to deliver meaningful training,” he emphasises.
Reassuringly, Napier states that Beca has noticed a rise in airport projects coming back online in the last few months.
“Although passenger numbers are still low, airports are seizing the opportunity to conduct work without disruption to airfield, terminal or landside operations,” he says. This is, of course, great news for the firm as it seeks to inspire airports in its second century of operations.
As the world slowly moves towards recovery, airports are turning to AviPLAN to run simulation scenarios how to best bring airplanes out of their temporary parking lots back to service.