May 5, 2019

Canadian Airports Next Generation Communications: Op-Ed with CATA Innovation Advocate, Dan Elliot

Canadian Airports Next Generation Communications

Many travellers see Airports as a City within themselves. Airports have a unique operating environment with rapidly growing complexity as they expand in size and complexity from small specialized local Airport Operations to large International Airports moving to become Mega Transportation Hubs. Adding to the complexity, Airports are influenced at a moment’s notice by world events that at an instant can change Security and Screening regulations thus, affecting both Canada & US Customs Guidelines and CATSA who are responsible for the initial passenger screening.

Weather and natural disasters also can greatly affect the Operation of an Airport with little warning. Close to home in 2019 for instance Toronto Pearson has 22 consecutive days of Winter Precipitation in February. Out west Wild Fires often impacted flight paths and local Airport Operations throughout the summer of 2018.

While each Airport is mandated by Transport Canada to have their own unique Operating Standards and Emergency Response Plans, effective Interoperable Communications always becomes the Achilles Heel when events occur at a moment’s notice with present radio, commercial cellular 4G technology and WIFI Networks.

So what’s the answer?

We need to look at Canadian Airports, Governance, Typical Communications Standards in use and then  propose a strategy that allows them to focus on their core business while moving forward with effective interoperable next generation communications that ensure Emergency Communications are there at a touch, all the time when you need them most!

Factoids or the Challenges Airports Face

  • There are multiple layers of governance and agencies all involved in the Operation of our Canadian Airports with many variations in how they handle Incident Response based on the size and complexity of the Airports Operations.
  • Each operational Airport entity whether operating under an established Authority or Regional/Municipal Governance is responsible under Transport Canada Regulations to establish Emergency Response Standards of Operation (SOP). The SOP’s very greatly between Airports depending on the size, relationships with Municipal Responders vs. On Port Responders with a variety of response protocols and standards
  • The realism of the lack of communication strategies becomes clear during major incidents when   stranded passengers and gathering on lookers all rush to social media record and post the latest news while others attempt to rebook flights or hotels or simply stream movies to wait for restoration of services.
  • The Present Commercial cellular 4G Technology is nearing or at capacity in many Urban Centre’s particularly our large International Airports on a normal day.

A Way Forward

We would argue that the First Step is to set aside technology and cost elements to focus on how the airport handles Day of and IRROPS (Irregular Operations) Communications.

In effect a Communications Plan needs to be built leading the Airport operators through understanding what LTE – 5G Means then leading to the PSBM & Next-generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) educating on the advantages. The advantages need to be put in simple plain English facts.

Guaranteed Voice Video & Data when you need it the most and the fact it means that Incident Commanders on the field from various disciplines can communicate, share current information and in a unified command approach make decisions.

From the EOC Directors standpoint they have eyes on the situation, and a clear line of communication from the field. The first priority is always life safety! and managing the event, but the underlying question is when can at least partial services be restored to the Airport?

Airports Operations would to gain immensely from a proposed Network of Network’s approach in response and management of an incident including a consolidated communications approach with Operational Staff, Airlines, Ground Handlers, Utilities and Multilevel Government Agencies.

Enabling first hand interoperable communications with access to video and data and guaranteed voice communications will preserve lives, ensure a unified response returning service to normal operations as quickly as possible ultimately reducing costs and impacts to the operation and the Airports Customers.

Related: Airport Communication Challenges: Technologies, Solutions & Advocacy (Draft Position Paper)

Dan Elliott, CATA Innovation Advocate, member, PSAC, & President,  Lakeview Wireless Communications Solutions

To add your views  to this Op-Ed and/or to confirm interest in engaging with us in Canadian Airport advocacy and initiatives or if you have an Op-Ed  to share (read guidelines),  please send an email to jreid@cata.ca