Airport Infrastructure Development

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Airport Infrastructure Development

58TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Conchal, Costa Rica, 20-24 May 2019

Agenda Item: B.5.1/C.6.1 – WP No. 86

Airport Infrastructure Development

Presented by PLC and TOC


In order for an ATM system to work safely, efficiently and fluently at an airport, it is important that everyone in the system is prepared for any changes or increase in demand. This includes, but is not limited to, infrastructure on the ground (e.g. sufficient apron-space, taxiways, new runways and rapid exits from runways) and new procedures or airspace structure (e.g. for a new runway). ATCOs are at the very heart of this system and have the highest level of practical experience and expertise from their day-to-day business. It is therefore imperative, that local ATCOs are included in the design, development and implementation of any changes or expansions.


1.1 In emerging economies, the aviation sector often plays a major role in the development and sustainability of a country.

1.2 An airline may begin to expand rapidly, often creating a regional or even a global hub. Frequently, the aviation infrastructure (i.e. the home airport of the airline) and the Air Traffic Management (ATM) system are caught unaware and either have no say in the expansion or cannot keep up with the speed of the development.

1.3 ICAO Doc 9426, Air Traffic Services Planning Manual, emphasizes the necessity for proper and timely preparation and pre-planning. While it does not specifically mention the need of Air Traffic Control Operator (ATCO) involvement, it does warn of the danger of “unexpected excessive traffic volumes creating unacceptable controller workload” and that “staff morale will suffer and unit efficiency will drop.” (ICAO. Doc 9426. Air Traffic Service Planning Manual, 1st Ed., Page I-1-1-3, 1.3.3)

1.4 When airport expansion without ATCO involvement is considered, unforeseen complications with regard to the safe and expeditious movement of aircraft to and from the runways can be encountered.

1.5 This paper will examine how Member Association’s (MA’s) can adapt to expanding airports and deal with the corresponding problems, as well as how work can be done with operators and providers at the onset of expansions.


Airport Expansion

2.1 The ATM system is at the very heart of any aviation operation. The integrity and capability to handle the traffic demand is key to a safe, orderly and expeditious traffic flow. It is therefore of paramount importance that ATM –specifically and especially ATC – is actively involved in any and all airport expansion, even including terminal expansions. If the infrastructure – technical and/or procedural – is not fit to handle a certain amount of traffic increase, this can, in the best case, lead to significant delays and disruptions in the traffic flow. In the worst case, it may lead to incidents.

2.2 There are many reasons why ATCOs should concern themselves with an expanding airport.

  • A new runway being added.
    • The runway should be positioned (distance from other runways) to allow for maximum usage. For example, is it far enough away from an adjacent runway to be considered an “independent” runway?
    • High Speed taxiways should be built to assist with rapid exiting.
    • Procedures need to be developed to efficiently utilize the runway.
  • A terminal expanding.
    • Terminal expansions are most commonly done to add gates. Added gates means added aircraft which is an increase in traffic. Can the current ATM system, including staffing and procedures, handle the increase in traffic?
  • Line of sight needs to be considered at all times.

2.3  A recent example of what problems can be encountered when not having ATCO involvement during the design, development and implementation of a terminal expansion was realized at an airport in Africa. It was discovered that the only way an aircraft could vacate the newly constructed gate was to push back onto, and essentially block, an active taxiway. This taxiway, being the main route to the active runway, is instrumental in a safe and orderly flow of traffic to and from the runway. Blocking access to this taxiway delays other traffic. Actions can be taken by ATCOs to taxi the traffic around the aircraft (i.e. utilizing the runway to taxi back) but it is not as safe or as orderly as utilizing the main taxiway. ATCOs are often called on to fix problems such as these, but rarely is their expertise called upon to provide valuable input in the planning and development stages.

2.4  Similarly, problems for ATCOs arose at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), after construction on the Bradley terminal (without ATCO involvement at any stage). Even with the tower standing at 277 feet high, and the tower being in the centre of the terminal layout, the line of sight is so that only the tip of the tail of an A380 aircraft just on the other side of the Bradley terminal can be seen from the Control Tower. The way to fix this problem was to place a camera on the Bradley terminal, and a monitor installed in the tower, to provide limited viewing of that area for the ATCOs. A few years after the camera and monitor installation, the camera broke and no entity is prepared to pay for a replacement.

2.5. Especially, but not only in Europe, even the smallest plans for airport expansion, are a big political issue and often meet fierce resistance by the neighbouring population. Local politicians almost always side with the local residents, as anything else would lead to a plummet in their popularity and jeopardize re-election. Naturally, the desired plans by the airport and what the local population are willing to accept, are worlds apart. The resulting compromise is therefore very often a political one, far from ideal from an ATC point of view, leading to a more complex environment with corresponding increased workload for ATCOs.

Existing Policy and Guidance

2.6 Increase in air traffic levels can lead to the necessity for a new ATC facility to be built, whether it be a control tower or centre. As described in IFATCA Working Paper 85 “Moving to a new facility”, presented by PLC & TOC at the IFATCA Conference 2017 in Toronto, ATCO involvement from the very early planning stages is of utmost importance to guarantee a successful transition. Similarly, ATCOs should be involved from a very early stage in the development of new procedures to handle increases in traffic at any given airport or facility, as it is the ATCOs themselves that have to handle the traffic in their daily business. This should also include provisional measures during a transitional phase, if such measures are deemed necessary and/or feasible.

2.7  Many examples can be given of problems arising, or costs exceeding the planned, when ATCOs are not involved from the beginning. In the United States, a system was developed to replace the 40-year-old Enroute Host computer system. From 2006-2009 the FAA worked with developers and “Subject Matter Experts”, but without ATCO involvement, to develop this new system. In 2009, ATCOs were asked to help after the program was behind schedule and over budget. By 2010, the Enroute Automation Modernization (ERAM) was up to ATCO standards and ready to begin installation. The system itself was a huge improvement over the aging system that it replaced. However, just the implementation of the new system was not going to provide the improvements expected, such as increasing traffic flow, improved conflict detection and improved automated navigation. In order to achieve this, the ATCOs needed proper training on the new system.

2.8  The IFATCA Technical and Professional Manual states that:

Human Factor issues shall be accounted for in each phase of the definition, development, and deployment of new and existing ATM systems and into operational training. Human Factors Case shall be integrated into Safety Management Systems (SMS). Controllers and human factors experts shall be involved from the beginning of any new project.

(IFATCA. (2018). TPM, 2018 Ed., WC 8.7.3 Safety Management Systems, page 219)

The use of SMS with either expanding airports or an increase in air traffic can ensure ATCOs have a voice in these changes, and that safety risks and hazards will be looked at extensively.

2.9  Given that airlines may not be forthcoming with their expansion plans, and given that ATCOs do not always have a strong voice in an ATM system, especially in regions where collaborative decision-making (CDM) is not yet well implemented, an early aid to detection of a long-term, unexpected traffic increase could be developed. This tool could look at possible indicators such as ATCO reports of overload, repeated increases in monthly traffic figures, or a rise in reports or complaints regarding delays by the airspace users. The International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) ATM Requirements and Performance Panel (ATMRPP) is working on a concept to support future ATM operations: Flight & Flow Information for a Collaborative Environment (FF-ICE). The program would allow operators to submit flight plans up to one year in advance. MAs and the ANSP are expected to meet with new operators before they start operations to discuss preferred routes, local procedures, etc., to minimize the disruption from newly added flights. While FF-ICE will not specifically be designed for the purpose of early detection, it could be adapted for such a use.

2.10  In Europe, the former Central Flow Management Unit (CFMU) originally created in 1995, is now called the Network Manager Operations Centre (NMOC) and is tasked, amongst other things, with managing the traffic flow and capacity. In 2011 Eurocontrol was nominated Network Manager by the European Commission as part of its Single European Sky (SES) plan, with the aim of reducing delays and improving flow and throughput while upholding the highest of safety standards.

2.10.1. In June 2007, Munich became the first airport in Europe with fully implemented A-CDM procedures and has proven to be a success story. This principle is being introduced at more and more other airports. The overall process of A-CDM covers the time period from three hours prior Estimated Off Block Time (EOBT) until take-off and all aspects from the ATC flight plan, the actual landing time and the entire turn-around on the ground. The aim is to create a smooth and seamless turn-around and to reduce any waiting time for aircraft on the ground to a minimum.

2.10.2 In the United States, there is the Air Traffic Control System Command Center (ATCSCC). Staffed by ATCOs, they balance air traffic demand with system capacity throughout the National Airspace System (NAS). The Command Center, as it is commonly known, has direct communication with their partners: Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCCs), Terminal Radar Approach Control Facilities (TRACONs), Air Traffic Control Towers (ATCTs) and Aviation Industry Partners. The major airports and in effect, the TRACONs around each ATCT, have an Airport Acceptance Rate (AAR). These pre-determined numbers take into account weather, configuration of the airport and available runways, as well as the type of approach in use. The Command Center ensures that ARTCC sectors, TRACONs and ATCTs do not go over their capacity. Also, the Command Center can be very dynamic in adjusting flows, arrival rates, etc., to work around specific airport demands.

2.10.3 As can be seen, in the U.S. and in Europe, a single body for each is responsible for large amounts of airspace. For other areas, there is not one single overarching body responsible. Therefore, bilateral agreements between individual states have to be reached. These agreements can provide adequate ATFM or even CDM measures on a regional basis, while at the same time causing problems such as two individual slots for a single flight, that could be avoided by an overarching body.

2.11 On January 29, 2018, Twenty-Six African States signed the “Single African Aviation Market Agreement”. This agreement is expected to significantly boost air transport in the region. Efforts have been taken throughout the region to develop infrastructure to meet the expected growth. However, there are some major airports in the region that are expanding, i.e. adding terminals, gates, etc. These expansions are without regard for the specific modifications to the air traffic control infrastructure that need to take place, such as developing new procedures or optimizing the airspace to accommodate the expected demand and match it with the capacity of the facility.

2.11.1  In Africa, air traffic was already growing before the agreement came into effect. Some airports are already lacking the necessary infrastructure, procedures and staffing to meet the current demand, let alone future traffic increases, resulting in an elevated workload for the ATCOs concerned. An increase in workload without proper support could lead to an increase in stress- levels and have a negative effect on performance. Also, in situations like this when existing procedures are not sufficient to handle the current level of traffic, ATCOs may be forced to improvise, possibly create work-arounds in order to solve problems. Safety, of course, will always be the top priority.

2.11.2  In Nigeria, expansion at airports as well as an increase in air traffic, may be experienced. A new national carrier was scheduled to begin operations in 2018, with plans to operate flights on 81 domestic, regional, and international routes. The only consideration given to this increase in air traffic was to complete new airport terminals to accommodate the envisaged 11 million passengers expected. No consideration with/for the ATM has been given.

2.11.3  Air Traffic Flow Management, ATFM, and Airport Collaborative Decision Making (ACDM) can bring some solutions to the problems related to airport- as well as air traffic expansion.

2.12  In recent years, ICAO has delved into ways to assist Member States, for example through the No Country Left Behind (NCLB) initiative. The initiative highlights efforts to assist States in implementing ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs). The main goal is to help ensure that SARP implementation is better harmonized globally so that all States have access to the significant socio-economic benefits of safe and reliable air transport.

2.13  Whenever changes directly affect the work of ATCOs (e.g. new runways, taxiways, apron- layouts etc.), it is of paramount importance that local ATCOs are not only involved in the process from the very beginning – i.e. from the early analysis and design stages – but also receive adequate training prior to implementation of the change. Depending on the scale or scope of the changes, this can mean anything from a simple briefing to multiple simulator sessions. Local ATCOs should also be involved in the development and preparation of the training. This is just as important as the general necessity of ATCO involvement, as any good system cannot fully deliver, if those who are expected to use it have not been trained properly.

2.14  Expansion and implementation takes time, sometimes very long periods of time. Using this time as a resource to continually look for ways to improve any future processes, can prove helpful in avoiding any delays or post-implementation-adaptions, as well as reduce costs associated with such issues.


3.1  Expanding airports typically increase traffic numbers, which can be very challenging for an ATM system. This expansion usually does not happen unexpectedly, but often happens without the expertise of ATCO involvement. The ATM system as a whole may not be prepared. It is often expected that ATCOs are forced to amend their procedures around problem areas and then enact mitigating measures.

3.2  ANSPs should be proactive and be prepared to regulate unsustainable growth to ensure that air traffic demand does not exceed system capacity, including airspace, ATCO staffing, necessary training, and procedures. Any expansion plans to an airport or to an operators’ schedule should be met consulted with the ANSP while still in the planning stages.

3.3  All stakeholders, including and especially ATCOs, should be actively involved in any airport expansion as well in development of new procedures. Failure of ATCO involvement will very likely negatively affect the morale as well as the ability of the ATCOs to safely and efficiently handle the increased and changed workload. Utilizing the Safety Management Systems (SMS) process will ensure safety and shall have prevalence over economic demands.

3.4  ANSPs should have systems in place which allow for monitoring for airport improvements and expansions. The use of ATFM and A-CDM by all States will go a long way in meeting the demands of the operators while considering the capacity of system and thereby avoiding potentially dangerous overload situations.


4.1 It is recommended that IFATCA policy is:

When modifying airport infrastructure affecting ATM, local ATCOs shall be involved throughout its design, development and implementation.

and is added to the IFATCA Technical and Professional Manual.


IFATCA Technical and Professional Manual, 2018 edition.

ICAO DOC 9426, 1st edition, page I-1-1-3, para 1.3.3.

ICAO NCLB initiative.

Last Update: October 2, 2020  

November 2, 2019   1120   Jean-Francois Lepage    2019    

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