By Dr. Joe Sulmona, Facilitator for ACI Global Training
The complexity of airport operations, together with multiple service-delivery partnerships, demands overcoming the limits of manual coordination. Instead, airport Digital Twin (DT) allows decision-makers to observe the entire site and sub-systems in order to examine and optimize the details in a collaborative manner. Leading airports like Hong Kong International Airport Authority (HKIAA) are already utilizing the DT application. Lily Lai, HKIAA’s Chief Information Officer, reports that “the DT has enabled the airport to accelerate its understanding of complex systems, explore hypothetical changes, and enable faster and better business decision-making.”
The term “Digital-Twin” refers to the real-time interactive 3D representations of existing mechanical systems and physical facilities, which allow the visualization of the ‘as built,’ while adding new digital layers for future design, ongoing monitoring, and system testing. The reality is that airports are behind in adopting DT which is already well established in advanced manufacturing and within architecture, engineering, and the construction sector. These industries already benefit from the enormous productivity gains that DT supports in terms of time savings, cost reductions, design, and quality improvement capabilities.
Broadly speaking, an airport DT can open new lines of strategic value, including:
The real-time interactive 3D experience enabled by DT provides an airport with the opportunity to reconfigure and reassess the entire operation with ready access to:
DT tools can, with leadership commitment and an orientation towards process innovation, lead to transformational change in various key areas, including:
DT is based on a multi-fold architecture that levers the combination of new hi-definition digital inputs together with existing operational systems and airport management’s database capacity, as depicted in the following diagram. The new component, the Reality Model, is based on a high-bandwidth visual interface to seamlessly integrate how the airport functions from day to day, or could better function through scenario-based assessments.
The Reality Model is a virtual replica of its real-world counterpart that is combined with existing operational data, along with standard-operating procedures and processes to describe the system’s overall state. Many airports have already implemented related tools necessary for successful DT implementation including interfaces to other geo-spatial information systems like GIS and BIM. The Reality Model must include the following capabilities to achieve effective DT functionality:
Numerous airports have begun implementing the DT tool with great success, including global leaders such as HKIAA. According to Lily Lai, HKIAA’s Chief Information Officer, “DT will contribute to the airport’s vision to develop itself into a smart airport which aims to apply innovation and technology to create an enjoyable and hassle-free experience for passengers, as well as enhance operational efficiency.”
Many cities have come to understand the benefits of DT implementation, like the city of Vancouver, Canada, which can be viewed in the following video.
As most airports are situated within or in the immediate periphery of the urban areas they serve, a tremendous opportunity for collaboration exists to link the DT application with the Airport City concept. As many technology-based airport service providers are entering the field, now is the time to expand our technical and managerial knowledge of how to best use DT to improve airport performance. DT can help build critical relations with the surrounding community as part of the airport’s sustainability initiatives through truly integrated stakeholder engagement.