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Technological advancements for surface condition reporting

Posted: 4 April 2013 | James Bogusz, Director of Airside Operations, Technology and Environment, Victoria Airport Authority | No comments yet

Airports must ensure that pilots have accurate and timely information on the conditions of paved airfield surfaces. James Bogusz, Director of Airside Operations, Technology and Environment at the Victoria Airport Authority, looks at how Victoria International Airport has enhanced surface condition reporting To help frame the technological advancements that occurred in Canada last year, it’s important to look at the broader view of condition reporting from recent years. At Victoria International Airport (CYYJ) – the 10th busiest airport in Canada with over 1.5 million passengers per year – runways, taxiways and aprons are inspected at least three times a day, checking for foreign object debris, paved surface conditions and of course the status of visual aids such as airfield lighting, precision approach path indicators and signage.

The information is collected and recorded on an Aircraft Movement Surface Condition Report (AMSCR) and provided to the piloting community through NOTAM by faxing a paper form to NAV Canada. NAV Canada then disseminates this information to the pilots that need it through the Notice to Airman (NOTAM) process.

Airports must ensure that pilots have accurate and timely information on the conditions of paved airfield surfaces. James Bogusz, Director of Airside Operations, Technology and Environment at the Victoria Airport Authority, looks at how Victoria International Airport has enhanced surface condition reporting To help frame the technological advancements that occurred in Canada last year, it’s important to look at the broader view of condition reporting from recent years. At Victoria International Airport (CYYJ) – the 10th busiest airport in Canada with over 1.5 million passengers per year – runways, taxiways and aprons are inspected at least three times a day, checking for foreign object debris, paved surface conditions and of course the status of visual aids such as airfield lighting, precision approach path indicators and signage.The information is collected and recorded on an Aircraft Movement Surface Condition Report (AMSCR) and provided to the piloting community through NOTAM by faxing a paper form to NAV Canada. NAV Canada then disseminates this information to the pilots that need it through the Notice to Airman (NOTAM) process.

Airports must ensure that pilots have accurate and timely information on the conditions of paved airfield surfaces. James Bogusz, Director of Airside Operations, Technology and Environment at the Victoria Airport Authority, looks at how Victoria International Airport has enhanced surface condition reporting To help frame the technological advancements that occurred in Canada last year, it’s important to look at the broader view of condition reporting from recent years. At Victoria International Airport (CYYJ) – the 10th busiest airport in Canada with over 1.5 million passengers per year – runways, taxiways and aprons are inspected at least three times a day, checking for foreign object debris, paved surface conditions and of course the status of visual aids such as airfield lighting, precision approach path indicators and signage.

The information is collected and recorded on an Aircraft Movement Surface Condition Report (AMSCR) and provided to the piloting community through NOTAM by faxing a paper form to NAV Canada. NAV Canada then disseminates this information to the pilots that need it through the Notice to Airman (NOTAM) process.

The airport had been following this process for many years and although it may involve a number of manual steps, it has proven to be effective in ensuring pilots have the airport specific information needed to make decisions on operations at CYYJ. In the late 1990s and into the 2000s, the airport invested in computerised equipment to produce this information using a computer in the cab of a pick-up truck that would allow the operator to use a simple touchscreen interface and capture the key information on current runway conditions. This enhancement saved a lot of time and greatly improved the consistency of how information was reported. As you would imagine, providing pre-defined options for specific runway conditions on a touchscreen really simplified the process. The operator still had the ability to provide the paper version to NAV Canada by fax if the truck was not operational, but most of the time, these reports were being produced in this more modern way.

During winter months when aircraft braking may be compromised due to snow, ice or other runway contaminates, the touchscreen equipment in the truck works in tandem with a device called a decelerometer, which measures the friction value of a runway. In Canada, this is called the Canadian Runway Friction Index or CRFI. By including this friction value along within the AMSCR, it allows for pilots to make accurate operational decisions on aircraft braking even during very inclement weather.

As with all airports which deal with adverse winter conditions, CYYJ utilises chemicals such as sodium formate and potassium acetate to inhibit ice formation, or if required, melt the ice that has already formed. During snow events, mechanical cleaning of the runways using ploughs and runway sweepers are the primary means of dealing with these contaminates. During periods of fluctuating winter conditions, the frequency of condition reports increases from three times a day, to many times over a much shorter period, all based on the frequency of the changes in conditions. Additionally, checking the friction value on a runway allows the airport to ensure that the chemicals that may have been applied to improve the braking condition for an aircraft are working as intended.

So with a solid process in hand for recording and disseminating friction values, paved surface inspections, and providing information to NAV Canada to issue a NOTAM, a savvy reader may ask themselves what is needed to be improved or advanced? The simple answer is time.

Although CYYJ has been using a very modern truck-based computer system that is able to collect the information, provide accurate friction values and has an easy touchscreen interface for the operator to improve consistency, the process was still stalled by the need for a fax to be sent.

Essentially all of the information that was collected would be transferred to a computer located at the airport’s operations centre by way of a short range wireless transmission. When it reached the computer, a modem began dialing fax numbers for the NOTAM office in British Columbia, followed by other local stakeholders who needed the updated info. From there, manual entry was required on the part of NAV Canada to publish the information and issue the NOTAM. Depending on transmission time from the Airport, NAV Canada’s workload and other factors, sometimes the issuance of a NOTAM would take longer than desired. The airport operator in the inspection truck always provides updated information by radio to the local aircraft control tower; however pilots making decisions from longer haul destinations rely on published information to decide if they should proceed to Victoria, or find an alternate airport.

In 2012, NAV Canada allowed select Canadian Airport operators to trial a new way of communicating information digitally. They dubbed the new application ‘SNOWiz’, which is essentially a website portal that allows airport operators to file relevant information for surface conditions on a secure site. Options for the airport are mostly granular and pre-defined to ensure consistency in terminology and ultimately provide concise NOTAM information to pilots without the interface with a fax machine.

To ensure integration with existing systems and recognising that many airport operators had made investments in truckbased computer systems to provide reporting, it was imperative for NAV Canada to work with the two main Canadian vendors to create an interface to SNOWiz. Over a period of time, through various cycles of development, Canadian airports which had made these investments were given an opportunity to upgrade their system and allow for this interface to work effectively.

In late autumn 2012, CYYJ upgraded its system to allow for SNOWiz compatibility. Although the upgrade itself from the vendor was fairly transparent, time was of the essence for local staff training and testing to ensure everything worked as intended. Starting in late autumn did not give us enough time to ensure the system was as rock-solid as the previous model had been before winter operations began.

To help alleviate these concerns, the old and new systems were run in parallel, so although a fully digital version of the report was sent to NAV Canada, we also duplicated the report by fax, as had been done in previous years. This initial duplication ensured that airport staff could be confident that the report was being received by a computer or a person. In the truck itself, a visual queue shows when a transmission is received, which also lessened concerns. Once some weeks had passed and the system had proven itself reliable, the fax back-up became redundant. It should be noted that when we dug into the old faxing process, it was found that after occasionally stakeholders who received the fax would then re-fax it to more numbers. The inefficiency was compounded by so much duplication that there were bound to be errors in the process.

With a new digital process in hand and staff training completed, it became apparent that the new digital age provided a number of advantages. In addition to NAV Canada receiving the data in a timely fashion, we also use that same data for our in-house operational programmes. The information is emailed to stakeholders and staff in almost real-time along with it being replicated visually on our secure site. The fax bottle neck was removed, so no longer did it take many minutes for the modem to auto dial multiple numbers, it was now received and disseminated in seconds. Each system that relies on the data may need a few minutes to update, but it’s only a fraction of the time that the old process used to be.

As with any new system, it is not perfect. For example the NAV Canada servers do go offline from time to time for updates or for technical issues to be fixed. When this occurs, NAV Canada has been very good about notifying the impacted airport operators by email, but it does require us to revert back to the fax system. Staff at smaller airports that did not have a computerised truck system and had been used to filling out paper reports and sending them by fax, now would require staff training on completely different method, which can be challenging. And similarly, airports in more remote areas that do not have a reliable internet connection would be in a tough position to employ this digital technique and could not effectively transition. Software upgrades and technology changes do come at a cost and some airports are not in a position to incur additional expenses.

Even with some of the growing pains that change often brings, it genuinely feels like in Canada, we have made some significant progress this year embracing this technologic change. From an airport’s perspective, it is anticipated that future enhancements to the system would continue to streamline and enhance the end user experience. Software vendors will likely create value added components to the core data that could be useful to airport operators for their safety and reporting programs. Who knows, perhaps eventually there will even be a mobile app for all of this? Regardless of what the future holds, it’s great to see the industry continue to innovate and streamline such critical processes. I, for one, feel strongly that providing pilots with accurate and timely information will no doubt further enhance aviation safety in Canada.

 

Biography

James Bogusz joined the Victoria Airport Authority in 2007 as the Manager of Information Technology. In 2008, additional responsibilities of air service development, airport marketing and tourism development were added to his portfolio. In 2010, he moved into the position of Director of Airside Operations, Technology and Environment.

James is an active member of the Canadian Airports Council’s (CAC) Operations, Safety and Technical Affairs Committee, the CAC Environment Committee and served on the board for the North West Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives. James also participates in Airports Council International (ACI-NA) events and conferences.

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