Enhancing visual surveillance for aerodrome operations with a Digital Apron and Tower Management System
In this exclusive International Airport Review article, Steven Yiu Siu-Chung, the Executive Director for Airport Operations at Airport Authority Hong Kong (AAHK), writes about the airport’s Digital Apron and Tower Management System (DATMS) and how it has made surveillance more seamless and accurate.
Digital Apron and Tower Management System (DATMS) – jointly developed by the Civil Aviation Department (CAD) and Airport Authority Hong Kong (AAHK) – is the first collaborative system under a single digital platform between air navigation service providers and airport operators. As one of the largest digital deployments to date in the industry, it aims to adopt a holistic approach in controlling and monitoring apron activities. With a view to enhance safety and operational efficiency through the utilisation of digital video technology and artificial intelligence (AI), it supports the operation of Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) and its expansion into a three-runway system.
Leveraging over 240 ultra-resolution (4K) optical sensors and 120 working positions installed on CAD’s and AAHK’s premises, DATMS has emerged to allow an enhanced visual surveillance for aerodrome and airport operators by supplementing the seamlessly stitched, out-of-window view on displays overlaid with essential flight information. This is derived from various real-time operational data, such as ground surveillance data, flight data, parking stand information, etc. To facilitate an integrated and comprehensive visualisation of activities at the aerodrome, the two sub-systems of DATMS – namely CAD’s Digital Tower Facilities (DTF) and AAHK’s Digital Apron Management System (DAMS) – mutually share real-time video outputs, flight information and surveillance data to the common software platform. The synergies created have significantly improved the operator’s experience and situation awareness since they can view various real-time essential flight information simply on their console instead of referencing the information from various airport system displays at their working position.
In addition to the augmented panoramic views of the airfield, DATMS is equipped with AI capability to enable a wide array of automated and predictive safety alerts, such as the early detection of potential conflicting situations or intrusions. Customised functionalities include displaying occupancy on runways and parking stands, equipment readiness for flight handling, anomaly detection and more. These features have effectively assisted the daily work and decision-making processes of operators in operation planning and enhanced safety of operations on the airfield.
With consideration of the weather conditions of Hong Kong, such as heavy fog, heavy rain, and typhoons in summer, DATMS is equipped with multi-level system resilience to ensure a reliable, around-the-clock operation. With ultra-high-resolution views, operators can maintain visibility under low light or conditions. Operators can also zoom-in to strategic locations based on operational needs.
Being a core component of AAHK’s technology roadmap, this pioneering project was successfully trialled at HKIA in 2020. CAD and AAHK both saw the benefits of applying digital technologies to airfield operations management. In this regard, a joint development between AAHK and CAD to establish a common software platform, technical infrastructure and video image system was implemented in full force, despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Phase I of DATMS was successfully launched to support the interim two-runway system operations in July 2022. And to support HKIA’s expansion into a three-runway system, Phase II of the project is now ongoing. It will expand the system’s geographical coverage, and implement additional advanced features and automation applications. One of the key applications to be added into DAMS is a traffic light alerting function. This new function can enhance apron traffic safety by controlling vehicle stop signs, which are usually installed along back-of-stand roads or taxi lane crossings. It will stop vehicle traffic before the aircraft enters the parking stands or vehicular crossings, by tracking aircraft positions and predicting their routes using ground radar and video analytics.
Looking ahead, we anticipate the development of collaborative digital platforms to bring together airport stakeholders together in their pursuit of safety, operational resilience and collaborative decision-making. HKIA is committed to continuously investing in new technologies to enhance air traffic and airport operation efficiency and safety.
Steven Yiu Siu-Chung has been in the aviation industry for over 30 years. He has held various management positions in airport operations, including technical services, airfield, and terminal management at Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA), he is currently Executive Director, Airport Operations. He was the General Manager for Terminals at Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport from 2009 to 2012. Mr Yiu is a registered professional surveyor. Prior to joining AAHK, he was actively involved in numerous airport developments, including the refurbishment of Kai Tak Airport in Hong Kong; HKIA new airport master plan and the construction of Macao International Airport.