The Five Minute Feature: Airport Operations Centres (APOCs)
The concept of an Airport Operations Centre (APOC) was originally developed by the SESAR Joint Undertaking, and was gaining traction within the European airport community in the years preceding the pandemic. Already recognised as an operational and strategic backbone in day-to-day airport management, the pandemic and subsequent struggle to normality have thrown the role of the APOC and its many benefits to the fore.
Airport: The Bulletin talks to ACI EUROPE’s Aidan Flanagan about the role of APOCs as we strive towards post-pandemic stabilisation, and focus squarely on future resilience in the face of crises.
- Can you summarise the benefits of the APOC concept for European Airports?
Bringing together in one place all the stakeholders who represent that complex, dynamic entity that is an airport has a profound effect in the widest range of scenarios. Whether it’s the day-to-day, minute-by-minute operations or the midst of a crisis situation, an APOC makes a fundamental difference for the better. That’s perhaps the greatest benefit of all – it’s a solution for any situation and therefore represents built-in resilience. Everybody shares the same information built around standardised milestones. In a contingency, everyone is already in the same room. When it’s business as usual, the ebb and flow is transparent and communication seamless and immediate.
- The recent resumption of air traffic came with operational difficulties for some airports. How did the presence of an APOC help airport management to navigate the specific problems?
The staffing and capacity issues we saw over summer involved so many different stakeholders across the airport. The challenges rippled across check-in, through baggage handling, security and border control…everyone was affected. So managing this and spotting opportunities to alleviate the situation for passengers could happen with everyone who needed to be in that conversation right there.
We recently surveyed members who have operational APOCs, and three quarters of them said that the APOC solution performance was good or even better than expected when the airport was under extreme pressure.
- And during the pandemic itself?
Obviously that’s a very different scenario, with many airports handling little or no traffic. But the management of scarce resources and health measurements often imposed overnight in unprecedented circumstances needs direct communication and action between different parties too – and again the APOC is there for exactly that purpose. Add new health, sanitary and physical distancing requirements and the APOC comes into its own once again.
- How much does an APOC differ from one airport to another – does one size fit all?
The principle remains the same, it’s really just which stakeholders are at the table that makes the biggest difference. And the relevance of different players might differ airport to airport, leading to a slightly altered make-up. But actually the fundamentals hold true.
- An APOC is at its core a means of bringing together stakeholders. What’s the benefit for these stakeholders, as well as for the airport management?
Access to each other! If the security team needs to speak to an airline urgently, for example, imagine how much easier that is if they are sitting three seats away. The APOC is the catalyst for this. There’s also visibility across different functions, and the opportunity to learn from each other too, establishing new levels of best practice.
- It’s well documented that airports are experiencing a cash-intensive and revenue-weak recovery. Is the development of APOCs threatened by this?
In principle the APOC need not be a daunting expenditure – it’s the bringing together of people and activities that were already there. So at one level all you need is a room big enough for them all!
- How widespread are they? Do you envisage a day when every airport uses an APOC model of some type?
It’s a relatively new concept and development was definitely interrupted by the pandemic. Still, many of the key hubs have them, plus a number of smaller airports following suit. Do we envisage this as the norm? Absolutely – and we’re strongly encouraging our members to explore and adopt this model.
- What are the future developments on the horizon for APOCs? How will they need to adapt to, say, Urban Air Mobility?
Urban Air Mobility, vertiports, ener-ports…the range of actors are set to grow as the airport structure, mission and role in the community develops. So this means even more reason to have the joined-up dialogue around one table – and more opportunities to collaborate.
- The airport of the future will have digitised solutions at its heart. Does an APOC have a role to play in this?
An APOC is essentially about real-time information sharing, so it’s already digitised in its very nature. So yes – it’s a digitised solution. But it’s also about keeping that human judgement, dialogue and response where it is most needed. The best of both worlds!
Aidan Flanagan is ACI EUROPE’s Head of Safety, Capacity, ATM and Single European Sky.
If you’d like to know more about ACI EUROPE’s work on APOCs, you can contact Aidan at email@example.com