Airports and airlines have opened the world up more in the last half-century than sailing ships could manage in the previous half-millennium. There were nearly 37.4 million flights scheduled throughout the whole of 2014, working out to an average of 102,465 flights daily around the globe. With so many planes in the air, and more importantly on the ground, at a time, how do airports keep track of all these planes?
Safety on the ground is an equal focus of airport authorities everywhere. While crashes during flight concern the millions of individuals who fly on an annual basis, heavily congested tarmacs and airport aprons pose an equal threat to the health and safety of the flying public. How do airports manage all this ground traffic effectively?
Airport Positioning Systems
At first glance, the focus of airport positioning systems would seem to highlight the need to accurately track planes as they taxi to and from the runway, park at gates, and queue up for takeoff from particular runways. With so many moving parts, and the stakes so high, it is vital that airport authorities are certain which planes belong where and when. Any error could result in hundreds of thousands, or millions, of dollars in damage to aircraft and the potential loss of life.
If you delve a little deeper, you’ll realize that the apron of an airport has far more hustle and bustle going on than just large moving aircraft. For starters, there are the many small vehicles that help planes pushback from gates, food delivery trucks providing the refreshments enjoyed in-flight by passengers, and baggage carts snaking throughout the grounds making sure bags are delivered to and from the proper aircraft in a timely fashion.
For the most part, the larger moving parts like airplanes are considerably easier to track and manage because they come with built-in GPS technology that aids them during flight, and can be used to track the craft as they taxi throughout the airport grounds. Airport positioning systems are proving more beneficial in moving the other parts throughout the airport that the average traveler often does not see.
Tracking More than Planes and People
Airport positioning systems now feature enhanced technology that allows the airport authority to track the movement and position of shipping containers and crates as well. Each year, millions of tons of cargo are shipped through airports around the globe. The task of tracking one crate or one container’s position on the airport grounds, ensuring it makes it from warehouse to plane or one plane to the next is daunting.
Previously, airports would use printed assignments for tow tractors moving crates and pallets throughout the facility. Today, new technology from an Airport Bearing Company provider attaches wireless sensors to dollies that send data back and forth to help track cargo on the premises. This information can include a specific trailer’s identification number and load, which is then sent to a tow tractor. When a dolly is hitched, the information is relayed to the control center to allow airport authorities to track its location and movements.
This means that airports are moving toward a future in which control towers and management will not only be able to track the whereabouts of large aircraft and passengers, but also an entire fleet of smaller vehicles (tow tractors, supply trucks, pallets, crates, etc.) and the loads they are carrying throughout the airport grounds. As a result, air traffic on the ground will be safer because authorities have digital eyes on all of the equipment that is moving around across an airport apron.
Beyond Safety to Enhanced Efficiency
At the end of the day, airport positioning systems aren’t just about safety, they’re about improved efficiency of operation in the airport as well. Flights stay on time because control towers know which planes are where, and can prioritize takeoff positions for different aircraft.
Improvements in airport positioning systems will increase the efficiency of the cargo moving through airports on a daily basis. This means that companies that rely on air cargo can rest assured knowing that the materials entrusted to air freighters are accurately tracked and handled. Keeping the movement of consumer goods on a timely schedule is just as important to airport operations as it is to keep air travelers on time.
With each new enhancement, airports become more efficient locations that satisfy both recreational and business air travelers, as well as companies shipping consumer goods and materials.
Grace Douglas works at a regional airport airside. Because of her job she takes an interest in the latest developments, and writes about these for various tech and industry related websites.