A joint initiative between IATA and Airports Council International aims to optimize guidelines for passenger service at airports
Special report

Service quality within airport terminals is a crucial factor in the travel experience. Many airports are congested as the demand for air travel continues to grow while a few are over-built, with space to spare.

Neither option is ideal. IATA’s Airport Development Reference Manual (ADRM) has long acted as a guide for airlines, airports, government authorities, architects, engineers and consultants engaged in planning new airports or extending existing airport facilities. ADRM brings together aviation industry best practices through the consolidated recommendations of world-renowned industry specialists and organizations and seeks to promote the development of sustainable, cost-effective and affordable world-class airport facilities.

That mission has come a step closer to realisation following a complete revamp of the Level of Service (LoS) concept within the ADRM. The new content has been produced in collaboration with Airports Council International (ACI) and is intended to address both the under-performance and over-design of airport facilities.

“Levels of services offered at airports have always been very important to ACI, its members and of course to passengers as end users,” says Antoine Rostworowski, Director, Facilitation and IT, ACI World. “With the deployment of various new technologies at airports over the past years and the significant impact they can have on the efficiency of various airport processes, ACI felt it was important to refine the way Levels of Service were defined to be able to incorporate various waiting time aspects as well. This provides the possibility to plan a balanced LoS that does not under-provide nor over-provide, and can therefore respond to a realistic design horizon. This is a great tool for better airport efficiency planning, which takes into account today’s reality.”

A Memorandum of Understanding with ACI was signed two years ago and covers a variety of areas of cooperation, including ADRM. “Due to the successful collaboration with ACI, we now have content relating to airport development and operations that is fully supported by both the airline and airport communities,” says Jurgen Renner, Senior Manager and LoS Subject Matter Expert within IATA’s Consulting team.

Happy medium
The end result of the collaboration is a revised LoS framework for the service planning of new terminals as well as the monitoring of service performance in existing facilities.

Much has been learned from the previous LoS guidelines, which were largely based on the space provided at key airport process points, such as check-in or baggage claim.

Category revision tops the list of lessons. Before, airport terminals were rated in a range from “Excellent” (category A)—signifying the free flow of passengers and top quality comfort levels—to “Unacceptable” (category F)—typified by the crossing of passenger flows, system breakdowns, and poor comfort levels.

IATA recommendation was a happy medium, category C, with good levels of service that met passenger expectations and a terminal that hadn’t over-reached in terms of capacity.

But, Renner explains that IATA’s intentions were often misunderstood and airport design teams were being charged to aspire to a category A level of service even though that meant the airport was providing 30%-50% more space per passenger than the desired category C levels.

David Stewart, IATA’s Head of Airport Development, who has been responsible for overseeing the update of the ADRM says that the previous A to F LoS ranking system tended to become a matter of competition between authorities, each one wanting their airport to be better than others in the region.

“This was never the intent of the ranking system but our ACI colleagues reinforced our own observations and feedback from the design community that the 9th Edition ADRM Level of Service system was leading to excessively expensive and over-designed airport terminal facilities,” Stewart continues.

An immense terminal is not only unnecessarily expensive to build but also unnecessarily expensive to maintain. Consider cleaning, heating or air-conditioning costs, for example, as well as the general lifecycle cost of sub-systems.

That cost often trickles down to the passenger, driving up the cost of air fares and so limiting the benefits of air connectivity. “And it is not just the cost,” says Renner. “There are energy waste issues to consider as well. It is vital for the modern aviation eco-system to be energy efficient and a responsible partner for local communities.”

Another key lesson learned from the earlier versions of ADRM was the need to better define passenger waiting times. Recent surveys have shown that many passengers value shorter waiting times more than space and so “the old system had the potential to create an unbalanced approach,” Renner notes. “We needed to take what we had learned and develop new metrics.

“I am happy that, with the new LoS concept, we have improved on the previous LoS framework,” he adds.

Two parameters
In the new LoS guidelines, the waiting time parameter has now been clearly defined and properly incorporated into the guidelines. Optimum waiting times as well as space provision will count toward the final designation of a terminal through the application of the new LoS space-time matrix.

In addition, the resulting LoS categories have been simplified with headings that better reflect the assessment. There are now four:

  • Under-provided
  • Sub-optimum
  • Optimum
  • Over-design

So if waiting times are long and the airport is congested, service levels will be rated as under-provided. Working out the LoS at a facility in either of the two parameters is a matter of applying the relevant metrics to all sub-systems—the security checkpoint area, the baggage claim hall and so forth.

“Clearly, airports should be aiming for an “Optimum” LoS,” says Renner. “That typically means sufficient space for passenger flows with acceptable waiting times. At the same time, capital and operational expenditure remain at an affordable level.”

Hitting the ideal level of service will be made easier by the flexibility built into the new guidelines. The “Optimum” parameter recommends a range of values for space and waiting time. This provides decision-makers in different countries and environments the opportunity to reflect the local market. Some cultures are happier with more personal space and a short wait while for others the reverse is true.

Alongside the new definitions, exactly when an airport’s LoS is assessed has also been the subject of debate. The LoS is to be measured during a “busy day”, technically the second busiest day in an average week during the peak month.

The IATA formula gives an airport some leeway as it would be economically inefficient to design for the busiest day of the year. At the same time, it would be equally misguided to judge levels of service during a quiet period.

Proof of concept
Already, the new LoS concept is reaping rewards for both airlines and airports. The new terminal at Queen Alia International Airport (QAIA) in Amman, Jordan embraced the revamped guidelines and recommendations and has jumped more than 100 places in ACI’s global Airport Service Quality (ASQ) survey.

A joint study delivered by IATA and ACI on the new terminal determined that overall “the airport meets international best practices for passenger levels of service and for passenger and baggage processes.” Prior to the new terminal opening, QAIA stood at 186th place in the ASQ rankings. The most recent survey has put it in 38th place.

“The LoS concept will become increasingly important as more and more people travel and airports find it more and more difficult to expand,” Renner concludes. “It provides a way forward that finds a good balance between service and cost, ensuring the passenger, airports and airlines all benefit.”

What next for ADRM?
IATA’s Airport Development Reference Manual (ADRM) is no longer issued periodically as a hard copy but rather is a living document that is constantly being updated online.

The feedback is fed into the ADRM via a user community that anybody can join. The recommendations and observations that come through the community are reviewed at least every six months and content is added and refined accordingly.

ACI remain very much involved in the project and together with IATA offer LoS advisory services. This ensures the evaluation process and recommendations pertaining to LoS will be fair and unbiased, ensuring the best possible solutions for the whole airport community.

Experts from the two associations use advanced planning tools to support all kinds of LoS-related studies. Where analysis requires the detailed assessment of future facility requirements, for example, a dynamic simulation tool is essential to derive precise results.

IT spend optimizes airport footprint
The latest figures from SITA estimate that IT investment in airports will hit $8.7 billion in 2015. This represents 6.25% of revenue.

The annual Airport IT Trends Survey, co-sponsored by Airports Council International (ACI) and SITA, in association with Airline Business, represents the views of more than 223 airports.

“Airports always have passengers as a high priority but this year we see a clear acknowledgement that technology can help improve the passenger experience,” says Matthys Serfontein, SITA Vice President, Airport Solutions. “Airport Chief Information Officers are committing their rising budgets to introduce technologies such as beacons, mobile services and increased self-service, to make it easier for passengers as the world’s airports become increasingly busier.”

“With 81% of airports investing in beacons and other sensors over the next three years, passengers can expect a more predictable journey through the airport as new features, such as wait times and walk times to the gate, become commonplace,” he adds. “The ‘Internet of Things’ is certainly coming to airports as they commit to serving the connected traveler by investing in sensor technology.”

The survey shows that by 2018, 80% of airports will use beacons to provide way-finding services and 74% to provide notifications to passengers. By this time, more than half of the airports will have sensors in use at various points of the journey including check-in, bag drop, security, dwell time and boarding. Mobile services are also on the rise with 91% of airports planning to provide an app for navigating the airport and 83% for real-time notifications about day-of-travel information such as local traffic or queue times in the terminal.

The use of mobile devices is also beginning to take hold among airport workforces and many operators will use them to provide increasing amounts of relevant data. By 2018, more than 60% of airports will have implemented mobile access to irregular operational information to their employees. A move which will support increased responsiveness.