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TITAN – focus on aircraft ‘turnaround’

The EU-funded TITAN project has delivered a new model for collaborative air transport decision making, and a tool to improve aircraft turnaround at airports, optimising efficiency while reducing flight delays and cancellations.

Tags: Air
Getting back in the air on time ©TITAN
Getting back in the air on time
© Peter Gutierrez

The term ‘turnaround’ in airport operations refers to the period beginning when a flight arrives at an airport and ending when the aircraft takes off again. During turnaround, a defined series of actions has to be undertaken, involving both airline and airport operations as well as other parties such as ground handlers.

Unfortunately, turnaround operations are known to play a primary role in aircraft flight delays. The ability to better estimate the time required for various turnaround processes would enable all stakeholders to make more efficient use of facilities and resources, ultimately better optimising airport and flight management.

“Our goal was to improve the predictability, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the turnaround process,” says Laura Serrano Martín of Spain’s INECO - Ingeniería y Economia del Transporte S.A.

INECO is the coordinating partner of the EU-funded TITAN project, which set out to develop a new concept for airport operations. Central to the TITAN approach is ‘airport collaborative decision making’, which defines more than a dozen basic turnaround milestones, from baggage loading and catering operations to passenger security checks, aircraft maintenance and refuelling.

“Turnaround is usually considered from the ground-based air traffic management perspective,” explains Serano. “TITAN is the first project to consider turnaround as part of a single seamless aircraft trajectory.” This means optimising all phases, inbound, ground and outbound.

“We have also carried out the first complete analysis of the effects of landside processes like check-in and security together with airside processes such as fuelling and catering.”

The result, she says, is a new model simulator and a comprehensive tool to be used in real working airport environments on the ground. “The tool is essentially a computer programme that will support the decision making of different actors involved in aircraft turnaround, regarding any issue that might occur during this process.”

Measurable results

Serrano says the new TITAN system enables improvements in key areas, including, crucially, flight punctuality. “Being on time is essential from a passenger's point of view and a key determinant of reported airline and airport quality. We know that turnaround delays are the main cause of the departure delays, and TITAN can help  reduce these delays, thus delivering a higher level of passenger service.”

But enhanced efficiency of operations, specifically ground operations will also mean reduced costs. “There is a clear relationship between the predictability, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of airlines, ground handling companies and airport operators.”

Serrano says a cost-benefit analysis performed on the TITAN system shows real and significant operational cost reductions for all stakeholders.

“We have already moved forward with the dissemination of our results in several airports and the concept has been welcomed by airlines, ground handlers, air navigation authorities and airport operators.” However, she adds, full implementation will require some effort; in a sense a ‘cultural change’ is needed.

Indeed, culture has been a key to the success of the Titan project. Serrano explains, “The consortium has the right balance of European companies with different expertise: airport operations, validation, economic analysis, software development, dissemination, research and management, but having different cultures involved – our partners come from Spain, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, the UK and Belgium – has also allowed us to explore different methodologies and ways of working.”

EU support has been another important factor. “Quite simply, the EC co-financing of the project has allowed us to build TITAN. The Commission has been very supportive, providing help with project management, administrative work and other issues and with dissemination.

By improving the time efficiency of airport and air traffic management, TITAN is fully in line with the goals of the EU’s overarching SESAR ‘Single Sky’ initiative. European Commission officials say TITAN is a prime example of how European partners, when they work together, can deliver benefits to all citizens while also strengthening the competitiveness of key European industries.