As flight delays at large domestic airports are getting longer, airport operators are struggling to find solutions. Almost all big airports in India are working at full capacity, and even minor disruptions - refuelling and baggage delays, tyre bursts, heightened security - can affect the airport operations badly. While there are no official figures, every second of delay costs the airlines and airport operators millions of rupees. Recently, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) met private airport operators of Delhi, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Cochin to discuss the usage of Airport Collaborative Decision Making (ACDM) systems at these airports.
As the name suggests, ACDM improves coordination and data exchange among airlines, air traffic controllers (ATC) and airport operators to prioritise and re-sequence flight departures in advance based on the expected readiness of flights and other concerns. For instance, flight A that is already significantly delayed can swap its departure time with flight B, which is operating as per the schedule so that next flights can avoid cascading effect of the delay caused by flight A. In addition, ACDM can be used to improve accuracy in departure times.
In India, ACDM is already operational at Chennai and Kolkata airports. The AAI is planning to install these systems at Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Guwahati and Trivandrum airports by early next year. The project was first implemented at the Mumbai international airport back in 2015, and the entire execution work - software development, network design, hardware planning, live testing and software maintenance - was carried out by the AAI team.
Yet, the OTP (on-time performance) of airlines at the Mumbai airport remains fairly weak. As per the DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) July data, the OTP of large carriers stood between 40 and 65 per cent. But, that's also because the airport itself is running beyond its designed capacity of 48 million passengers in a year. In 2018/19, it handled 48.9 million passengers and saw close to 1,000 departures a day. The systems installed at Chennai and Kolkata airports are advanced versions of Mumbai systems.
Besides reducing flight delays, ACDM systems result in large ATF (aviation turbine fuel) savings for airlines and reduce their carbon footprint. The ACDM systems, a JV between global aviation body IATA, Eurocontrol and others, are loosely based on a similar US concept, which was introduced in 1998 to handle air traffic under bad weather conditions. Today, the systems are currently active in over three dozen airports across Europe and Asia.
According to state-run AAI, the domestic airport operators and neighbouring countries are showing a keen interest in installing and using the ACDM solution developed by AAI. "This is also in line with the government's Make in India initiative. Officials from DIAL, HIAL and CIAL are currently in discussion with AAI and are showing interest in getting to know the solution and are deliberating to install it for their respective airports," AAI said in a statement.
With the rising uncertainty in crude oil prices and the cyclical nature of the aviation business, the airline companies are trying out new technologies to bring down costs. A bunch of initiatives taken by domestic aviation sector highlight their intent to improve efficiency - whether it's SpiceJet's biofuel test flight between Dehradun and Delhi last year, airlines increasing the use of auxiliary power systems or the introduction of taxibots.