Brussels South Airport: the ambitions of the world’s most punctual airport to also become the most efficient one with the help of EMMA Systems

By Jean Luc Devisscher

15th June, 2023

BSCA or Brussels South Airport is Belgium’s second largest airport, in 2022 more than 8 million passengers traveled through the airport – very close to the 2019 figures – the airport serves more than 200 direct & indirect routes. The airport with a large portion of leisure passengers (64%) is one of Ryanair’s key hubs.

Our magazine spoke to Christophe Coeymans, Head of Operations at BSCA and Mohammad Hourani, VP Products at EMMA Systems and discussed its ambitions and how the collaboration with airport solutions provider EMMA Systems will help achieve these.

Christophe Coeymans: “What makes our airport so unique is the location, serving more than 20 million inhabitants from Belgium, Luxembourg and France located within 2 hours from the airport. The airport itself covers 44,000m² with a commercial area of about 8000m² and 8000 parking spaces”

The airport – an important Ryanair base - has a load factor of close to 90% with airport punctuality at 99,3% making it the most punctual airport in the world according to Airhelp in 2019. The airport has a clear view on its future evolution with the number of passengers expected to grow to about 11 million in 2030.

To realize this, the airport has undertaken a number of important infrastructure projects, from runway extension to new lounges, an extended commercial area and a new border control building of 2.700m², with further extensions of the parking area and the terminal as well as the commercial facilities expected in the near future.

Those points of attention were especially related to the coordination and the information sharing between the various stakeholders along the passenger journey whereby we looked into every step of the way from (car) parking to take-off.

The airport saw that there was a clear need to address some of the flaws that were impacting the passenger journey in function of maintaining and even improving punctuality but also see how overall efficiency could be further improved. The airports sought to address 5 points when setting up a collaboration with EMMA Systems:

  • Improve connections with the local ATC and the Civil Aviation Authority to better manage air traffic management and reduce delays
  • Improve the data sharing between the different airport stakeholders
  • Introduce a real time predictability of operations
  • Have a middle to long term predictability to determine the operational needs
  • A solid analysis of the past to improve the future

Christophe Coeymans: “We saw that there were different blocking points which needed to be addressed to make sure the communication between the different stakeholders could be better streamlined and a transparent flow of information between these stakeholders was created. We discussed with EMMA Systems the key challenges we were faced with and agreed on the best way forward to address these challenges and what could be the best solution to address these on a permanent basis.”

The approach to the issues raised by BSCA was quite different to what you see in the world of a customer – supplier relationship, instead the approach was to dig more into the flaws indicated by the airport and do this by involving all key stakeholders through workshops and interviews.

Mohammad: “We elaborated a 4 steps approach to make sure we didn’t focus merely on the final goal but that we could better understand what was behind the flaws the airport indicated but also how stakeholders work, what they see as limitations, what could be the possible improvement opportunities and how they relate to other stakeholders.

The 4 steps to the approach being:

2. CONOPS - Update following the results and recommendations following the gap analysis
4. PLATFORM set-up

The Gap Analysis is one of the key aspects of the entire exercise.

Before proceeding with the Gap Analysis exercise, we gather all the stakeholders in one room to explain the project scope and anticipated deliverables and more importantly to test the existing synergy and level of collaboration between them.

Individual meetings with stakeholders are then arranged to describe the benefits of A-CDM and overall collaboration and data sharing between the stakeholders, what are the expectations and the level of support that is needed from there side. It is key to get a full commitment before proceeding further in the project.

Once the Stakeholders buy-ins are granted, site visits and meetings are arranged to better understand and discuss the current approaches, the tools that are used, what they perceive as blocking elements or points to be addressed, etc...

This approach is in line with how we would approach a review of the challenges and discuss how these could be permanently addressed with all stakeholders.

The Gap Analysis report is an analysis of the above and contains recommendations of the series of actions and suggestions to improve the airport’s operational efficiency. This document is discussed with the airport’s management team before the proposed actions are approved and the next steps can start.

Christophe Coeymans : “The idea behind the gap analysis exercise is that we also share a good understanding of all datapoints we have at the airport as this is critical to understand what data we have and what extra data is needed to make sure we have accurate predictions of timestamps, from landing to takeoff. More critical is that everyone understands their impact so we can make sure we do everything possible to maintain our On-Time-Performance and in the case of a delay that we can inform all stakeholders to avoid further delays and recuperate time lost”

The adaptation of the ConOps is another key element. The concept of operations determines the operational process of an airport and it’s critical that the results of a GAP analysis study - in addition to further meetings and workshops with the key stakeholders - get fully translated into the ConOps. This is done by updating processes or creating new ones that best reflect how the airport and its stakeholders should operate in function of efficiency improvement.

Mohammad Hourani: “When creating A-CDM ConOps, it was important first to understand how each stakeholder is operating and managing the flight cycle; how do they operate under certain conditions and how do they share information between each other. Then it was also important to try as much as possible to limit the major changes that could be hard to be achieved. Once the new ConOps is agreed upon by all the stakeholders the third phase sets in and that is the training on the above.

Stakeholders need to understand the updated processes, how they fit in and how this will be translated into operational changes. This is part of a training program that explains how the new operational management approach including the A-CDM (Airport Collaborative Decision Making) milestone integration is reflected into processes and ultimately a platform. It also explains what their role is in the entire updated set-up and in informing all other stakeholders of any changes during the turnaround process.

The last phase is the configuration of the EMMAplatform including A-CDM that corresponds to the new airport processes and the role of each stakeholder in maintaining the updated end-to-end approach.

The main idea being that by managing the end-to-end approach and clearly defining the roles of each in keeping agreed trajectories (or update timestamps in real-time if they cannot be achieved) every stakeholder has a critical role in maintaining or even shortening the agreed upon turn-around time and managing critical events, should unforeseen delays happen.

The last phase is the configuration of the EMMAplatform including A-CDM that corresponds to the new airport processes and the role of each stakeholder in maintaining the updated end-to-end approach. The main idea being that by managing the end-to-end approach and clearly defining the roles of each in keeping agreed trajectories (or update timestamps in real-time if they cannot be achieved) every stakeholder has a critical role in maintaining or even shortening the agreed upon turn-around time and managing critical events, should unforeseen delays happen.A clear view on the end-to-end process allows airport operators to maintain a dashboard to better understand the key metrics and measure the impact of every action compared to the agreed parameters. In a multi-airport operator model, one can even create a unified view on all airports to understand how they compare, taking into perspective comparable parameters.

EMMA’s Operational Management platform is configured according to the needs of the airport, it’s in line with the milestones of the A-CDM program but not every airport – e.g. the smaller ones - has a need for implementing all 16 milestones and some airports might include ground handling functionalities or other aspects.

EMMA’s platform aims to improve collaboration and communication between stakeholders by focusing on the following critical aspects:

  • Data Sharing: Transparent sharing of all relevant data to stakeholders in a timely manner
  • Accurate predication: to utilize these date in order to accurately predict the key timestamps of each flight (accurate calculations of flight trajectories)
  • Flexibility/Configurability: Reflecting the Airport’s ConOps and Adapting to changing circumstances to meet the evolving needs of stakeholders
  • Messaging tool: replacing the current outdated means of communication with a Seamless communication tool between stakeholders.
  • Security/ Permissions control: Allowing setting up different roles and permissions based on each stakeholder’s responsibilities.

These 5 elements form the basis of the platform, they are the most critical elements to make sure stakeholders can better work and communicate together. But they are also critical for putting the right performance measurements in place.

The performance measurement can be split in three major actions: 1. Agree on the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) for each of the stakeholders. What needs to be measured, how can each stakeholder understand his or her performance and how can this be best illustrated. These KPIs are not only in line with stakeholders expectations but should also match with the expectations of airport management to monitor the overall improvements and as proof points that some parameters put in place (e.g. related to communication improvement, sustainability measurements, etc...) are effectively showing a clear progress.
2. Continuous Performance Monitoring. Measuring is knowing but continuously understanding the progress of what is being monitored is critical to deliver continuous progress in efficient operations.
3. Monthly Reports and Meetings among stakeholders aiming for continuous improvements. A-CDM is above all a continuous improvement process. It doesn’t end with the delivery of a platform but is on the contrary a process that needs to be constantly discussed, updated and analyzed. The force of any A-CDM implementation lies in the continuity it brings and the continuous discussions to see why what was achieved or why performance was impacted and what can be done to improve or correct. Collaboration is never a one-time effort but rather a non-stop follow up of what was agreed and what is achieved.

Mohammad Hourani: “We should see the results of these actions quite rapidly after the full implementation of the tooling and the first measurements. These being:

  • Better Information sharing
  • Accurate predictions of flight trajectories
  • Seamless communication
  • Efficient resource allocations
  • And of course what we stated before... Performance Monitoring

Christoph Coeymans: “With the implementation of the A-CDM approach, process and right tooling, the airport will be able to achieve its key target to make sure the airport keeps its label of most punctual airport in the world. At the same time, we want to make sure all stakeholders work closer together and feel empowered to contribute to our continuous performance improvement exercise allowing us to further improve on our seamless passenger journey focus”.

Table 1

Eurocontrol’s description of Airport CDM; (A-CDM) aims to improve the efficiency and resilience of airport operations by optimizing the use of resources and improving the predictability of air traffic. It achieves this by encouraging the airport partners (airport operators, aircraft operators, ground handlers and ATC) and the Network Manager to work more transparently and collaboratively, exchanging relevant accurate and timely information. It focuses especially on aircraft turn-round and pre-departure processes. It also allows the exchange of more accurate departure information, particularly target take-off times, with the European ATFCM network, leading to improved en-route and sectoral planning.