An Integrated System:
Certification, Operational Readiness and Transition for Green-field Airports


Manuscript of the Article published in
'Airports International', December 2006

See also more recent article: "Implementation Strategies & Methodologies for ORAT Programs"

1.  Introduction

Airports tend to operate more and more as private enterprises with an evident trend towards privatization or corporatization, with governments adopting arrangements such as Build-Operate-Transfer or Build-Operate-Own for the development or the expansion of aerodromes. This generates the need for the existence of a formal system which can verify and validate that the airport operator can safely accommodate the aeronautical activity foreseen. For a new airport opening for the first time, the requirement for a formal certification system is even more crucial for both the aviation authority - granting the authorization to open and operate the airport - as well as the airport operator itself awaiting the realization of its business and operational models. There needs therefore to be an integrated and seamless approach encompassing four tightly linked domains such as the:
These four domains aim jointly at the efficient and smooth opening of a new airport and should be handled as one concrete and unbreakable system, ensuring consistency and efficiency among the specific deliverables of each domain.
Figure 1: The integrated approach for airport operational planning, readiness and transition

2.  Airport Certification Process

In 2001, ICAO established the Manual on Certification of Aerodromes, which defines the regulatory framework intended to ensure that the facilities, equipment and operating procedures at aerodromes comply with the ICAO standards and recommended practices.  Moreover, as of November 2003, States are obliged to certify the aerodromes used for international operations.  The certification process shall cover all operational areas, which are needed to assure the aviation authority that the facility can safely accommodate all aircraft movements.  These areas shall have requirements or codes of practice related to the ‘what’ for standards covering the physical characteristics, facilities and services associated with aircraft operations, and to the ‘how’ for the competence of the aerodrome organization in managing safety and its interfaces with the end-users.  Ideally, the means of proving the technical and functional competence for obtaining an aerodrome operating certificate would need to be agreed in advance with the certifying aviation authority.
The principal documents based on which the aviation authority could assess the planning of the airport operator are commonly the:
In fact, these documents represent the airport planning at high level, which is accomplished under the terms of the certification process.  The details at working level can then be addressed by the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). A large part of these procedures is based on the guidelines provided by the AOM, the AEP or the ASP and are governed by the philosophy of the SMS, as applicable.  For a typical international airport with a methodical and systematic approach to operations there may be more than 200 different SOPs, covering all departments and functional needs, such as the terminal, airfield, baggage handling system, maintenance, and so on.  The total number of SOPs depends, of course, on the size and complexity of the aerodrome itself and its organizational structure.
Figure 2: The structure of airport certification - The basis for aerodrome certification is the establishment of a SMS, which is also an ICAO Annex 14 Standard.  Hence, the SMS is the ‘foundation’ on which the three ‘pillars’ of high-level operational planning are based.  In this illustration, these three pillars are expressed by the Aerodrome Operations Manual, the Aerodrome Emergency Plan and the Aerodrome Security Program.  These manuals are governed by the SMS principles, where applicable. Then, the operational system at a working level rests on top of this high-level planning and is represented by the SOPs.  Most of the SOPs are derived from or based on the guidelines of the three manuals mentioned above, which are seen as a prerequisite for the development of these operating procedures.  All these can be accommodated under the ‘single roof’ of the certification process.

3.  Evaluation of Operational Readiness

The planning, supervision and implementation of an operational readiness program comes as an integral part of the airport certification/operational planning discussed earlier and is of capital importance for the successful opening of an airport. During this phase the operational planning is verified and validated and the interfaces between the airport 'systems', the 'people' who will be employed at the airport and the implementation of 'procedures' are thoroughly tested.
Figure 3: The mechanism of Operational Readiness Evaluation

Trial operations are the main indicator for the airport stakeholders that everyone and everything is adequately prepared to open and operate the new airport safely and efficiently even under the most challenging circumstances. This is crucial as during the first days of operations  airports face a high probability of technical problems which combined with the lack of experience in dealing with them may result in operational mishaps. Trials also provide the end-users with the opportunity to assess their operational readiness and to "align" their own procedures with the operational concept and environment of the new airport. Past experience shows that the absence of trials may potentially lead to unfavorable situations during the commencement of operations. The opening of the Hong Kong international airport in July 1998 was recorded in airport history as a classic example of what can go wrong during an airport opening. Some 22 core problems appeared that knocked out almost every function of the airport and resulted in a chaotic situation during the first few weeks. The cargo mishandling alone contributed to the loss of approximately 4.6 billion HK$, 0.35% of the GDP of Hong Kong economy.

Airport trials inherently increase the confidence in operational readiness of the airport community and aim at:
The methodology for the evaluation of the airport operational readiness can involve six basic parameters:

3.1 Identification of Core Processes

The Core Processes of the airport are usually subdivided into operational domains such as:

3.2 Definition of Sub-processes

In a typical international airport environment there can be around 600 sub-processes which need to be assessed.

3.3 Elaboration of a Function Matrix

This is accomplished for each sub-process which specifies the i) responsibilities, ii) interfaces, iii) systems, equipment and facilities required, iv) human resources and v) elements which are used to represent or replace the physical presence of humans or subjects during the trial of a sub-process, such as participants assuming the role of passengers, vehicles simulating taxiing aircraft on the movement area or baggage loaded with ballast, etc.

3.4 Definition of Trials

These are usually distinguished into four categories:

3.5 Elaboration of Scenarios for each trial which shall comprise Each trial can then be performed, subdivided into different implementation stages such as briefing, execution and debriefing. It is also essential that a database with all necessary remedial actions is maintained in order to re-visit the necessary subjects requiring further attention.

3.6 Establishment of an Operational Readiness Committee

This requires representation from all parties involved in daily airport operations. This committee should be comprised of the airport operational management, the designer/contractor/main subcontractors, the State entities (police, immigration, customs, air traffic control, etc.), the ground handlers and the home carriers. Permanent representatives to the committee shall be nominated and be responsible for the onward promulgation of information to their respective organization and the follow up of the complete operational readiness evaluation..


4.  Familiarization & Training

Familiarization can be considered as the preface of the most thorough and systematic training period. Familiarization of airport staff and end-users can start during the last stages of construction since it mainly involves a first introduction to the new airport environment and systems through site visits, presentations and distribution of handouts. Training on the new systems, processes and procedures constitutes the second step after the introductory period and is of fundamental importance for the successful opening of the airport. This is because in most occasions a mishap in an airport operational environment is attributed to the collapse of interfaces between systems, human comprehension and procedure implementation. Even in cases of system malfunction, an interface can be usually found to have failed somewhere in between the mistaken execution of a fallback procedure or the lack of knowledge for the operation of a particular system.

5.  Airport Transition

The objectives of an airport transition strategy can be identified as the:
In planning the methodology for the transition to the new airport one should:
i) identify the critical time window(s) during which there is minimum aeronautical activity
ii) consider the volume to be transferred
iii) define the timing for the transfers
iv) identify the means of transportation
v) plot the transport routing and
vi) optimize the transfer of critical systems

The materials to be moved can be distinguished into two categories based on their prioritization as well as their nature:

In the airport transition, the flow of transferred volume usually peaks close to the opening day because the A-resources can be transferred only at the very end, unless new equipment is purchased for the new airport. Hence, two different phases of moving are usually foreseen; the Main Move (MM) period, usually for 2-3 days, and the Pre/Post Move (PM) period, usually 2-3 weeks before opening up to 1-2 weeks after opening.
Figure 4: Typical airport transfer flow diagram

6.  Program Implementation

The timeframe for the implementation of an aerodrome certification, operational readiness and transition program can be distinguished into three phases:

Figure 5: Indicative schedule for airport certification, operational readiness and transition

7.  Conclusion

As the number of green-field airports around the world is on the rise, it is crucial that their operators follow an established aerodrome certification process to set the basis for managing safety and methodically developing their operational planning.  At the same time, and in order to secure the safe and successful commencement of business from day one, operators should define a system that enables the evaluation of their aerodrome’s readiness and transition strategy as an integral and indispensable part of the certification process. 

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