New Larnaka Airport Opens Like Clockwork

By
GEORGE  SAOUNATSOS
COPYRIGHT 2010, AIRPORTS INTERNATIONAL / GS

Manuscript of the Article published in
'Airports International', January 2010

Related article: "Implementation Strategies & Methodologies for ORAT Programs"

1.  Introduction

On November 7, 2009, the new main gateway of Cyprus, Larnaka International Airport (LCA), was inaugurated in an elegant ceremony attended by 1,500 guests. Representing the beginning of a new era for all involved in the regions' air transportation business, the airport’s green-field facilities comprises a five-level 1,098,000 sq ft (102,000m2) state-of-the-art terminal with 22 gates, 16 boarding bridges, 72 check-in counters, a new taxiway system and apron with 26 aircraft stands, as well as a new fuel farm and cargo terminal. Following the inaugural ceremony, and eleven days ahead of schedule, the new facility operated by Hermes Airports Ltd, opened its gates to the traveling public.  The opening was a resounding success in terms of operational outcome/efficiency (quantitatively) and in the perception of both public and staff (qualitatively).
 
Figure 1: The new state-of-the-art terminal at Larnaka International Airport opened on November 10, 2009
 

2.  The Road to the Opening

The ORAT program itself was established eleven months earlier with the assembly of a core team comprising seven experts in the fields of operations, training, transfer logistics, information technology & telecommunications, technical systems and maintenance.  An integral team of nine internal stakeholders from the airport operator was also formed and was assigned the ‘ownership’ of certain domains for the follow-up and implementation of pre-defined action lists prior to the opening.  This structure was supplemented by about 40 external ORAT representatives from all functional airport end-users.  The program and its implementation was based on four main pillars: (i) the airport opening and transfer strategy, (ii) the training/familiarization planning and monitoring, (iii) the operational readiness review and evaluation and (iv) the technical readiness assessment.
 
Figure 2: The first movement at the new airport; the arrival of flight CY403

The opening strategy was based on a two-phase progressive activation (often referred to as a ‘soft opening’) with flights beginning on November 10.  The nation’s flag-carrier Cyprus Airways and EasyJet carried out the first services from the new airport as planned. The key objective was to give the ground staff involved in all major processes – and the wider airport community – the opportunity to build-up operations gradually while the traffic volumes were lower.  During the first phase, the traffic through the new facilities was 34% of the total, leaving the remaining 66% working from the old airport.  The second phase leading to the full opening was scheduled to be seven days later, on November 17.
 
Figure 3: One of the check-in area islands

The ‘soft opening’ strategy achieved considerable benefits, including the:
The 'media plan' of announcements and advertisements launched a couple of weeks before the opening and the manipulation of public road signage proved to be very effective for the orientation of the traveling public in the interim period between the two opening phases.  Additionally, a bus shuttle service ran between the two terminals for the first two weeks to address the needs of a few ‘code-sharing’ passengers as well as staff.
 
Figure 4: The creatively configured 5,000m2 central retail/food and beverage area 'captures' passengers before they proceed to the gate lounges

A significant challenge in the preparations was the training and familiarization of the whole airport community which unavoidably coincided with the busy summer schedule. All airport and end-users’ staff had to participate in a three-stage intensive technical training and familiarization scheme while simultaneously operating the existing facilities under congested conditions. As training was of utmost importance for the successful opening, it was systematically monitored to identify any additional requirements or perhaps, the need for intervention in the process.

The evaluation of the operational readiness was realized through five tiers:
(a) reviewing and developing standard operating and contingency procedures.
(b) planning and implementing operational and technical Integrated Validation Tests.
(c) preparing and executing operational trials.
(d) defining and carrying out airside/push-back trials.
(e) organizing table-top exercises.

More than 100 newly developed or updated standard operating and contingency procedures were brought to a first draft stage before the trials commenced in mid September.  Furthermore, a series of more than 110 operational, technical and IT Integrated Validation Tests (IVT) were performed prior to and during the test runs.  The aim was to explore operational or technical parameters not considered or adequately examined in the commissioning period, as well as test interfaces and interactions between systems and validate system redundancy.  Some results confirmed the design parameters, and others revealed the need for remedial actions and changes.  In addition, these tests helped to build confidence in system performance in a methodical manner by giving maintenance staff invaluable experience through running the system.

Essential to the readiness assessment were the operational trials that involved the entire airport community and people posing as passengers.  The aim was to use up to 3,500 ‘passenger’ volunteers for the seven test-runs scheduled within a 45-day period.  Each test-run was designed to last for about two hours, starting with 200 participants and climaxing with 1,500.  It was established that the progressive escalation of participants up to a figure resembling the intended hourly peak capacity helped to generate the necessary complexity, challenged the staff adequately and provided hands-on practice under near-real conditions.  It also offered valuable insight into the robustness and sustained performance of various systems.  A total of 54 special scenarios and contingencies were examined, along with 36 standard functions.  Through a formal Internal Resolution Process (IRP) all issues were recorded in a database, investigated where appropriate and followed up until they were resolved.
 
Figure 5 (a) & (b): Arrival baggage-reclaim area (a) during the operational readiness trials and (b) just before opening

Moreover, a series of push-back trials with escalating levels of difficulty was implemented in order to help the air traffic controllers and ground handling staff with the newly developed procedures, communication and co-ordination.  Elements of emergency planning were also tested on a reduced scale through table-top exercises in order to familiarize both the airport community and external responding agencies with the new areas defined in the emergency preparedness plan.
 
Figure 6: The gate lounge area on a quiet evening in the first phase of opening
 

3.  Conclusion

As with all ORAT projects, the opening of Larnaka International Airport was a demanding and intriguing logistical project which required three fundamental elements:


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