Pafos Int'l Airport: Opening without a Glitch

By
GEORGE  SAOUNATSOS
COPYRIGHT 2009, AIRPORTS INTERNATIONAL / GS

Manuscript of the Article published in
'Airports International', March 2009

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

1.  The New Airport Terminal

The Government of the Republic of Cyprus finalized a Concession Agreement with HERMES Airports Limited in May 2006 for the development, construction, expansion and operation of Pafos and Larnaka International Airports.  Two years and three months later, construction contractor Bouygues Batiment delivered the first new airport terminal on time.  It was inaugurated by the President of the Republic of Cyprus in an elegant ceremony on 8 November 2008 and opened for traffic nine days later a few days ahead of contractual obligations. The smooth opening was covered by all media and press throughout the first weeks of operation and received very flattering commentary and reports.

The new Pafos airport terminal is a state-of-the-art facility using the latest technology based on an IP Backbone and incorporating an Airport Information and Resource Management System, a biometrics-based Access Control System (ACS), Building Management System (BMS), Common Use Terminal Equipment (CUTE), automated Baggage Handling System, 100% Hold Baggage Screening (HBS) with the latest technology of Multiview and Computerized Tomography (CTX) screening equipment including Explosive Trace Detectors (ETD) and a Baggage Reconciliation System (BRS).  The Phase 1 capacity of about 3 million passengers per annum is accommodated in a cozy 'boutique' terminal facility with a strong Cypriot 'sense of place' integrated in the main architectural elements of the building.

Figure 1: A 'lycra' dancer in front of the main entrance of the new Pafos International Airport during the inauguration ceremony
 

2.  Operational Readiness & Transfer Program

As industry experts appreciate, the complexity of an airport operational readiness project depends predominately on the systems and equipment employed and the time available for preparedness; rather than its physical dimensions.  A dedicated Operational Readiness & Transfer (ORAT) team was set up with members from YVRAS and EGIS and undertook the challenging project of preparing the technical and operational readiness of the new airport terminal.  It methodically guided the airport community through to a successful start-up within only ten weeks after accepting the handover of the facilities from the contractor.  An additional difficulty was that airport staff, maintenance contractors, state authorities, ground handlers and airlines had to operate the old airport during the peak summer season while simultaneously participating in the ORAT process and adhering to a demanding familiarization and training schedule.  Internal ORAT Stakeholders were nominated for several key domains of the programme, such as operations and safety, facility maintenance contracting, IT&T, human resources, commercial, quality monitoring, etc.  External ORAT representatives were also designated from each organization and company in order for the airport operator HERMES to work closely with the airport community and establish the constructive co-operation that would prove to be a decisive factor in securing a successful outcome.

After the handover of the new facilities, a progressive transfer schedule was implemented.  The operations centre was the first functional entity to transfer to the new terminal, as it was essential for its staff to adapt to the new environment and operating philosophy and acquaint themselves with the new systems and tools in advance of the operational trials.  The transfer was 'seamless' as the new operations centre 'shadowed' the old one for 48 hours before taking control from the latter.  The old centre subsequently assumed a 'shadowing' role over its replacement for a week to ensure a safe and smooth transition of command.In September, a series of integrated system tests paved the way for an intensive schedule of 14 operational trials on seven different days within the month of October; including a full day of business continuity and contingency table-top exercises. The trials tested the new standard operating procedures, contingencies and emergency scenarios, as well as the familiarization and training of airport staff, end-users and the systems readiness.  A large number of volunteers assumed the role of 'passengers' in ten of these trials, with the number of participants progressively increasing from 100 in the first couple of trials up to 1,000 'passengers' in the last two scenarios.

Figure 2: 'Mock' passengers check-in during one of the first operational trials

During this phase, all airport core processes, sub-processes and functions were tested during day and night under realistic conditions.  The participation of the local British community of Pafos in these exercises was a significant factor in the success of the trials.

Figure 3: Trial passengers walk through the baggage reclaim area incorporating an impressive 'sense of place' on the back wall depicting the birth of goddess Aphrodite

The week before airport opening, a final barrage of integrated tests was carried out.  These focused on critical systems and their interfaces, such as BHS, BRS, airlines/handlers Departure Control Systems (DCS) as well as telecommunications and connectivity integrity.

Figure 4: Preparing to test the integrated Baggage Handling System
 

3.  The Opening Strategy

Following the conclusion of the operational readiness trials, a detailed day-by-day Transfer/Opening Sequence Plan was implemented prescribing the necessary actions and conditions, which had to be met by the time the airport started operations.  The opening of the new Pafos airport terminal was planned and executed in two steps beginning with the Arrivals concourse on 13 November 2008, and followed by that of the Departures concourse four days later.  This particular 'soft' opening strategy was chosen considering the fact that the old terminal facilities were comprised of two physically separate buildings for Departures and Arrivals.  Thus all airport users were accustomed to 'split operations' from two different locations.  Among other benefits, using this opening sequence methodology succeeded in (a) allowing all resources to initially focus on one key aspect of airport operations arrivals, and the associated procedures; (b) allowing airport staff to become familiar with their new workplace under real operating conditions and with all systems functioning and; (c) providing a 'risk-free' commencement of operations, resulting in very positive first impressions and enhancement of confidence, as arrival processes are less demanding or complicated compared to departures.

The transfer of all state and private entities to their new premises had almost been completed prior to the opening of the Arrivals area as planned, since it primarily involved moving the new furniture and equipment.  The overnight transfer of system-critical items was limited and was carried out within the allowable buffer time between the last and first movement of the opening day.

4.  Team Spirit

Despite difficulties encountered during the operational readiness process, the successful opening of Pafos International Airport was the product of the constructive cooperation and team spirit developed amongst the airport community, which embodied a strong commitment and shared the objectives for a safe and smooth start up.  This has set an example for the opening of the new seven million-passenger Terminal at Larnaka International Airport in 2009.

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