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On a normal day, large airports are tough operating environments. Faced with a once in a lifetime black swan event like COVID-19, airport operators face an even greater challenge—operating their assets as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible in response to a crisis that is wreaking havoc on the global aviation industry.  

As travellers rapidly cancel trips, countries close their borders with little warning, and airlines announce unprecedented austerity programmes, COVID-19 is slowing grinding worldwide travel to a halt. Unsurprisingly, its impact is being felt across all areas of an airport, from flight operations and ground handling to cargo and retail.

In the face of such uncertainty, with no telling when business will be back to normal or how significant its impact will be, major global airports are understandably scrambling to reduce their outgoings. Capital and operational expenditure is being scrutinised and cost-cutting measures are being introduced in a last-ditch effort to reduce risk, find cost savings and future-proof operations.

Battening down the hatches, in an environment where safety, security, visitor comfort and smooth operations is critical, is very difficult. Luckily, there are many quick and easy wins to help airport operators cut costs and ease the pressure, and they can be found by looking in the most energy-intensive and often overlooked part of an airport: the plant room.

Here’s a quick guide to unlocking those savings.

1 – Digitise your airport operations with building analytics

Airport plant rooms contain a vast amount of expensive systems and equipment that monitor and control all aspects of an airport’s operations. Managing these highly technical systems and equipment—across multiple terminals with varying peaks and troughs in demand—is no easy feat. Doing so efficiently and cost-effectively is even more challenging. Your building management system is not cut out for the job; it is practically impossible to do without good quality performance data, and data over time. The only technology up to the task, is building analytics.

A good building analytics solution offers a smarter and more proactive approach to quickly transform airport operations for peak performance. Building analytics technology automatically collects data from an airport terminal’s systems and equipment and integrates it with other relevant information such as foot traffic data and flight schedules, into one uniform dataset. It then continuously monitors this data to detect, diagnose and prioritise performance anomalies and faults, giving onsite teams actionable insights to resolve issues and inefficiencies. And it repeats this whole process every 15 minutes.

Once you’ve adopted this data-driven approach to airport operations, you are then ready to start optimising your assets for peak performance.

2 – Optimise heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment (HVAC) to reduce energy use and costs 

The majority of a large airport’s operational budget is spent on energy, and large HVAC equipment is responsible for up to 60-70% of that consumed energy. However a third of this energy is often wasted due to equipment faults or breakdown, human error, or sub-optimal maintenance work.

There are guaranteed cost savings to be had by tweaking this energy-intensive equipment to eliminate waste and improve performance. This is especially the case in a busy multi-terminal airport that has one large interconnected HVAC system or a disconnected mix of old and new systems.

Without building analytics, time-poor operational teams rely on contractor and vendor advice to troubleshoot and optimise equipment performance. More often than not, this reliance on third party advice leads to very expensive and unnecessary equipment upgrades or replacements. Airport operators are frequently left frustrated when high energy and operational costs persist.

The application of live data monitoring, fault detection and analysis of existing plant room equipment is really powerful in this situation. Real-time data insights enable onsite teams to pinpoint and fix the exact root cause of inefficiencies within days, not months, unlocking immediate cost savings. In countless cases I have seen, the data will also indicate that just a smaller part of a larger piece of equipment needs replacing in order to restore optimal performance, enabling you to defer capex outlay for new equipment to when it is really needed.

An example from one of the busiest airports in Australia, where CIM’s PEAK platform immediately flagged significant chilled water system inefficiencies, illustrates the speed and effectiveness of this approach.

PEAK flagged that one of the airport’s largest chillers was running at maximum capacity, and had been since it was installed, which helped explain abnormally high costs. Our engineers quickly helped onsite teams to resolve the issue by halving the chiller’s load, without impacting thermal comfort. This led to significant operational and energy efficiency improvements that delivered a return on investment within just two months. This included a 15% reduction in the airport’s energy consumption and an improvement in equipment condition and expected life cycle. Now consider for a moment how this scales in an airport that has 25 chillers and a couple of hundred air handling units.

Building analytics technology should also enable you to optimise energy consumption based on foot traffic, and reduce emissions per passenger, without compromising thermal comfort. If there is a 50% drop in foot traffic, you’re not going to automatically see energy costs halve too. You need to optimise energy use based on passenger numbers, adjusting consumption to reflect these peaks and troughs of activity. Building analytics provides this energy, equipment and thermal comfort data you need to safely implement initiatives to achieve these energy savings.

3 – Extend equipment life cycles and make smarter capex decisions with data-driven maintenance

Rather than relying on best estimates, vendor recommendations and costly contractor call-outs, building analytics can provide the visibility into equipment performance you need to improve maintenance cycles and practices and inform optimal capital upgrade planning and expenditure.

Equipment that is used as efficiently as possible will consume significantly less energy and have a longer lifespan, making it more cost-effective to run in the short term and more economical over the long term too, giving you more control over your capex budget.  

Adopting this data-driven maintenance approach is cost-effective in other ways too. Live energy performance tracking and real-time identification of the most complex or energy-intensive faults enables teams to rank the savings potential of faults across terminals and prioritise maintenance activity around those faults that will have the biggest impact on energy reduction and cost.

Active fault monitoring and prioritisation can help onsite teams streamline their HVAC & BMS maintenance priorities and implement a data-driven BMS maintenance contract. This can save up to 70-90% of building management system (BMS) maintenance costs and up to 40% on mechanical systems maintenance costs*.

4 – Make more efficient use of onsite teams and contractors

Access to and visibility of performance data drives transparency into the issues, recommendations and actions required for optimal performance, which in turn helps drive a culture of accountability, something that is often lacking between contractors and onsite teams.

By simplifying and accelerating the end-to-end process of fault detection, diagnosis and problem resolution, building analytics helps onsite teams and contractors make faster, fact-based decisions too, improving team performance and collaboration. And the data will verify whether or not an issue has actually been fixed and closed out properly, holding everyone accountable.

5 – Get in touch with CIM, your advisors for airport operational efficiency

We understand the complexity of airport operations, where to find the quick wins, and how to resolve them to quickly turn issues into opportunities.

Our team of mechanical, mechatronic and electrical engineers, with 65+ years of collective industry experience between them, offer a holistic approach to airport operations, powered by PEAK’s real-time insights and delivered by 24/7 virtual engineering expertise.

Let’s chat about your airport operational challenges.

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 *Cost reduction estimates are based on savings CIM customers have achieved in the past 24 months