Thursday, October 25, 2012

Behind the Scenes at London City Airport – Ramp Operations

Recently I had the pleasure of shadowing staff at London City Airport to see what goes on behind the scenes this at busy Docklands airport in the middle of the city.

In the first post, I shadowed the opening of the airport with the Controllers in the Ops Room. Now, in this second post we look at what goes on once the airport is open.

Ramp Control

Situated in the Jet Centre, which is a VIP terminal at the western end of the apron, is the Ramp Control team. Here, two controllers and a third member performing admin duties, are on shift at any one time. On my visit, I met Winston and Natasha, who were in the chair in front of a bank of screens and monitors.

The role of the team is to allocate stands to all inbound aircraft, communicate with ramp operators and bus drivers, and the handling agents working for each company.

The bank of screens allows the team to monitor a radar of inbound aircraft, live cameras looking across the ramp, CFMU (showing slot information for inbound and outbound aircraft), Lynx online flight status system (showing where delays occur with each flight), the live arrivals and departures board (which the team updates), and a system allowing them to assign parking stands for each aircraft due that day.

In between describing their role to me, Winston and Natasha were in constant contact with the various operators to keep them updated of inbound aircraft.

Reducing Delays

Winston explained that it is their duty to try to avoid delays. The ramp is split into four sections, and they will try to ensure that two simultaneous aircraft are not assigned to park in the same section, giving ground operators time to avoid loading delays and peak time stress.

The Lynx online system is currently used by all BA CityFlyer aircraft, and is a way of assessing where delays are occurring or expected with each flight. It splits the whole time on the ground into tasks, such as unloading, refuelling, loading bags etc and this gives the team an indication of where efforts need to be improved or assessed. Punctuality statistics are produced by the team every day, showing the previous day’s performance, and sent to management to assess.

Biz Jets

Executive aircraft using London City are usually handled by the Jet Centre, with its own parking apron. However, sometimes large biz jets will be allocated a stand outside the passenger terminal. On the flip side, if a passenger aircraft has a technical problem, it is often moved to the executive ramp while the issue is resolved in order to keep the passenger stands free.

Stand Assignments

London City has 14 stands, and is extremely confined in terms of space due to its location on a former dock. As a result, the Ramp team needs to make sure there is always space for aircraft to park. This is particularly difficult during the morning and evening peak periods, and where necessary they will advise ATC to delay inbounds in order to allow aircraft on the ground to depart.

All of the stands outside the terminal have now been realigned to allow the larger Embraer 190 aircraft to park, which has made it easier to assign aircraft since any aircraft can now use any stand. However, the British Airways Airbus A318 aircraft used on the New York JFK route take two stands out of action for a longer period of time.

Peak Flow

At its peak morning period, London City’s Ramp Control Team will handle around 56 aircraft. There are usually 117 movements per day on weekdays. Most of the time, aircraft have a 30 minute turnaround.

Better Relations

Agents on the ground are encouraged to shadow the Ramp Control Team in the hope of helping them understand the decisions made which affect their work. This is to help improve relations between the two teams, and also improve the performance of the airport.

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