Innovation in Communications; drive efficiency, maximise revenues

To maximise flight effectiveness and to cope with year on year growth in passenger numbers, Gatwick Airport needed fresh thinking and communications innovation

Operating within the constraints of a single runway, Gatwick managed passenger numbers of 46 million in 2018. With limited resources, there can be no compromise when it comes to efficiencies in every aspect of operations. Ensuring well-organised aircraft turnaround times round the clock is paramount. Back in Summer 2015, the team at Gatwick realised that their aged analogue communications network was a weak link in terms of meeting security requirements and providing support for the efficient running of the airport. The old radio system’s lack of features and coverage meant this analogue system could not be extended or improved any further and with reliability being a major concern any outage could potentially be damaging and dangerous in an environment such as this.

The requirements for a new system would be complex, but did the technology exist? And was there a partner with the experience to deliver such a high-risk system?

The IT department at Gatwick took ownership of the procurement and managing the specification of what will be the new system. Suitable partners were invited to come and discuss the outline requirements in more detail.

Future proof digital – With better coverage and infinitely expandable to cater for all future needs.

Unified – One system would need to provide connectivity for every layer of airport activity.

Resilient – Any new system has to have dual systems working autonomously with backup power.

Feature rich – Dispatchers, voice recording, data management, real-time asset tracking.

Seamless Migration – Swapping users from the old analogue system to the new digital system without any fuss.

Servicom was able to meet Gatwick’s list of outlined system requirements and go much further.
By carefully listening to the customers’ needs they were able to bring some real innovation to the project. “A first meeting with a potential client is just the beginning of the process,” says Martin Scholes, MD at Servicom. “Identifying all the design and service needs that the customer can see with the addition of Servicom’s airports experience brings some real innovation to a project.”

To get the project underway Gatwick commissioned a proof of concept system. This would allow for users to trial the technology right across the airport and also for Servicom to demonstrate their innovation and ability to co-ordinate a migration project of this scale.

During the phased migration to the new system the site initially operated circa 500 digital radios, moving up to 600 post deployment and currently sitting at 1500. The original system remained in place until decommissioning. During that time, the new digital system was built. The system was then brought live by removing frequencies from the old system and sliding them across to the new one. Extensive training carried out by Servicom meant that the system can be used to its fullest potential straight away. Final roll out will rest at about 2000 radios.

A fully integrated asset management solution enables management of differing groups of radio users, the dynamic assignment and merger of groups, for example in an emergency bringing together fire teams and airside staff. To also facilitate asset deployments based on live location data, for example where a first aider is required, the nearest asset will be notified. This level of integration includes PABX connectivity and the ability to seamlessly connect with people that might be off site bringing them direct into group conversations using smartphones and PCs over broadband is being trialled now. The same platform also has the ability to collect valuable Key Performance Indicators and record all conversations.

The new communication system is embedded within every aspect of airport operations from landside to airside, ensuring and aiding stable operations. Radio communications are critical for both Airport operations and third party providers covering; Bussing services (Air/Landside), Airfield security, Fire service, Baggage handlers, Caterers, Cleaners, Retail. Noting, Disaster Recovery, Business Continuity Planning, Safe Guarding have equally to be supported. A few examples of how the system meets day to day operational needs:

Cleansing – unified communications offers control and key performance indicators on turnaround times.

Flight Cancellations and Delays – all partners can be made aware of any issues, allowing for the safe disembarkation of large passenger numbers.

Mapping and Transport – at any moment assets can be located.

Failsafe Systems – a critical service with multiple layers of redundancy and resilience supported by Universal Power Supplies and geographically isolated equipment locations.
Stand-alone isolated radio system (test stack) for testing and future development.

Gatwick own and operate the system; service providers on the airport site subscribe on to it.

Servicom now provide the airport with business-critical support 24/7/365 out of their Crawley offices. Some of Servicom’s other airport clients include: Heathrow, Birmingham, Aberdeen, East Midlands and Luton.

Servicom (High Tech)

Servicom’s growth over three decades, across all sectors and continents, has overseen huge changes in communications making them ideally placed to meet the changes and challenges of the future. Innovations is their standard and their wraparound service offers continual support and maintenance.


Images courtesy of Gatwick Airport & Motorola Solutions