Air Transport World

Automation takes aim at airports: the power of the networked PC is being unleashed on passenger handling and ramp activities worldwide.

The tidal wave of airline automation is about to sweep over what until now has been somewhat of a technological backwater-the airport end, where passengers and airplanes come together.

Products that harness the power of the networked microcomputer to speed up check-in and boarding, assign gates and control ramp activities are in use or in the final testing stages all over the world. By mid-decade, systems such as the automated ticket and boarding pass (ATB), SITA's common user terminal equipment (CUTE), fully integrated airport information systems and gate and ramp-control systems will be commonplace, according to their developers.

ATB is rapidly becoming a reality after more than a decade of promise. in Europe, at least six major carriers-Air France, Alitalia, British Airways, Iberia, Lufthansa and Swissair-have begun converting to the magnetic striped document. At the time of the ATB 89 conference in London last November, Aeroports de Paris officials were able to report that 1 00% of the passengers at Charles de Gaulle's Terminal 2 were being boarded via ATB gate readers and that 40% of Terminal l's passengers and 76% of those at Orly South will be using ATBs by the end of this year. British Airways has introduced ATB at Heathrow's Terminal 4 and at Chicago O'Hare, and told the conference that it is boarding full Boeing 747 loads in 15-20 min. for a time saving of 30-50% "and with 100% accuracy." it also has adopted an ATB self-service ticketing and check-in system on its U.K. Shuttle routes.

Swissair began its ATB changeover this year after a study showed its $6.3 million investment will produce annual savings of $3.6 million by reducing manpower requirements and flight delays.

On the other side of the world, ATB is in wide use in Japan, where carriers say it expedites check-in and boarding, enhances security through positive matching of passengers and baggage, and cuts down on baggage mishandling. in Australia, Qantas is installing ATB printers and gate readers at its major stations and, like BA, says automation allows it to board a 747 in under 20 min. Only in the U.S. is ATB still lagging but that too is changing.

Also arriving at airports this year is CUTE 2, which was installed at Houston intercontinental earlier this summer and which SITA hopes to place in about 130 airports over the next 1 0 years. A $3 million contract was awarded to Memorex Telex last December to develop the software to drive the system, which permits shared use of check-in desks and gates by allowing any workstation to link with any airline's host computer. Memorex Telex also won a contract to equip Houston with its IBM-compatible hardware but it guarantees that the software will run on IBM PCs as well and says it should work with any compatible. …

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