Calm Chaos, Foster Efficiency with an Airport Operations Center
Calm Chaos, Foster Efficiency with an Airport Operations Center
Calm Chaos, Foster Efficiency with an Airport Operations Center
3 minute read

An airport operations center (AOC) improves collaborative decision making for airport operators by enabling command and control in a single location.

An airport operations center (AOC) improves collaborative decision making for airport operators — during their daily work and in times of emergency or irregular operations — by enabling command and control in a single location, whether it's a simple dispatch center or a comprehensive site that coordinates airside and landside operations, building automation management, security control and public service staff.

AOCs long have offered military, power generation and telecom facilities advantages through efficiency and consolidated command and control of critical operations. During the past decade, airport managers have welcomed such benefits as well.

All operations centers share the same fundamental technologies: robust and reliable voice, data and wireless communications; ergonomic workstations for staff; and an integrated display system. AOCs differ in their functions and individual work stations, how they interact with the display system, and how they interface with local police, emergency responders, Transportation Safety Administration, and now Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Collaborative Decision Making (CDM) infrastructure.

Irregular operations — spurred by an airfield incident, a snowstorm or even an air show — can be managed with additional features, such as the ability to function as a command and control center. Such upgrades can include workstations for additional personnel, a command mezzanine and adjacent workroom space separating management or other third parties from the operations center floor, and the ability to quickly expand communications bandwidth.

AOCs also can be "hardened," particularly in areas threatened by potentially catastrophic earthquakes, wind or flooding. Redundant power and communications can keep a center online, even if the building is isolated. Because AOC work is critical and stressful, amenities should make the center easy to live in during stressful periods; consider adding support spaces, such as a larger canteen area and sleeping rooms.

Some AOCs include a mobile command vehicle, one linked to the main center by reliable communications and equipped to duplicate AOC functions and place surveillance cameras anywhere at the airport. Placing decision makers on site also boosts situational awareness.

Each airport must decide how to deploy its AOC based on management of real-time functions of the airport and business. Start with a flow chart of the existing communications structure — analyzing who communicates with whom and how, such as by phone, email, written reports or other means. Then consider how operations might be improved if managers could interact face-to-face in the AOC, working from dedicated workstations that could include one or more monitors plus voice/radio communications.

Once an AOC's general requirements are determined, specific operational details must be identified. A design charrette — a one- to three-day gathering of all AOC stakeholders — can develop a Basis of Design manual, one to guide architects, engineers, equipment suppliers and system integrators in preparing construction documents and equipment performance specifications. Often a skilled Revit CAD technician participates in the charrette, capturing design details from the discussion into schematic design drawings of the space. At the conclusion of the charrette, the layout of the AOC can be reviewed and agreed upon.

Additional content can be identified and included at minimal additional cost and effort if identified early in the process. In all cases, AOC designers and contractors should be capable of the following:

  • Complete site planning, including for roadways, parking, utilities and landscaping.
  • Facility architecture, including structural hardening as required.
  • Design of redundant and backup utilities.
  • Design of redundant data and voice infrastructures with secure connections to various wide area networks.
  • Documentation for certification through the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.
  • Life safety and fire protection design for workspacesand server and data rooms.
  • Construction of both bricks-and-mortar and technology systems.
  • System integration.
  • Testing and certification to applicable standards.
  • If engineer-procure-construct or integrated technology development is the chosen method, the designer must also be a licensed contractor.

Remember that AOCs are eligible for FAA funding and should be included in an airport's capital improvement plan. The FAA's funding rate is specific to each airport and must be discussed with the local airport district office (ADO). If the project is approved, be sure to invite the ADO to the design charrette.

Ron Crain is a program manager in the Aviation Group at Burns & McDonnell.

On Call

Q: Which functions and personnel should be present in an AOC?

A.: All functions involved in real-time decisions, including:

  • Airfield operation and inspection
  • Airfield maintenance
  • Landside fire/police/911 dispatch
  • Airport telephone operator
  • Building automation, maintenance
  • Security operations
  • Baggage system monitoring
  • IT help desk
  • Communications network security
  • Airport CDM administrator
  • Common use and flight information display system (FIDS) administrator

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