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SPS Aviation Blog

20-07-16 / SPS Blog

Airport Benchmarking – An Effective Strategic Initiative?

By Douglas F. Goldberg

Benchmarking is commonly defined as the practice of strategic management that allows an organization to evaluate plans, set goals and measure productivity based on best industry practices by examining other facilities and operations. As airport owners throughout China work to meet unprecedented demand for aviation growth, many leaders seek to exchange ideas with other global airports and airlines to confirm their plans before embarking on a major new airport development project.

There can be value in understanding the good and bad lessons learned from other airports that may have similar characteristics with a new airport project, in terms of the volume of demand, the role of the airport as major hub or an origin/destination airport, or even the physical layout of the runway configuration and terminals.  However, there is also a risk in assuming that a facility or operation that appears similar may not be a good model for comparison.  As such, a successful benchmarking exercise requires a comprehensive understanding of both the airport in question, and the benchmark airport.

SPS was recently invited to participate in the Beijing Daxing International Airport Technical Workshop, where specialists from CAAC, ATMB and Beijing Daxing International Airport met with the FAA, U.S. Airlines and ACP member companies to share ideas and observations about the new Beijing Daxing International Airport, scheduled for a soft opening in September 2019.   The Beijing Daxing International Airport is unique for several reasons – it will have the first V-Shaped runway in China, and it will feature some of the latest thinking in airport ramp control operations, terminal functions, and airport sustainability.   On the surface, U.S. experience has much to offer in guiding the successful start-up of this magnificent new airport.

As members of the U.S. team asked to share observations from similar airports in the U.S., SPS specialists discussed similar runway configurations, but were careful to acknowledge differences in operating conditions that may not be applicable in China. Experience in the U.S. with converging approaches, missed approaches, and diverging departure headings, has evolved substantially over the past several decades using new technologies and procedures designed to enhance safety, efficiency, and pilot awareness.  Similarly, procedures and policies for ensuring a high level of safety and efficiency on apron areas has also evolved to better serve the demands of larger aircraft, connecting passengers, and more customer-focused airline operations.    Some of the most relevant lessons learned – both positive and negative – were discussed.  When conducting a Benchmark Analysis, it is important to know the difference in operating conditions among the airports.

Experts from SPS in airfield, terminal, gate and airspace operations have been asked to perform benchmarking studies for many airports to share our experience from decades of development at some of the busiest airports in the U.S. and around the world.   Because of our staff’s global experience, including nearly twenty years helping airport owners throughout China, we understand which practices at other airports are relevant and which do not apply in China.  Equally important, we know the extent to which many Chinese airports are now setting the standard for new airport development, and in fact, will soon be among the world’s busiest.   In the case of Beijing Daxing International Airport, this benchmarking effort was part of the Airport’s operational readiness planning process to ensure a smooth and efficient opening.

The opportunity to conduct a benchmark assessment is most valuable when it encourages the sharing of best practices among global airports.   It is evident that we have much to learn from one another and that together, we can bridge the distance between us to develop a safe and efficient global airport system.

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