Why data driven airport operations are the next big property industry transformation opportunity

December 6, 2019

“An airport could have 25 chillers and a couple of hundred air handling units.”

As a former facility energy manager and someone who travels regularly, I have always taken an interest in the unique building operations of airports. While listening to our latest Building Peak Performance Podcast episode Flying High, this particular comment by CIM senior engineer Arghya Sen grabbed my attention as it highlights just how complex airport operations are. In addition to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment (HVAC), large airports also contain a vast amount of other systems and equipment that manage everything else from security, luggage and freight, to people traffic, restaurant and retail environments.

Managing all of these systems and equipment—in an environment that operates around the clock, with heavy foot traffic and multiple terminals—is challenging enough. Managing these systems and equipment efficiently and sustainably while creating comfortable thermal conditions for those who use or work in the airport, adds a further layer of complexity. Equipment breakdowns, human error, or sub-optimal maintenance work can cause havoc and result in excessive energy consumption. Commercial and environmental sustainability is becoming an increasingly important topic to airport operators as they face increasing pressure from shareholders and investors to manage their assets more efficiently.

They need to manage CAPEX and OPEX more effectively and to reduce energy consumption, CO2 and other GHG emissions. In this podcast, Arghya draws on his experience as a design and building services engineer, to explain how more often than not, the design intent of a building and the operational intent of that same building are often completely misaligned. He says building operators need to strike a fine balance between achieving the right operational outcomes as well as the right energy efficiency outcomes. Arghya joined CIM with the goal of helping building owners and operational teams find this balance by optimising their buildings through live data monitoring and analysis to ensure these buildings operate how they were intended to.

Arghya also shares some fascinating insights into the cost, efficiency and sustainability benefits of using building analytics to adopt a data-driven operations approach to airport building operations.Building analytics transforms airport operations by providing real-time visibility and insight into equipment performance, customer comfort, and environmental conditions. This analysis can have a particularly powerful impact on energy consumption, which forms a large majority of an airport’s operational budget. At least 60-70% of that energy is consumed by HVAC.In a busy international airport with multiple terminals, there may be one large interconnected HVAC system or a disconnected mix of old and new systems. Most of the time, operations teams are forced to adopt a reactive approach to data analysis as they rarely have time to analyse data from large, energy-intensive HVAC equipment unless there is a breakdown.

CIM’s PEAK platform facilitates a more proactive approach by gathering all of this plant and equipment data, integrating it with foot traffic, flight schedules and other relevant data, then turning it into actionable information to help airport operators maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of equipment. The data helps them understand the root cause of issues, predict problems before they become an issue, and prioritise maintenance schedules. By way of example, CIM recently implemented PEAK across one of the busiest airports in Australia, immediately flagging significant chilled water system inefficiencies. One of the chillers had been running at its maximum capacity since it was installed, which was not only inefficient from an electricity consumption perspective but also meant it would reduce the chiller’s lifespan.

Using PEAK platform insights, the team was able to halve the load within one of the largest chillers and still achieve the right thermal comfort outcomes. Within two months, there was a significant operational and energy efficiency improvement, including a 15% reduction in energy consumption at the airport. Quite apart from the energy saving, the key outcomes in this example was that an expensive chiller will now last longer because it is not operating under such an excessive load. Adelaide Airport is another great example of using building analytics to improve sustainability outcomes. In 2017 the airport adopted CIM’s data-driven analytics and maintenance approach to help it adapt to the impacts of climate change by addressing emissions reduction, peak demand management and asset life cycle. In December 2018 Adelaide Airport was ranked the number one airport in the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark. It was the first Australian airport to achieve Level 3 Optimisation under the Airports Council International's Carbon Accreditation Program.

Arghya’s experience in observing how buildings operate, combined with his design experience as a building controls engineer, gives him a fantastic perspective on why airport operations are so challenging.

Listen to the full podcast episode.

Paul Walsh
December 6, 2019