BPM Helps Manage Aircraft at Heathrow Airport

Before a recent event-driven architecture initiative took place, London's Heathrow Airport had a depressingly low on-time departure rate of 68%... Better air-to-air management now saves 90 liters of fuel per flight and has raised the on-time departure rate to 83%.

Sandy Kemsley, Contributor

April 27, 2010

4 Min Read

Speaking at this week's PegaWorld event in Philadelphia, Eamonn Cheverton of BAA Airports Ltd. discussed the recent event-driven implementation of Pegasystems business process management (BPM) technology at Heathrow Airport. In spite of the recent interruption caused by the volcanic eruption in Iceland, Heathrow sees millions of passengers each year. Before a recent event-driven architecture initiative took place at Heathrow, the airport had little operational support or information sharing between all of the areas that handle aircraft. This resulted in a depressingly low (for those of us who fly through Heathrow occasionally) on-time departure rate of 68%. A Europe-wide initiative to allow for a three-fold increase in capacity while improving safety and reducing environmental effects drove a new business architecture. In the process BAA looked at more generic solutions such as BPM rather than expensive airport-specific software.BAA manages all activities from the point that an aircraft lands until it takes off again, including fuel, crew, water, cleaning, catering, passengers and baggage handling. Interestingly, the airport has no visibility into the inbound flights until about 10 minutes before they land, which doesn't provide the ability to plan and manage the on-ground activities very well; the new pan-European initiative will at least let managers know when planes enter European airspace. For North Americans, this is a bit strange, since the systems across Canada and the US are sufficiently integrated that a short-haul flight doesn't take off until it has a landing slot already assigned at the destination airport.

Managing the events that might cause a flight departure to be delayed allows for much better management of airline and airport resources, such as reducing fuel spent due to excessive taxi times. By mapping the business processes and doing some capability mapping at the business architecture level, BAA is able to understand the interaction between the activities and events, and therefore understand the impact of a delay in one area on all the others. As part of this initiative, BAA documented the enterprise objects (such as flights) and their characteristics. Their entire business architecture and set of reference models are created independent of Pega (or any other implementation tool) as an enterprise architecture initiative; to the business and process architects, Pega is a black box that manages the events, rules and processes.

Due in part to this initiative, Heathrow has moved from being consider the world's worst airport to the fourth best, with the infamous "disastrous" terminal 5 now voted best in the world. Better air-to-air management has saved 90 liters of fuel per flight and raised the on-time departure rate to 83%. All stakeholders are now involved in the processes as well as sharing of information. In the near future, BAA is planning for real-time demand capacity balancing through better integration, including coordinating aircraft movement across Europe and not just within Heathrow's airspace. They're also looking at physical improvements that will improve movement between terminals, such as underground baggage transport links that allow passengers to check in baggage at any terminal.

The current airport plan is based around plans for each stand, gate, person, vehicle, baggage and check-in resource; in the future, they will have a single integrated plan for the airport based on flights. They're also adopting ideas from other industries: providing a timed entry ticket to security at the time that you check in, for example, similar to the fast-track system in theme parks. They also plan to track you on public transit on your way to the airport so that your flight can be rescheduled if your subway is delayed (which will raise some security hackles). With some luck, they'll be able to solve some of the airport turnaround problems such as I experienced in Frankfurt recently.

The tracking and management system, created using Pega BPM, was built in about 180 days: this shows the status of arrivals, departures, turnarounds (the end-to-end process) and a real-time feed of aircraft locations on the airport property, plus historical and predictive reports on departures, arrivals and holds. It's a really fascinating case study of using BPM in a non-traditional industry.Before a recent event-driven architecture initiative took place, London's Heathrow Airport had a depressingly low on-time departure rate of 68%... Better air-to-air management now saves 90 liters of fuel per flight and has raised the on-time departure rate to 83%.

About the Author(s)

Sandy Kemsley


is a systems architect and analyst who specializes in BPM and Enterprise 2.0.

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights