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Flying start


SFO’s multi-billion dollar capital improvement programme will use technology to transform infrastructure data management, operations and the traveller experience, writes Esri’s global transportation industry director, Terry Bills.

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) has embarked on a multi-billion capital improvement programme which, when complete, will transform operations and the travel experience at San Francisco International Airport.

At the same time, the way that spatial data used to support those improvements and the redesigned airport is being created and managed, will similarly set a new standard for airports in the future.

The upgrade encompasses over 100 individual projects that include the new Harvey Milk Terminal 1, a flagship Grand Hyatt Hotel, changes to long-term parking facilities and two new SFO AirTrain stations.

A keystone of the data side of that programme, however, is getting everything absolutely right from the outset, and having that philosophy endure throughout the entire building and infrastructure lifecycle.

To make this happen, SFO’s Infrastructure Information Management, which includes the Geographic Information System (GIS) team is pioneering work to ally geospatial and Computer-Aided Design (CAD) data with Building Information Modelling (BIM) data across the whole airport’s built environment.

The new capital improvements are part of a much larger existing set of facilities and assets which make up the entire airport landscape of over 5,000 acres and eight square miles.

Data and information at an airport is central to both efficiency as well as safety. A challenge is the multiplicity of data environments which can exist — not just the languages and protocols but also the numerous independent repositories that grow over time across a large organisation.

SFO’s GIS team has set itself the goal of unifying infrastructure-related data right across its substantial campus and many stakeholders and is using Esri-supplied GIS to provide an outward-facing window to all of the various spatial data types, and which will facilitate easy access and updates to that data.

Common goals

“This is a multi-billion-dollar capital project with numerous different project teams. We want those teams to follow common data standards which will allow us to bring all that information together in one easily accessible place,” says Josephine Pofsky, SFO’s director of infrastructure information management.

“Our story is about securing that process. This will be true data covering the entire campus, from airspace to ground space to underground. It means that, from Day One, facilities, maintenance and other stakeholders such as the emergency services will be able to go in and find attributes, data and locations; at the same time, some of that initial data will still be used a decade and more up the road.

“It’s not just about the money or time savings. We believe that our approach and model can conquer the scope, cost and schedule of the project all in one.

“Some people are still looking at those dimensions individually, but our message is that by the time the build is finished, using GIS and BIM together will be the working model which carries the resilience and sustainability of our facilities for 40-50 years.”

On-screen and on-trend

SFO is on trend, moving to an enterprise-shared environment which allows greater transparency and information-sharing between departments. Where detailed structural information was previously only readily accessible to a small number of engineers, GIS, through the series of tools provided by Esri, is enabling a large and growing number of people to access, use and update data.

Field engineers, for example, can take an iPad to a remote point on the campus, locate and click on an asset, and be provided with all kinds of relevant, related information with very little GIS training or knowledge.

Between them, GIS and portable devices are enabling the SFO team to address the high volume and pace of information requests from many different stakeholders, and for tasks that range from a day or two in duration up to several months.

Sizeable matters

GIS provides a natural fit for what SFO is trying to do, explains GIS analyst, Guy Michael. “Around here, all data is spatial,” he says.

“Tradespeople are being tasked and dispatched all over the airport campus and we want to enable them with spatial information and capture updates to the infrastructure in near real-time. GIS allows us to do that in ways we simply couldn’t before.”

SFO’s 3D Airport Viewer

A challenge is magnitude. “We have 15,000+ rooms, 15+ million square feet and 11,000+ doors mapped in GIS, and with readily available location information, it benefits airport staff whether they are new or have worked at the airport for decades,” notes Michael.

“Now, they can tap a room or door number into an iPad and go find it. Tradespeople can now use the GIS to help plan their route to complete tasks – to not be zig-zagging across the site, to not have to constantly pass in and out of secure areas.

“That’s useful for someone who, say, has to change the locks on 10 different doors which are spread across the campus. Internal wayfinding is proving to be a great success.”

The Airport Pavement Condition and Repair Viewer

Airfield-side, similar successes are being exploited. An example, says GIS analyst, Agie Gilmore, is airfield operations tracking pavement condition and repairs to aid with FAA Part 139 certification.

“SFO civil engineers are able to attach image information and document a whole range of other distress conditions in the field,” says Gilmore. “Concrete pavement for aircraft parking is laid in 20x20ft slabs and we can see if some slabs are having to be repaired uncommonly often and prioritise trouble areas.

“Using GIS, we can stand on-site, take a look at what’s underneath us and see if we have to do something different to stop a problem recurring.

“Now that we’re in an enterprise environment, we can provide dashboards that cover the whole campus, and even some departments which don’t see their data as spatial are buying in. HR, for instance, can provide maps when onboarding new people to a very complex campus.

“It can take years for people to ramp up in terms of locational knowledge in a place as big as an airport. There are one-way doors, secure area access and so on. There’s also a lot of ‘revolving door’ knowledge — the police and fire services rotate staff between SFO and other stations quite regularly and all of them need to know how to get to places quickly.

“HR can even make use of off-campus spatial data. For instance, during the wildfire season, they need to know which staff may be affected by an evacuation order or warning so they can reach out and provide appropriate resources.”

Wider influences

The wayfinding solutions which currently benefit the maintenance workers can also benefit the individual traveller.

The complexity and time-criticality of air travel can make navigation from drop-off point to gate an emotionally fraught experience, especially in an age where travellers are very much used to the availability of Street View and other real-time mapping products.

3D Design Data Displayed in GIS

GIS benefits both service user and provider. From the user perspective, there is the ability to navigate quickly through a complex indoor environment while taking account of directional flows, current social distancing restrictions, security choke points, food or retail concessions and, ultimately, time at gate.

The provider, meanwhile, can gauge ahead of time staffing requirements, mundane-but-essential issues such as whether refuse removal needs to take place, if terrestrial transportation provision is adequate, and so on.

As Michael emphasised “We really do think GIS is going to be critical to improving the passenger experience at SFO.”

Even more widely, SFO’s work, and the profound levels of detail it encompasses, is already influencing data efforts and methods of working at other aviation facilities around the world.

They have demonstrated how effective infrastructure data management can establish the foundation to help the airport run smoothly and safely for a very long time.

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