Global air traffic is growing rapidly, clocking in at over 4.5 billion passenger trips in 2019. In tandem with the growth of air passengers, airports are also under pressure to scale up a whole range of ancillary services to support them. From baggage handling, aircraft maintenance, cargo terminal operations, fuel depots, and retail shops are being upsized and upgraded.

Smooth airport operations don’t come by accident. At Singapore Changi Airport, which is frequently voted the best airport in the world, several billion dollars have been earmarked over the next few decades to upgrade Changi Airport’s air traffic management systems and other enhancements.

Focus on airports

Yet even the best systems in the world are no use in the event of a power outage. Without power, interactions between airport employees, service providers and more than ten thousand travellers on any given day at Changi Airport would have been severely disrupted. Airlines lose money and travellers are left with a poor experience.

According to Tony Hunt of Schneider Electric, a recent power outage cost Delta Air Lines in the United States up to an estimated US$50 million. Certainly, improved power backup systems could have improved reliability and prevented the incident from happening.

For airports facing surging passenger growth, it might be time to adopt a proactive stance to manage their infrastructure, particularly their electrical systems. Electrical distribution system might need to be upgraded to meet growing capacity requirements, and backup power systems put in place to accommodate future long-term growth.

Power modernisation

At one Canadian airport that hosts up to 16.3 million passengers annually with a 6% annual increase in passenger traffic, Schneider Electric performed an audit and came up with recommendations to evolve the system towards an open, up-to-date platform. Below are some of the objectives that the recommendations were designed to address – and which are worthwhile objectives to consider for the typical airport.

Visibility to power data: To drive better power-related business decisions, monitoring tools are vital to collect the requisite data. These should be aggregated and tracked from a centralised location to obtain a holistic view of real-time power conditions. Done properly, it allows power network quality and reliability issues to be quickly identified, isolated and addressed.

Reduction in energy consumption: Increased visibility into power usage makes it easy for airports to pinpoint energy waste and verify the accuracy of utility bills. At a time where environmental consciousness is growing, it makes sense to prioritise sustainability by reducing the carbon footprint of the airport where possible. Of course, it helps that a reduction in energy consumption does translate directly into lower energy costs.

Mitigating downtime risk: Finally, downtime risks are mitigated through a comprehensive multi-year services contract to take a more proactive approach to manage electrical distribution equipment across the entire airport. Paired with equipment such as uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and advanced diagnostic tools such as EcoStruxure Asset Advisor, potential issues can be addressed long before they become problematic. Unplanned downtime and expensive emergency interventions can hence be avoided.

Article by Bhagwati Prasad, Vice President, Business Development, Secure Power Division, Schneider Electric