Heathrow saves £30 million with business process management

Pegasystems comes in cheaper than airport-specific software

Heathrow airport has saved £30 million (US$44.8 million) by using software from business process management (BPM) supplier Pegasystems to build a system for managing activity in the airport, from aircraft landings to passenger movement.

Eamonn Cheverton, enterprise architect for operations at BAA, told the Gartner Business Process Management Summit 2010 in London that the organisation was required by European Union directives to beef up its business process management systems.

After surveying the market it decided to install a generic BPM system, rather than one specifically designed for the air travel industry. "Somebody offered us a solution that would have cost us £1.5 million per annum. We built it for a fraction of that cost. Against buying an aviation COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) tool, doing it in Pega ourselves, we've saved £30 million."

Heathrow manages and monitors a sequence of processes that start from when a plane lands at the airport and ends when it takes off again.

To do this effectively, in March 2009 BAA installed the Pega system. The system runs on an Oracle database and Weblogic application server, using Sonic ESB SOA and integration products running on Sun hardware.

BAA will shortly be moving to HP from Sun hardware, Cheverton said.

The system uses a set of rules designed by BAA to optimise day-to-day running. If it detects an unusual scenario, such as delays caused by weather, or a terrorism alert, it downloads the rule sets that BAA has designed to manage the new situation.

"It downloads the rule sets and allocates a new resource plan. We monitor that in real-time and when it's over, we go back to the optimum plans," explained Cheverton.

The management of the airport's processes is a significant undertaking, as air traffic has increased, from eight million flights in 2000, to a predicted 11.1 million flights in 2010 in Europe. This figure is expected to increase to 16 million in Europe alone by 2010.

In addition, if an airport's IT system goes down for more than two hours, the EU imposes a fine of €250 million per hour.

Cheverton said the airport authority's BPM system was effectively a customer relationship management (CRM) process.

"When we know that the aircraft is coming into us, we generate all the events in the process from the aircraft landing, turnaround, taxi and ascent. Then we hand it back to Eurocontrol [the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation] in Brussels. To us, this is the same as a call centre doing case management."

Having this "logical view of the world" has allowed BAA to buy more commercially available software, "rather than industry specific stuff," he explained.

Heathrow updates Eurocontrol in real-time, which means that if aircraft is departing late, the airport will use its system to automatically relate this information to Eurocontrol.

"There are only two airports doing this," said Cheverton. "Munich and ourselves."

As a result of the new system, Heathrow airport has seen its percentage of on-time departures increase from 68 percent to 83 percent.

It has also seen an environmental saving of 90 litres of fuel per flight by reducing the time of aircraft waiting on the runway by a minute.

Meanwhile, by managing and monitoring its processes more efficiently, the system has helped to increase retail revenue at the airport by more than £20 million a year, by enabling passengers to remain in the departure lounge longer. Retail represents 50 percent of an airport's revenue, according to Cheverton.

This story, "Heathrow saves £30 million with business process management" was originally published by Computerworld UK.

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