British Airways Future-Proofs Ground-To-Air Communications

About British Airway

British Airways (BA) is one of the world’s largest international airlines and is headquartered in London at its main hub at Heathrow Airport. It is the airport’s major operator with approximately 50 per cent of flights to and from the airport, and is the largest airline in the UK based on fleet size, international flights and international destinations. The airline operates in excess of 300,000 flights per annum and in 2011/12 carried over 34 million passengers to nearly 150 destinations.

Introduction

Like all airlines around the world, BA operates on tight margins. The international Air Transport Association (IATA) – the aviation industry’s lobby group, predicted a member profitability margin of less than 1% as a result of high oil prices and a poor global economic climate. Air transport operations were also hard-hit by events on 9/11. The industry as a whole has had to re-shape to cope with the after effects. Investment in new fleets and technology has been the key to recovery, along with careful capacity management, efficient process adoption and consolidation. Inefficient airline operations can mean that airlines incur fines. It is therefore vital for British Airways to have efficient and streamlined communications to support swift aircraft turnaround operations.

Ground-to-air communications are a critical element of the airline operations, providing the ability to communicate between the airline’s flight deck and the operational control centre for a range of up to 200 nautical miles. For outbound and inbound flights, information relating to the aircraft and its passengers can be relayed, ensuring that the necessary preparations for passenger assistance or aircraft maintenance can be implemented prior to the aircraft landing. Ground-to-air communications are used by British Airways to facilitate efficient aircraft turnaround, helping to avoid the financial penalties associated with schedule delays.

The ground-to-air radio system in use by British Airways consists of multiple radio base stations connected to a series of remote terminals distributed throughout Heathrow airport. In its original form, the British Airways ground-to-air radio system was connected to a legacy switch in the operations facility at the Compass Centre, via a series of leased lines. Further leased lines were in use between the audio switch and the desk remote control units, where British Airways users would receive, process and respond to the information. The distributed nature of British Airways’ leased line infrastructure was as a result of having airline operations across the entire Heathrow campus.

The Challenge

There were several drivers for British Airways to commence this project. Firstly, the need to relocate operations from their operations facility in the Compass Centre into their Waterside HQ and the new Terminal 5. Secondly, a need to reduce the total cost of ownership of voice, video and data services in use. Finally, British Airways wanted a way to manage communication services with ease.

The audio switch in use at the Compass Centre presented a number of challenges to BA as part of the move into Waterside and Terminal 5. Based on proprietary protocol, being hardware based, hard-wired and nearing full capacity, British Airways would need to decide to retain and move their legacy audio switch system, or to replace it.

With ground-to-air communications being critical to airline operations, moving the audio switch in a ‘lift and shift’ manner was not feasible. The age and relative fragility of the audio switch was a concern, calling into question the longevity of the aged equipment. In addition, a move of the audio switch would mean a total loss of communications, while the system assistance or aircraft maintenance can be implemented prior to the was physically moved from the operations facility in the Compass Centre into the new locations.

To ensure continuity of service during the move, the audio switch and the infrastructure on which it operates, would need to be replicated and fully functional in the new locations, before the existing implementation in the Compass Centre could be switched off. A full replication of the audio switch and leased line connectivity would be both time consuming and expensive for British Airways.

A further consideration was the user capacity on the audio switch. Operating at nearly full capacity, there was little scope to economically provide for additional user desk positions.

The reliance on fixed position hardware meant that the flexibility for on-going moves and changes was limited. In addition the audio switch utilised bespoke signalling, which meant that the additional application integration would be complex and costly for British Airways.

In support of their technology strategy to embrace IP, British Airways had already deployed a CUCM IP telephony solution operating on a converged IP network. With IP convergence enabling voice and data packets to be transported on a single network infrastructure, British Airways were now in a position to also transfer their ground-to-air communications onto their IP network.

The Solution

To replace their audio switch and leased line connectivity, British Airways selected an on-premise, fully managed and maintained solution from affini. WAVE is a Radio over IP (RoIP) software platform, operating on British Airways’ existing converged IP network. Comprised of a number of elements, the WAVE solution deployed by affini included clients on standard desktop PC, and bespoke server infrastructure.

WAVE was recommended for and deployed to, British Airways because it provides secure and real-time communications from any IP enabled position on the network and from a number of industry standard Smartphone devices. This capability means that all British Airways end-users, whether mobile or in the office, can effectively communicate and collaborate through voice, text and data. Using WAVE , British Airways now has the opportunity to operate a mixed estate of devices without impairing functionality.

Deployed to more than 75 operational positions serving in excess of 1,000 users, the WAVE Desktop Communicator allows British Airways’ operators to communicate to smartphones, radios and carrier push-to-talk (PTT) networks from any WAVE enabled PC, across a secure network infrastructure. This capability not only removes the need to deploy radio handsets to desktop workers who don’t need them, but allows users to participate in communications between multiple radio channels. In addition, the Desktop Communicator also provides activity displays, audio recording and instant replay to give users a complete communications history.

As a communications platform WAVE is unrivalled. One of the key benefits to British Airways is the capability to cost effectively globalise radio communications. Using WAVE, British Airways now has the ability to replicate their UK control centre anywhere in the world. Furthermore, British Airways’ ground-to-air communications now benefit from the inherent resilience of their fully redundant IP network infrastructure.

affini worked closely with British Airways through all the critical phases of the project; user requirements gathering; solution design; implementation; in-life support and maintenance. Working as an extension of the British Airways team, affini were able to mitigate against the risk of the airline’s ground-to-air communications being impacted by the transition. Delivered as a fully managed service, the chosen solution from affini is ‘light-touch’ for British Airways – minimising risk and uncertainty, while optimizing efficiency and performance.

  • The flexible architecture of WAVE supports adds, moves and changes for future business expansion
  • A future-proof IP communication solution, using Radio over IP technology
  • WAVE is a reliable, tried and tested software platform
  • WAVE extends ground-to-air communications to a range of smartphone and tablet devices

WAVE is a tremendously powerful unified communications platform with a suite of applications that makes it possible for teams of people, whether mobile or in their offices, to effectively communicate and collaborate. Lee Weatherley, Voice/Video Solutions Manager, British Airways

The Results

The implementation of WAVE has delivered the following benefits to British Airways:

  • Operating on a single IP network infrastructure, WAVE can be accessed from any geographical location, from a range of devices, providing British Airways with a flexible, scalable and future-proofed ground-to-air communications capability
  • A cost effective and flexible solution that can be scaled to support future expansion with ease
  • Was deployed to ensure a seamless transition from legacy architecture mitigating against the risk of downtime and with minimal disruption to BA users
  • Provides the ability to extend capability to any location in the world, to standardize radio communications
  • With radio communications distributed over an IP network to application-enabled wired and wireless devices, BA operations personnel have the flexibility to adapt to an ever changing airport environment
  • A platform to support future inter-operability with new or additional applications as adopted
  • Supports communications to a wider community of interest to help optimize aircraft operations and leverage investments in existing assets around the airport

By putting our ground-to-air communications directly on our IP network, we could dispense with expensive remote terminals and leased lines, gaining the flexibility to adapt to every changing airport environment using any readily available network ports. Lee Weatherley, Voice/Video Solutions Manager, British Airways

Why affini?

affini is a long standing British Airways Service Partner, for a number of communication services and solutions. BA selected affini Real-Time Connect featuring WAVE, because of affini’s strong heritage in the aviation industry as well as their extensive experience and breadth of knowledge in complex solution design and integration.

affini specialises in connecting technology which means connecting people and devices to systems, connecting people together and connecting systems and platforms. affini solve complex technology challenges with expertise in IT, mobile, radio and wireless communications.

Furthermore, affini are vendor agnostic which means that solution recommendations are made solely on the ability of the chosen technology to satisfy customer challenges.

We’re now looking at extending its capabilities further to include smartphones and tablets, running on carrier data networks, ensuring seamless communications in any location. In addition, we’re looking at the potential to integrate WAVE into new Enterprise collaboration platform and expand use of WAVE into worldwide flight operations control centre and LHR airport control centre. Lee Weatherley, Voice/Video Solutions Manager, British Airways