In the media

Fewer delays and gate changes

By Pieter Kamstra


16 February 2023

It may seem easy: a plane that has landed just needs to have its nose turned round in the other direction. But a lot has to happen before an aircraft is ready for departure again. Since a variety of parties are involved, it is difficult to get an overview and to resolve (possible) delays quickly.

That is why Schiphol has come up with a smart innovation. A plane has landed. While passengers loosen their seat belts in a relaxed way, many people are in the starting blocks at the airport. These include, for example, baggage handlers, cleaners, caterers, technicians and planners. Their joint challenge: to ensure that the aircraft is ready in time for the next flight. Everything that comes with this is part of the turnaround process, as it is called in the aviation world.

Complex puzzle

Without a good overall overview, it remains a challenge to get an aircraft on the runway at the scheduled time. Because if you don't know that something isn't going quite according to plan, you can't anticipate it either. To solve that specific problem, Schiphol has developed a solution that uses artificial intelligence (AI). Aviation solutions, Schiphol's department that focuses on aviation innovations, is working with PA Consulting to increase the impact of this approach. It has now become clear that other airports are also struggling with the turnaround process and are very interested in Schiphol's AI solution. This provides great opportunities to quickly scale up the innovation and apply it elsewhere.

Predictability and transparency

“About half of all delays occur during the turnaround process,” says Caroline Massart, strategy & business development lead at Schiphol Group's aviation solutions. “This is not just because so many different parties are involved, but also because they all work with different digital systems. As a result, everything is not always well coordinated. The AI system adds both predictability and transparency to the process. The activity around an aircraft is monitored by cameras and the algorithm predicts when delays are likely to occur. This allows those involved to take action sooner. And the great thing: it is a self-learning system that makes increasingly better predictions over time.”

Promising results

“At Schiphol, deep turnaround has already clearly proved its usefulness,” emphasises Pieter Kamstra, who, as a managing consultant at PA Consulting Schiphol, helps to make the system solid, reliable and scalable. “For example, the predictive power of the system ensures that a last-minute gate change is required less often. At the moment, more than half of the gates are connected to deep turnaround. Once the entire airport is connected, the number of last-minute gate changes is expected to decrease by 25 to 50 percent and result in fewer delays.”

Business knowledge partner

The next challenge: translating what happens at Schiphol to other airports. PA Consulting is acting as a technical implementation partner and as a business knowledge partner in this work. Kamstra says “It helps enormously that Schiphol is known worldwide as a pioneer and innovative airport. Other airports were therefore interested in Schiphol's AI system from the start. In fact, we are actually working on implementing deep turnaround at another airport! This just shows how important it is to get started quickly with innovative ideas that can make a difference. Because usually you only notice once the system is in practice what exactly is needed to make it work really well. In addition, you immediately have something concrete to use to show others the benefits of the innovation.”

Future ambition

“It is a really special achievement that we have managed to scale our innovation to another airport in a short time,” says Massart with obvious pride. “The more airports we join to the system, the more experience we gain to improve and further develop deep turnaround. And that in turn helps to realise Schiphol's ambition for the future: in 2050 to be an airport where ground handling vehicles and associated processes are carried out fully autonomously.”

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