American Airlines, together with its regional partners, operates an extensive international and domestic network with almost 6,800 flights per day and nearly 350 destinations in more than 50 countries.
Considered the world’s largest airline, it is headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, operating out of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) and handling more than 51 million passengers annually.
DFW is the world’s fourth busiest airport, offering nearly 1,850 flights per day. American Airlines operates out of all five of DFW’s terminals, which spans 165 gates. Maintaining that network of incoming and outgoing air traffic can be complicated, especially as responsibility shifts from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to each individual airline’s own operations center once an airplane is past a certain point. From that point, each airline is responsible for routing planes to arrival gates, troubleshooting issues and maintaining full view of all ramp operations.
To do this, American Airlines housed a number of different interconnected departments across DFW airport, including ground, ramp and passenger operations. For a number of years, while these departments all needed to communicate with each other, they were siloed in various areas of the airport campus, and the team had almost outgrown their rented space in DFW’s control tower.
Additionally, the view from the control tower did not allow for American Airlines operators to visualize each and every gate, resulting in blind spots.
“There are a lot of moving parts for our airline that were happening operationally across the airport, and we were working with outdated equipment in a small operations space,” said Luis Santana, DFW Facilities Senior Engineer, American Airlines.
American Airlines made the decision to create a $10 million Hub Control Center (HCC) to act as a virtual tower, leveraging additional IP cameras fed to a large-scale video wall to give operators a full view of ramp operations across all five terminals and consolidate several functions formerly housed in various areas of the airport. The 10,000-square-foot HCC includes an open office workspace concept, an emergency command center, conference rooms, new restrooms, an employee break room and a locker area.
Santana worked with Vistacom on identifying the right kind of video displays and audiovisual equipment across the HCC, the centerpiece of which is a video wall with twenty-two (22) 55-inch Christie Digital FHD flat panel displays in an 11-wide by 2-high array, which provide a real-time view of every gate American operates at DFW, as well as the de-icing stations. The video wall is powered by Christie Digital’s Phoenix Video Wall Processing, which allows American Airlines to visualize the right content (coming mostly from Axis panoramic IP cameras) in a variety of configurations based on different scenarios, workflow demands and the context for high-priority collaborative decision-making. “The Christie Digital technology also enables American Airlines to share that information between different displays throughout the HCC and extend situational awareness beyond the primary video wall,” said Dan Gundry, Managing Director of Vistacom Control Room Solutions.
The main area of the HCC contains operator stations for overseeing passenger operations, which coordinates passenger issues such as rebooking missed connections; ramp operations, which is responsible for all ground personnel such as baggage handlers and fueling; resources planning, which determines gate direction and resources needed; and flight service, which coordinates catering. At each of these stations, Vistacom installed distributed flat panel displays with AV-over-IP video distribution, or the secure transmission of real-time video data over the network and methodically ingested into the HCC.
“American Airlines centralized these different groups by creating an operations center that can leverage 180-degree IP security cameras, give live views across the entire facility and increase sight lines to direct planes to where they need to be,” Gundry said.
The center also contains an Emergency Command Center (ECC), which leverages an 82-inch interactive display flanked by four 49-inch flat panel displays to visualize unfolding events and communicate critical information when an incident occurs. This is brought together by a Crestron 16×16 DigitalMedia™ Switcher, a fully modular and expandable matrix switcher with various inputs and outputs from the Phoenix Video Wall processor, along with audio conferencing and video conferencing capabilities.
Finally, additional breakout and conference rooms within the facility are equipped with large format interactive displays with AV connectivity that allow for impromptu team huddles, operational meetings, presentations and more.
The HCC creates a more efficient and collaborative space that leverages state-of-the-art visual displays and audio capabilities to deliver increased communication across departments. Operators within the HCC oversee several computer monitors that provide airport maps and detailed information on the status of flights, down to how many passengers board a specific plane and whether bags have been loaded. They use this information to help direct traffic on the ground, guide arriving aircraft to open gates and help make adjustments if a plane is delayed. These employees are also responsible for communicating quickly when problems arise and coordinate all facets of the operations when there’s a change.
With our new video wall, we’re able to maximize the canvas and add cameras as needed to deliver a common operational picture for operators.
The overview video wall in the HCC ramp control area was designed to simulate looking out a window and seeing all the gates and planes, which eliminates blind spots for operators across all terminals and gates. This virtual tower leverages additional integrated camera technology to make this possible — which improves situational awareness for operators — as well as modular display technology for video and mission-critical data that meets the needs of American Airlines’ growing operations.
“One thing that this video wall is able to provide is scalability,” Santana said. “Our old system was basically a computer-to-screen solution that was limited by the number of screens we had. With our new video wall, we’re able to maximize the canvas and add cameras as needed to deliver a common operational picture for operators.”
From the beginning, Vistacom was very professional and wanted to ensure we had what we needed to accomplish our goals.
Another key benefit of the HCC for American Airlines has been streamlined communication across departments by bringing everyone that has anything to do with operational efficiency or effectiveness under one roof. “Everyone is in the same room, seeing the same things and able to make decisions in real time,” said Santana. “Being able to work together is a huge advantage for the team and for the end goal of providing a safe and enjoyable passenger experience.”
“From the beginning, Vistacom was very professional and wanted to ensure we had what we needed to accomplish our goals,” Santana said. “They were a true partner and made sure to explain each outcome when we had a request, answered all of our questions and guided us through the implementation of the technology for day-to-day operations.”