At the time of this project, AirTran Airways (now Southwest Airlines) was the second largest low-cost air carrier in the US, servicing more than 50 cities. Once just a small national carrier, it now boards over 8 million passengers per year, with approximately 183 departures a day in Atlanta alone. Operating off of 31 gates and two towers, the AirTran Atlanta hub was one of the busiest ramps in the world.
As they grew, the AirTran ommunication system was operating under multiple technologies at the Atlanta hub. Using different phones and radios to communicate to the FAA, flight crews, and ground crews, the system became largely inefficient due to the lack of information flow between operational groups.
Michael Bernardo, manager of Atlanta Command Center for AirTran, said his control room operators don’t know how they managed with such an archaic system. “You could hardly call it a system,” Bernardo said. “Each position consisted of little more than two walkie-talkies, an Air/ground radio or two and a phone.”
A long-time equipment and support provider to AirTran, ACG was invited to submit a bid for a new, more sophisticated system. They selected the Acom system, which integrated AirTran’s phone and radio into one unified, touch-screen interface. A complex project, ACG had to integrate specialized control functions for each phase of a flight’s arrival and departure. Each position had to be individually designed, resulting in significant engineering efforts.
To meet AirTran’s requirements, the Acom system was designed to:
- Interface with the airline’s existing VoIP telephone system
- Integrate with AirTran’s air/ground and ground radio systems
- Provide access to airline, FAA, and airport “alleyway” radio channels
- Include touch-screen access with custom GUI to all airline radio and telephone resources
- Provide speed-dialing through resources such as pages, jepg images, bitmaps, and imported html files
- Provide patching capability between telephone-to-radio and radio-to-radio channels
- Provide recording to meet federal regulations and increase operation wide professionalism
- Include headsets to reduce control-room noise
The equipment chosen included:
- 13 Acom Console Units and the Acom Common Control Equipment
- Multiple ground radio base stations and repeaters
- Air/ground radio systems, including VHF/AM transceivers
- 19″ touch screens and wireless headset for each operator
The new console system also provided Southwest Airlines (formerly AirTran) the ability to record all communication and improvedproductivity . In a recent study conducted by ACG, specific console features (Speed Dial, Call Transfer and Conference, and Patching,) can save an airline approximately $30,000/year per position, or approximately 600 man hours within the control tower.
Bernardo, who is a self-proclaimed demanding customer, said he couldn’t be more pleased with the new system and ACG’s ability to provide technical solutions to match their specific requirements. Since implementation, he is also pleased with their reliable service. “For this project, I asked a lot of questions and asked for a thousand changes as we went along,” he said. “ACG are real communications experts and they never hesitate to do anything to get the job done.”