Continuity in the skies at the IAA
The airspace above Ireland is absolutely crucial to European and North American air traffic, so supplying collaborative AV systems to three airports and a communications centre across the breadth of the country took skill and care, as Paul Milligan finds out.
The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) operates three major airports in Ireland, in Dublin, Shannon and Cork, and also manages the North Atlantic Communications Centre in Ballygirreen, County Clare.
The latter is home to more than 50 radio officers providing crucial communication services for the North Atlantic air corridor. But why is what the IAA does so crucial? Irish airspace is a gateway for 90% of all air traffic between Europe and North America.
The IAA guides more than 1,750 flights per day during the peak summer season, the vast majority of which pass over Ireland without landing. The IAA’s Air Traffic Management department provides services across 451,000km2 of Irish airspace, and operates a complex network of communication, navigation, surveillance, radar and flight data processing systems on a 24/7 365 basis.
Prior to the WEY Technology project, local staff in three locations supported and maintained their respective systems and infrastructure independently. There was no visual sharing between sites, or status alarms available beyond each isolated LAN.
The first goal of the project was to interconnect and network key data sources at all four locations across Ireland.
WEY Technology was brought to design and install AV systems at the recommendation of one of its technology partners, who was already supplying radar monitoring software to the client. WEY is a systems integrator established 33 years ago with its HQ in Switzerland and 13 offices around the world. It is also in the unusual position of being both an integrator and a manufacturer, and produces a range of products from multifunctional keyboards to matrix switches to KVM extenders.
The original brief contained a clear objective from the IAA says Clark Ballantyne, UK managing director of WEY. “The client was looking to bring the three airports into one virtual environment, whereby anyone could sit at any of those locations and gain access to the products and manage them remotely and locally. The brief was how do we achieve that? There were a number of disparate systems in place, and there was no appetite to change or upgrade those. So it was very much a case of maintaining the status quo, and how can we do that whilst achieving efficiency across the network.”
The first goal of the project was to interconnect and network key data sources at all four locations. Experts at one site should be able to access and administer systems remotely. The second goal was to unify the visualization of the disparate systems and alarms onto videowalls at the control rooms sites. The IAA wanted to take advantage of modern videowall functionality to maintain not only the local but also a national overview of critical systems. Thirdly, the IAA wanted to realise a fully integrated alarm management concept. The eyevis videowall and multifunctional keyboards (made by WEY) should pro-actively alert operators, both visually and audibly, in case of incidents.
WEY installed a solution based on its own distribution platform, which makes it possible to connect, switch and distribute a range of systems to any workplace in the network, securely, latency-free and without performance loss. For the IAA project, several of the sources were legacy systems that could not be moved. The solution is deployed over an IAA-managed IP network with links between the three airports and Ballygirreen. In accordance with their security profiles, individual operators or collaborative teams can view, control or share the data.
IAA’s visualisation system consists of two 6x3 55-in LG displays (in Dublin and Shannon), controlled by four eyevis netpix controllers. Eyevis has been a long-time partner of WEY’s, and the integrator dealt directly with the company’s HQ in Germany for this job. The walls display video streams from more than 60 defined systems. Control room operators can choose and toggle between ‘local’ and ‘national’ modes layouts, with the national mode showing the status of all four locations.
“The brief grew, once the client realised the flexibility the system could give them. Their requirements went beyond the original specification of just sharing the system into alarm management and monitoring, that become clearer once the project evolved,” adds Ballantyne. Proactive alarms is one of the standout features of the new control room system. On the videowall the operator will see a red border flashing around the affected source. Audio switching distributes the analogue soundwaves of each alarm to the desk, so that operators can actually hear the unique sound footprint of each alarm source. A customised built-in keypad flashes the exact name and location of each source until an operator acknowledges the event on the touchpad, cancelling the alarm on all the videowalls and keyboards on all sites.
With some much at stake, does this affect the technology designed and installed for such an environment? Absolutely says Ballantyne. “IAA are fairly progressive and open with technology, but because it’s a fairly heavily regulated environment the products that go in have to be robust. They won’t be changing things in and out every 2-3 years. They have to be around for a while.”
One of the key parts of this project says Ballantyne was having the skills to seamlessly integrate legacy products, but still provide access to them, and make it seamless between using an old product and a new one. “The management of that was easy to achieve, and we were able to continue to support those environments but also had to recognise that some of that legacy kit was dependent on hardware, and they didn’t want to go out and create a completely new environment to get what they wanted. That was a key driver for their business.” This also enabled the client to better manage staff or skill shortages. “Once it was in place they were then able to look at resourcing, if they are short of people in one location they can now cover it remotely, rather than sending people 200km across Ireland.”
WEY has been involved with the project for 18 months now, and the job is still progressing says Ballantyne. “It was done in controlled way, so each site was updated in ‘local mode’ first. Each site was upgraded to local connectivity, then as each site became live they were interconnected, and they operate on a local and national level.”
As you would expect from anything controlling air traffic, WEY’s technology has had to go through very stringent regulatory acceptance. “This system has to be a working solution, reliability is almost a given,” says Ballantyne. “Alongside reliability, another key aspect is making sure the regulator’s happy that the products are fit for purpose. Once the system has been deployed it goes through rigorous tests, in terms of fallback capabilities and backup capabilities. We have supplied onsite technical training so that IAA staff can provide first line duties themselves. Our maintenance models allow for hot standbys and some of the systems have built-in backup.” The testing period took two full months to complete. “It’s a key point of the handover process. They make sure before they switch a legacy system off they have the ability to dual run. So that allows our system to provide a live and backup environment at the same time.”
Does the rather unique scenario of being both an integrator and a manufacturer give WEY an advantage, and help in this particular job? Definitely says Ballantyne. “Because we are both it means we are not just supplying equipment and walking away. We provide equipment and maintenance, so having that end-to-end relationship means you are there for when the next question of ‘how can we do this?’ or ‘can we do this?’ comes up. We recognise the value service provides both to our company and the client.”
Most importantly, the client is happy too, as Peter Nolan, head of ATM services and technology at the IAA confirms; “The WEY solution provides a completely unique way of managing disparate systems. The knowledge built up during this project can be shared with IAA’s global operator partners to provide a solution that many operators need.”