Pearson lifts off with automated data

As the entity responsible for Canada’s busiest airport, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) faces the tremendous task of ensuring the data collected from its 1,300 daily flights never gets grounded.

The not-for-profit parent corporation for Toronto’s Pearson International Airport last month selected Halifax-based integrator xwave to develop a data acquisition and processing system to automate its financial and planning processes.

GTAA deals with huge amounts of data. Currently undergoing a capital expansion project, the organization is also attempting to reduce capital and operating costs. According to Max Locke, project manager for GTAA, the challenge was to get a better grip on revenue, specifically by finding “efficiencies in our billing system and automating a lot of the things that are done manually right now.”

The issue with the previous system was its scalability, or lack thereof. “We needed something that could take a lot of data from a wide variety of sources,” Locke said. Due to the huge amounts of data being collected and the fact that historical data records are maintained for at least 10 years, scalability is crucial.

xwave’s relationship with airport and air traffic management is an extensive one, according to Dean Peddle, xwave project manager. The company has previously developed mission-critical systems for national air navigation service provider NAV Canada, and a similar airport data collection system – known as ONBOARD – currently in use at airports in St. John’s and Moncton.

The xwave-developed open architecture Flight Information Reporting System (FIRS) maintains real-time airplane flight information. The system uses a rules-based engine adapted for GTAA’s needs, along with an

Oracle database for data processing and storage that will automate flight data collection in real time, provide reconciliation and consolidation planning, and noise management processes, Peddle said. Additional functionality is provided by the FIRS user interface and Microsoft BizTalk Server.

FIRS takes the data, primarily from the control tower and airport terminal logs, and creates a consolidated record for each flight. This info is used by the different GTAA offices: the planning department for doing projections and statistics on past performance, the financial department for billing, by noise management for regulation compliance, and by slot and facility allocation for aircraft scheduling, Locke said.

The system automates the collection and monitoring of flight departure and arrival data, Peddle said. The benefits are are measured in terms of the increased scalability and the fact the GTAA doesn’t have to rely extensively on the IT department, he added.

Along with the xwave-developed FIRS user interface, Locke said the main feature that appealed to GTAA was the Microsoft BizTalk Server solution, “which allowed the entry of business rules and also coordinating between the different data sources we were using.”

While BizTalk provides the essential middleware layer to the FIRS design, the BizTalk GUI makes it easier for the user to add and maintain the business rules, Locke said. “We outsourced a lot of the development to xwave but (we’re) still doing [certain tasks] internally.” So while Biztalk forms the backbone of the system, GTAA still maintains the programming of business rules, Locke noted.