Operationally-critical communications at Bristol Airport have been transformed following an upgrade to a state-of-the-art digital two way radio system.
The overhaul was required partly because the ageing MPT1327 analogue system needed updating. But the increasing demands being placed on radio communications by the airport’s rapid growth are also central to the decision to upgrade.
“The old analogue system was becoming unsupportable and we were also short on capacity,” confirms Bristol Airport’s Head of Operations Support, Phil Holder.
… Two way radio is critical to us. It’s absolutely vital not only that we have it, but that is working efficiently.
PHIL HOLDER, HEAD OF OPERATIONS SUPPORT, BRISTOL AIRPORT
To put this into context, Bristol, one of the UK’s fastest growing regional airports, now serves some eight million passengers annually. Keeping things running smoothly requires some 1,500 of the 3,000-plus workers on site to communicate day and night via two way radio. These range from airfield workers to baggage handling, catering, customer services and maintenance teams.
“Two way radio is critical to us,” says Holder. “It’s absolutely vital not only that we have it, but that it is working efficiently.”
It’s not surprising then that the process for procuring a new system and ongoing maintenance and support was particularly thorough. Whilst happy with the service provided by its longstanding supplier, Bristol-based Co-Channel, the airport nonetheless put the contract out to tender.
Following a five-way pitch, Co-Channel was awarded the business. By then it had been acquired by communications, data and networking specialist, Pennine, with the Bristol operation integrated into the group’s national Pennine Radio division.
That decision to go with Pennine was based on two factors: price and confidence in the service that would be provided.
“There were two key reasons why we chose Pennine. Firstly their solution offered excellent value for money,” explains Holder. “But it was also a decision made on reliability. Because the radio system is so critical to us, if it goes down we need to know we can rely on a good support service. We knew from their track record that Pennine could deliver this.”
It proved a good decision.
At the heart of the solution specified by Pennine is Motorola’s MOTOTRBO Capacity Plus digital trunking system. This doubled the number of available channels from eight to sixteen, immediately resolving the airport’s capacity issue.
“Because the airport’s grown we’ve got a lot more radio users and aircraft movements. With the analogue system, at busy times people were finding it harder to find a gap in the radio traffic to send a message,” says Holder.
“We needed more open, free channels which the Motorola digital radio system gave us.”
As well as making communications easier, the highly resilient system also provides clearer transmissions with increased signal reach across the airport’s estate.
“We had issues with dead spots before the new system was put in. It’s given us a stronger signal which has meant we no longer get complaints about not being able to send or receive a message. That’s a big positive” reports Holder.
Unlike the analogue platform, the digital system also yields a host of useful data, courtesy of the TRBOnet Watch analytical tool. This sophisticated software automatically logs and analyses voice and data to provide an excellent overview of system performance. It not only monitors resource usage across the radio network’s infrastructure, but confirms whether its components are correctly configured.
Mega and gigabytes of data extracted from the system can be presented in easily digestible visual formats via its Report and Analytics tabs.
“We can get reports and statistical information such as call demand peaks. The main advantage here is we can monitor and manage call flow, especially during busy periods. It gives us a good idea of when and how to man the system.”
The MOTOTRBO Capacity Plus hosts some 300 portable radios, with the impressively scalable system also offering plenty of room for growth. It has the capability to support up to 1,600 handsets.
Bristol Airport staff have been equipped with a variety of radios, selected to best suit the duties they perform. These comprise Motorola’s DM4601e, DP3661e, SL4010e units and models from the DP4000 range alongside DP4801Ex radios.
The latter were specified for staff working in potentially explosive atmospheres, such as aviation fuellers, as they are manufactured to meet stringent UK and European ‘ATEX’ safety directives.
All feature performance enhancing technologies such as Intelligent Audio which improves the clarity of incoming and outgoing calls by automatically adjusting the radio’s volume according to surrounding noise levels.
Safety is a high priority with lone worker functionality common to all models alongside GPS capabilities and location tracking.
The system’s performance is not the only thing which has impressed Holder. He’s swift to acknowledge the work Pennine put in to ensure a smooth transition from the analogue to digital technologies.
… We knew from their track record that Pennine could deliver.
“Pennine had to do a lot of work prior to the MOTOTRBO system being installed. All the new radios were programmed and distributed to all the different users of the system in advance of it going live in April 2017.
“Then at two o’clock in the morning, when the airport was quiet, they simply switched the old system off and the new one on.”
However, the project isn’t finished just yet. Motorola’s TRBOnet control room solution is set to be employed to integrate the airport’s radio and telephone systems and further enhance operational efficiency.
“It’s a large integration project so we wanted to wait until winter to do it. It’s purely for the control centre and will mean that staff will use a touch-screen to either make a radio or telephone call”. explains Holder.
“So rather than have to pick up a radio they can just hit a button to get through. It’s all about safety, efficiency and speed.”