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An airport director’s insights into maintenance & housekeeping

Nandita Bhatt, Airport Director, Udaipur Airport & GM-Architecture, Airports Authority of India (AAI) draws on her 25 years of experience in airport master planning, terminal design and airport management to showcase the on-the-ground picture of what goes into airport FM today.

In airport facility management, passengers are end-users

Although airports are not officially a part of the hospitality segment, when passengers are paying a considerable amount of money to fly, services at airports also need to be top-notch. Depending upon the size of airport and flight schedules, passengers can range from a few hundred to lakhs in just a day.

Passengers come from different cultures, speak different languages and have different backgrounds. Each person’s engagement with the facility, and benchmark for cleanliness is different. For example, in India, some passengers prefer western WCs while some want Indian WCs. Both need a unique drainage system, which presents a challenge. A person is needed to monitor each toilet block constantly. Also, not everyone is familiar with contactless equipment, and may not want to wait for a few seconds until the sensor senses a hand under the tap before dispensing water. The way such new technology is used also differs from passenger to passenger.

Picture what happens when just one large aircraft lands. Around 600 people (arriving and departing combined) may all need to use a washroom at the same time. Many of them have luggage; some of them have special needs or accompanying children. Imagine the capacity needed to cater to this need.

Dealing with dust

The passenger areas of the airport are almost entirely indoors; particularly in the northern and western regions of the country, dust which blows in through the entrances is a major, constant challenge. We do regular cleaning using machines like stick floor scrubbers & low-speed floor machines, dual-speed floor machines, stone and hard surface machines, brushes, pads, drivers and clutch plates.

Airports see high footfalls; running cleaning machines is not always easy. Some cleaning has to be manual too.

The role of technology

Innovations in cleaning services today are driven mainly by technology. While most companies have been relying on technology for years now, cleaning businesses have started adopting tech only recently. Among the hottest trends in cleaning tech are data-driven tools based on the Internet of Things. They can provide managers with real-time information about the status of dispensers of soap, paper, and towels — and this is just the start. Issues with supplies and hygiene standards are tackled via a dashboard where all data is immediately available.

Smart tools hold great potential for janitorial businesses, as they can reduce the time needed to complete processes, simplify operations, and free up employees’ time for more important tasks that need manual care. Smart tech solutions for the cleaning industry include smart touch-free dispensers that can track hygiene compliance and new toilet paper technology, such as the Biologic Active Tissue Paper that prevents organic waste from clogging pipe systems.

We are also transitioning to such technologies at our airports. However, if technology or automated systems fail at a particular moment, airport operations cannot stop. We need to back tech with manual checking and checklists as well. It is easier to introduce tech in greenfield projects than in existing airports.

Data interpretation is also tricky. For example, it does not tell us if a person has used one drop of liquid soap or three, or if the three drops were consumed by three people, or if some people didn’t use liquid soap at all. The diversity of passengers makes this challenging.

Security constraints

Since airports are sensitive, high-security areas that may be targeted by cyber-attacks, we have to be careful about the type of technology we use. Janitorial staff members working inside have to undergo police verification and a security program cleared by the regulator. Airside cleaning (tarmac, aircraft parking areas etc) is crucial and is managed by security-cleared people with passes. Their supervisor and they are trained to operate on the airside, and even have specific airside driving permits.

Sustainability initiatives

We follow a set of policies across AAI airports with respect to water consumption, sewage treatment plants, illumination etc. More and more airports are getting solar panels. Uptake of LED lights, which are more power efficient, is on the rise.

New HVAC systems need to be power-efficient too, with water-cooled chillers and heat pump, fan convectors for visible or recessed installation and condenserless units.

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