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The big flight


With passenger traffic constantly surging, airport construction and upkeep means technology upswings and innovation, alongside big bucks for vendor companies


It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Indian Civil Aviation sector is on a flourishing streak. India plans to invest over $120 billion in the development of airport infrastructure as well as aviation navigation services during the next 10 years, stated President Pranab Mukherjee at India Aviation 2016 in March. In addition, passengers carried by domestic airlines during January to March 2016 was 230 lack, as opposed to 186 lack during the same period in 2015, displaying a growth of 24%, according to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, Ministry of Civil Aviation. The latest reports also suggested that India’s international air passenger traffic grew by over 6% to 46 million passengers in 2014-15, meaning that traffic in and out of Indian airports is at an all time high and still soaring. When these statistics are put in perspective with plans to develop infrastructure in Tier II and III cities, it is obvious why things are looking up for the Civil Aviation sector in the country.

Of course, this also means that there will be a huge requirement for newer and better constructed airports as well as a need to maintain existing ones. The development of airports requires large expanses of land and once acquired, there are hundreds of requests for proposal (RFP) and requests for quotation (RFQ) issued. Most of these are for developing airport infrastructure and tenders are directed at the private sector. There is a mandate for multiple products, whether it is HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), elevators, automation or steel. After all, it is these elements that make up airports and ensure their smooth functioning. Essentially, this translates to a spurt in demand for these products, but more importantly, technological upgrades and innovative features to ensure that they comply with the requirements of airports across the country.

Technology counts
“The project technologies used for airports depend upon the size of the airport. For large airports, centrifugal chillers or screw chillers are generally used. For medium sized airports, systems in vogue are screw and scroll chillers, whereas for small sized airports, VRF systems are increasingly being used,” says Sunil Khatwani, senior general manager, packaged & central air-conditioning products division, Blue Star Limited.

Similarly for elevators and escalators, the design varies according to the application. Different from residential and commercial applications, elevators and escalators installed at airports are specifically designed and adapted for use in public spaces, especially considering the heavy traffic peaks and other traffic patterns throughout the day. In terms of physical characteristics, freight elevators for airports are different from their passenger-ferrying counterparts, because they carry heavier loads, have wider doors, are taller and usually do not have glass materials. Both escalators and elevators, whether for moving people or freight, are designed to be robust and durable to take into account these special requirements.

“Airport elevators and escalators are also designed differently, depending on their usage. Passengers prefer glass walls and shafts as they provide a panoramic view of the airport, including retail and food options. In order to accommodate all airports passengers, some of the features that Otis offers are elevator buttons with Braille, voice-announcing systems and folded seats in the car,” explains Sebi Joseph, president, Otis Elevator Company.

In addition to this, elevator systems can also be designed for restricted entry by equipping the systems with technology to control access, providing an additional layer of security, says Joseph. For instance, when authorised airport personnel insert a valid card into the elevator card reader, they will be allowed access to a defined number of floors. This ensures only those authorised are able to visit a particular floor, increasing building security, which is a big advantage in today’s times.

Steel also constitutes a major chunk of the material requirement for the construction of airports. Given that thousands of tonnes of the tough material go into airport projects, Tata BlueScope Steel came up with a brand called Lysaght, specifically for such use. With a legacy of over 150 years, its products have been part of various projects across the world. In India, it has to its merit 20 million m2 of cladding experience in a mere 10 years.

The Lysaght Flex-Lok 400 system is recommended for airport construction usage, as it meets the specific requirements of extreme engineering, challenging construction and design. The profile is available in tapered, concave and convex curve-shaped profiles, so that neither performance nor aesthetics are compromised on. Moreover, being a concealed fixed roofing system, it helps provide weather tightness and superior resistance to wind uplift.

Panasonic too has stepped into this sphere, offering its expertise in automation solutions to airports. Their Toughpads and Toughbooks are changing the dynamics of airport design, construction and even maintenance. For instance, the product was successfully employed at the Vienna International Airport, which handles around 19 million passengers a year.

“With the range of Panasonic Toughpads and Toughbooks comes the freedom of adopting automation right from accessing the engineering prints & plans to real time data acquisition and real time data availability, with complete mobility and irrespective of the environment, as these devices can be used under any weather conditions. They are immune to rain, dust, humidity, extreme temperatures and also resistant to drops, shocks and vibrations,” states Gunjan Sachdeva, general manager (national business head), Toughbook, Panasonic.

Continuous innovation
Of course, not only do vendors have to keep up with trending technology, they also need to be above the competition and constantly innovate. Blue Star, for instance, has launched a new variable refrigerant flow (VRF) system, the VRF IV Plus, which is provided with 100% inverter compressors and affords 100% capacity up to 430 C and can work up to 560 C. Its inherent design makes the Integrated Part Load Value (IPLV) of this product one of the lowest in the country.

Otis has come up with space-saving elevators in the form of its Gen2 range, which includes machine-room less (MRL) elevators. “These elevators replace large elevators rooms by locating a compact hoisting machine on the top of the elevator shaft. Compared to systems with machine rooms, the compact gearless machine consumes less electricity and saves on other building costs because it does not take up an entire room for parts and equipment,” says Joseph.

Additionally, to help effectively manage elevators in airports, Otis offers the web-based EMS Panorama system that enables building staff to monitor, control and report on a full range of operation-critical functions for an elevator and escalator from any computer with internet connection. The EMS Panorama system offers comprehensive, real-time data that shows building managers the full picture, enabling them to respond quickly to passengers’ needs and make informed decisions about equipment operations.

Panasonic’s devices offer flexibility of use under any weather conditions, and have dedicated GPS for mapping and a sunlight readable screen with long battery back up and a hot swappable battery for 24×7 operations.

Safe & sustainable
When we take the scale and duration of overall operations into view, it is easy to see that safety and sustainability are imperative to airport operations. In fact, by 2020, the total passenger traffic in India is likely to touch 421 million. This gives safety and sustainability a whole new focus. And companies realise that.

Blue Star’s centrifugal and screw chillers work with R134A refrigerant and VRF systems work with R410A, which are both green gases. “In addition, mechanical and electrical safeties are a standard feature of our systems to provide a safe operation and maintenance,” says Khatwani.

Otis also prioritises safety, with every elevator designed to pre-empt certain situations. Every car is reinforced with standard mechanisms such as a ‘safety brake’, which engages when the system detects that a car is descending too quickly, and emergency lights and alarms. Other Otis safety features include an infra-red door protection system, consisting of invisible infrared beams across the entrance of elevators, which when disturbed, re-opens the elevator door instantly without touching passengers. There is an overload detection feature, an automatic rescue device (ARD) that is especially useful in places where power supply is irregular, and seismic sensors to detect earthquakes and stop the elevator at the nearest floor in case of emergencies.

“Otis’ flagship products, the Gen2 range, are geared towards efficiency whilst providing environmentally responsible benefits. Some key components of the range are the coated steel belt, the ReGen drive, the permanent magnet machine and the Otis’ PULSE system, all of which, when combined, increase the life, efficiency, safety and reliability of the elevator,” proclaims Joseph, adding that a Gen2 elevator with ReGen regenerative drive can reduce energy consumption by 75%, compared to traditional elevators with conventional drives.

Additionally, Otis has pioneered the Gen2 Switch, which uses less energy than a microwave. The switch plugs into a standard outlet, operates using a battery, and if the power goes out, can make 100 trips in a standard eight-story building.
Tata BlueScope Steel’s Lysaght products have minimum roofing slope, assuring material optimisation; specially designed ribs to provide excellent load bearing capacities; and when made from Colorbond steel offer higher solar reflectivity and lower thermal mass, thereby cooling the building and resulting in less energy use.

Soaring towards the future
There is no denying that the revamping of existing airports and construction of future ones is going to lead to increased demand for all these and many more products. Khatwani echoes the sentiments of the market, when he says, “We are quite upbeat about the Government’s decision of investing in airport infrastructure, especially in Tier II and III cities. We have the full range of products to cater to this demand. We have also strengthened our sales & projects teams across the country to meet this demand.”

Sachdeva is being pragmatic when he points out that only the “adoption of better technologies and equipment will lead to higher sales,” suggesting that quality supply from the vendors is the key. And with $120 billion worth of airport infrastructure investments lying in the balance, it better be.

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May 2020
11 May 2020