How to manage building assets at airports

Integration of asset management systems at airports can significantly raise return on investment

By Tom Grimard and Donn McMullen February 24, 2022
Courtesy: Syska Hennessy Group


Learning Objectives

  • Understand the benefits of supplementing building management systems with analytical machine learning software.
  • Apply a reliability-based and predictive maintenance program to traditional computerized maintenance management systems software functions.
  • Leverage analytical software for monitoring-based commissioning.
  • Learn to operate building information modeling to create a digital twin to enhance asset management.

Changes in the aviation industry are driving U.S. airports to seek a range of strategies to do more with less, make better building operational and investment decisions and unite managers and facility operators with a common purpose that results in the best economics, service levels and minimized risk exposure. Airport managers are continually challenged to strive for less energy, fewer staff and lower budgets.

Increasing the efficiency of integrated low-voltage building management and heating, ventilation and air conditioning technologies reduces energy consumption and costs, improves environmental performance, enhances service with fewer staff and creates a better indoor environment for passengers.

A holistic approach that integrates asset management systems and processes, practices and tools further increases the return on investment. Integration extends the life cycle of airport facility assets and infrastructure. The results include financial sustainability, decreased risk exposure and better service to customers, passengers and stakeholders.

It’s not a straightforward process, however. Asset management strategies incorporated at airports can be very complex due to the very dynamic nature of the many different types of facility systems in landside/airside areas, such as HVAC, electrical, plumbing, security, life safety, lighting, utilities, vertical and horizontal transportation systems, telecom and energy management. But the process is becoming easier because building automation systems continue to technologically evolve and improve.

Facilities directors can use new systems capabilities to integrate low-voltage systems with modern asset management systems. This approach enables optimization of life cycle costs and maximizes productivity and performance of airport infrastructure. In supporting strategic asset management, the approach harnesses effective preventive and predictive maintenance programs based on analytics and machine learning. The outcomes epitomize ROI: optimized assets, minimized costs and downtime and maximum performance to facilitate operations.

We recommend that planning starts with a complete asset inventory and life cycle cost calculations that set a baseline for a level of service required for an aviation facility. That baseline informs development of cost-effective management and long-term financial planning. The key to successful asset management planning and strategy involves a smart approach — applying and integrating new building management technologies that incorporate machine learning along with the traditional computerized maintenance management systems and resource planning software.

Asset management simplifies

The traditional CMMS includes a software package that maintains a database of information about an organization’s maintenance operations. CMMS software packages can be either web-based, cloud-based or hosted on an on-premise server. The software helps maintenance staff perform their jobs more effectively.

CMMS data can also be used to verify regulatory compliance. To properly control the maintenance of a facility information, it’s critical to analyze what tasks are occurring that would require a tremendous amount of time if completed manually. A CMMS allows for computerized record-keeping to track completed and assigned tasks. It also offers multiple core maintenance functionalities, including:

  • Equipment data management.
  • Preventive maintenance.
  • Labor.
  • Work order system (schedule/planning).
  • Vendor management and inventory control.
  • Purchasing.
  • Budgeting.
  • Asset tracking and historical record.

A fully leveraged CMMS will enable the application of reliability-based maintenance, which establishes safe minimum levels of maintenance. Each asset should be assigned a criticality rating based on the relative impact of the asset to critical operations such as life safety, network, HVAC, etc. The rating can drive decision-making regarding the frequency of preventive and predictive maintenance.

In other words, the greater the criticality of an asset, the more resources are applied in keeping that asset in operation. The lower the criticality of an asset, fewer resources can be applied in favor of reallocating those assets to the more critical assets.

By ensuring that all maintenance activities are tracked in the asset record in the CMMS, decision-makers can determine strategies for recapitalization. Those highly critical assets with historical high frequency of incidents, unplanned shutdowns and other failures known as “bad actors” can be prioritized for replacement. Replacement of less critical assets with low frequencies of incidents can be deferred.

Recent technological advancements in building automation include building analytics software that can be used to operationalize and enhance the asset management features of a building management system. Despite the high degree of control that the BMS offers, it lacks the insight and analytical capabilities that are included in the building analytics software.

Figure 1: Airport systems and technology diagram showing typical low-voltage systems/software/devices and how the asset management systems and maintenance data (hardwired and virtual) can be converged into a digital twin model and used to provide the airport a “single pane of glass” asset management tool. Courtesy: Syska Hennessy Group

Building system integration

Critical airport facility systems can be seamlessly integrated into the analytics software platform, allowing visibility into problems that might go unidentified by a traditional HVAC control and monitoring system. Analytical software uses “rules based” algorithms to produce analytics for typical HVAC, including variable air volume systems, chiller plants, heating plants, etc.

Such powerful analytical tools can be used to monitor energy costs on a real-time basis and quantify actual energy costs per unit to identify key energy-saving opportunities, depending on the granularity of the facility’s energy-metering system. Analytics software integrated with a traditional BMS can connect historical and real-time facility and system performance though machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence to allow for predictive fault detection — using fault detection diagnostics — and reporting before a critical airport system fails.

The operationalized data that can be generated by the combination of a BMS with the enhancement of predictive analytical software can enhance the capabilities of a traditional CMMS. For example: Imagine that through artificial intelligence, the analytical software has learned that a critical HVAC system performance in the airport is degrading and that the root cause based on statistical and historical data is fan belt slippage and that outside air damper control stability (hunting-cycling) is causing fan speed control instability, thus affecting temperature control and increasing air handling unit electrical energy usage.

The data on the degradation of the HVAC equipment through logic and connectivity informs the CMMS to change equipment maintenance and work-order generation based on the precise information provided by the BMS/building analytical software. This data can then be used by the CMMS for historical asset management of the equipment to help enhance maintenance and preventive maintenance tracking.

As part of a good reliability-based maintenance program, the assets that are critical to life safety and airport business continuity are identified. It is on these assets that investments should be prioritized. The generation of an alarm by a sensor on the BMS is communicated to the CMMS, where the analytical software prompts the issuance of a work order to correct the condition. This way of preventing a failure or unplanned shutdown of a critical asset is essentially automated preventive maintenance, an alternative to the traditional preventive maintenance process of replacing materials, lubrication and tests according to predetermined frequencies.

To further operationalize and enhance the airport asset management system, we recommend consolidation of a building information modeling 3D model into an operationalized BIM or a digital twin. The BIM 3D model is used for any airport new construction project and is maintained throughout the project to give architects, engineers and construction professionals the insight and tools to efficiently plan, design and construct a new airport facility.

To take advantage of the BIM and not discard its valuable information, airport asset managers can request an as-built deliverable to be used as an integral part of the holistic airport asset management strategy. The BIM can be stripped of unnecessary details that were used for design and construction and be further operationalized to incorporate the BIM into the digital twin as an integrated macrocosm of smart asset management, which includes a BMS, CMMS, building analytics, real-time energy monitoring, FDD and other integrated subsystems to create a true digital twin or “single pane of glass” view of the operationalized data in an airport facility.

The digital twin will allow the user to interact with the 3D model to further enhance the airport asset management system. For example, consider a VAV terminal box reheat coil control valve that is hunting and affecting temperature control in an airport landside zone. Based on machine leaning, the analytics determine that a control valve should be replaced and automatically lists the part number and ordering information. The 3D floorplans automatically identify the location of the VAV box and control valve. The data on the failure of the control valve is sent to the CMMS to issue a work order and log the event into the CMMS historical database to enhance maintenance and preventive maintenance tracking.


Another advanced practice that building analytics software with FDD enables is monitoring-based commissioning (MBCx). MBCx is widely recognized as a best practice for energy management and its implementation gains U.S. Green Building Council LEED credits.

The purpose of Day One building commissioning is to ensure that the building systems operate as intended, while the purpose of Day Two retro-commissioning is to revisit the building systems after the building has been in operation for some period to bring systems back to the original intended conditions. MBCx eliminates the lag between initial commissioning and retro-commissioning by continuously monitoring the building systems’ parameters and prompting maintenance action to immediately correct conditions that deviate from the intended conditions.

MBCx for Day One commissioning benefits large facility operations such as airports because it streamlines the commissioning process for a large quantity of typical HVAC equipment, minimizes human manual action and weeds out anomalies and faults by setting up the rules-based algorithms for detection (simultaneous heating/cooling, outside damper operation, etc.) via the analytical software. Day Two retro-commissioning uses the same Day One rules-based algorithms to keep the HVAC systems operating optimally without degradation.

As described above, smart future-enabling technology can — and should — be used to enhance asset management in airport facilities. Due to the enormous amounts of equipment and complex and critical systems, along with the large number of occupants and passengers that pass through landside and airside terminals daily, it is imperative that airport management and stakeholders maximize the performance of airport assets and infrastructure while controlling energy and operating costs.

Research studies have found that by implementing and using building analytics software for retro-commissioning, facilities can benefit from an ROI savings of approximately 15%  of energy costs based on size, systems, complexity and maintenance programs. The implementation of analytical software technology also requires airport operating staff training and changes to standard operating procedures to fully benefit from the technology of analytical software.

The end goal of an efficient modern airport operation is that the mean time to repair decreases, the mean time to failure increases and unexpected failures of critical equipment are reduced. To take this full circle, the implementation of smart technology at a large-scale airport facility enables the leveraging of more advanced operations programs, including reliability-based maintenance, automated predictive maintenance and monitoring-based commissioning.


Author Bio: Tom Grimard is an associate partner at Syska Hennessy Group. Donn McMullen is a senior associate and technical manager at Syska Hennessy Group.