ArcNews Online

Spring 2009

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Flexible GIS Ensures Business Sustainability

Manchester Airport in the United Kingdom Manages Significant Growth


  • ArcGIS saves the airport US$220,000 and 1,200 person-hours per year.
  • GIS now touches on all aspects of running the airport.
  • ArcGIS integrates seamlessly into business models and evolves with the airport's needs.

Situated on 1,544 acres, Manchester Airport in the United Kingdom operates as a small city, serving 22.7 million passengers and handling 151,000 tons of freight each year. As a sustainable business, the airport itself employs 19,700 people working at 310 different companies at the facility. The airport is positioned to grow to serve 50 million passengers within 30 years with the support of government initiatives in the country.

  click to enlarge
The Manchester Airport used GIS to help plan sustained growth until 2030.

Managing the space used at the airport is no small feat. From car parks and retail shops to runways and habitat areas, Manchester Airport must be effective when running its business. To add to the challenge, the airport never sleeps; it must remain operational 24/7. For the innovative organization, the airport's management created a planning team tasked with finding the best way to tackle challenges faced by different business units through the use of technology. Given the mission to become better than all other airports by making the customer's journey a positive experience, Manchester Airport knew it needed a solution that could manage all aspects of the airport's business: economic, social, and environmental.

Begin with Noise Contours

"Our question at the time was how many parcels are inside the noise contour," explains Vickie Withnell, chief technology officer at Manchester Airport. "If noise contours are areas, or polygons, then we could overlay that onto our surrounding properties map and count how many were inside. We easily saw how many homeowners might qualify for specific programs to help mitigate noise, such as installation of soundproof window glazing. The CAD-based system we were using at the time just couldn't do that."

Airport authorities began evaluating alternative technologies and decided that the value of Esri technology was immediately clear. Thus, Manchester Airport began using GIS in the late 1990s specifically to map noise contours. With approximately 26,000 properties affected by moderate to high noise levels, GIS was invaluable in managing where the properties were located and which services were utilized by individual owners and keeping check on complaints.

Now the Whole Airport Finds Value in GIS

From this project, the use of GIS spread organically through the airport and now touches on all aspects of its operation: retail, planning, marketing, development, and airfield operations; community relations; ground transportation; environmental planning; and utilities. The Planning Department is now primarily focused on GIS, specifically employing ArcGIS Server, since "everything we could do in PowerPoint or with pictures, we can do better with GIS," says Withnell. "In the end, GIS has proven to be a flexible solution, allowing us to manage data, model new scenarios, and create easy-to-understand presentations for growth and management at our facility."

Managing the retail side, with its 130 shops and restaurants and retail sales in excess of US$447 million a year, GIS has proved its usefulness once more. From initial planning for a retail outlet to ensuring proper licensing and store expansion, ArcGIS assists in visualizing the impact of each store on airport operations. "The airport has a waiting list for available space, so GIS is necessary for us to manage our space effectively," says Withnell.

Part of the challenge in making the airport an enjoyable place to visit is ensuring its accessibility. To that end, Manchester Airport expects to reduce the overall number of passengers who drive to the airport by 40 percent and staff who drive by 50 percent. GIS has been invaluable for managing Manchester rail hub improvements, a US$74-million investment for the airport. Using the software, the Planning Department analyzed where best to place car parks and plan 24-hour bus, rail, and coach times and routes based on mapped demographics, the existing transportation network, and travel times.

  aerial photo of the airport
The airport has three terminals and two runways serving nearly 23 million passengers per year.

"GIS assisted us in every aspect, even planning for and averting standard social dangers when traveling late at nonpeak hours," emphasizes Withnell. By providing skylink travel to airport buildings late at night and staff with safety advice, train travel is an effective means to get to and from the airport.

Being a good corporate citizen is important to the airport, as well. This translates into proactively assisting in education and ecology in surrounding areas. On the education front, the airport has developed literacy programs for use by schoolchildren online and at the airport and as an outreach to schools. GIS is used to create school address lists for mailing educational packs to surrounding schools. Ecology means managing habitat areas effectively and in compliance with environmental controls. The airport is flanked by British countryside, and GIS helps ensure that creatures like the Great Crested Newt, bats, and badgers continue to live in comfort.

"Managing the land and understanding the habitat area sometimes means changing the landscape," says Withnell. "GIS helps us manage the land, from creating new ponds in the correct locations to ensuring that new development doesn't encroach on our wildlife areas."

The Results

For more than 10 years, GIS has helped Manchester Airport transform itself from a transportation hub to a sustainable business. ArcGIS Server has assisted in mapping, analyzing, and mitigating the business, social, and environmental aspects of the airport, ensuring that it remains a profitable business sensitive to its impact on the community. Having data managed centrally allows it to be kept up-to-date easily and shared effectively with contractors and other agencies. This saves time and ensures that the data is accurate, consistent, and timely.

Using ArcGIS Server, Withnell estimates the airport is saving upwards of US$220,000 and 1,200 person-hours a year just in operational costs of map production and data collection.

"GIS is an efficient way to manage time, effort, and budgets," explains Withnell. "It integrates seamlessly into our business and evolves with our needs, helping us fulfill our stated aims of being a responsible neighbor, investing in our community, and spending money on the things that really matter."

More Information

For more information, contact Vickie Withnell, Group Planning, Manchester Airport (e-mail:, tel.: 44-0-161-489-8761).

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