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Spring 2010
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Enterprise GIS Takes Off at Phoenix Sky Harbor International


  • The enterprise GIS is stored in Oracle Spatial and accessed through ArcSDE.
  • The GIS includes business tools for managing the airport's operations and growing number of assets.
  • About 85 staff members, who are neither GIS specialists nor technicians, access the GIS weekly.

Already one of the 10 busiest airports in the world, with approximately 1,500 flights, 100,000 passengers, and 700 tons of cargo daily, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport generates an economic impact of more than $90 million a day for Arizona's largest metropolitan area.

  see enlargement
GIS portal users can access this overview map of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

With a growing pool of travelers and cargo relying on the airport for safe passage to a final destination, the City of Phoenix recognized that its Aviation Department needed an enterprise-wide GIS that would combine data locked in existing information systems into a single user interface and could serve more than 200 airport personnel simultaneously. Such a system would not only improve customer service and safety, but it would also allow users to effectively manage their work activities by providing accurate and current information.

"We recognized the need for an enterprise-class information system to support changes from planned development," says City of Phoenix assistant aviation director Carl Newman. "We were confident that with these increased efficiencies, GIS would pay for itself over time."

A major requirement was that a significant number of staff, who are neither GIS specialists nor technicians, would need to access the GIS weekly to review or plan maintenance work orders, check interior space measurements and calculate rates for airport tenants, create area maps with aerial images showing existing conditions and planned improvements, insert maps into slide presentations for management, and output maps and data for internal and external reporting.

In 2007, the city and its Aviation Department made the decision to move forward with GIS technology and selected Esri Business Partner Woolpert, Inc., a design, engineering, and geospatial firm located in Dayton, Ohio, with experience in the airport industry, to assist with the implementation.

All the data for the GIS is stored in Oracle Spatial and accessed through ArcSDE. Aviation Department personnel—about 85 unique users from the Aviation Department's 10 divisions—use the resultant system via a Web portal built on the ArcGIS Server platform. The enterprise GIS also includes business tools for managing the airport's operations and growing number of assets.

"Before 2007, data on interior and exterior assets was maintained in several systems, which weren't always compatible," explains Michael Youngs, Phoenix Aviation Department GIS program manager. "If someone asked a basic question like, ‘How many fire extinguishers do we service?' there was no easy way to answer."

Information on the Fly

The airport's enterprise GIS features an abundance of data, sophisticated technology, and reengineered business processes. The enterprise system gives airport employees access to

  • Aerial photography and digital orthophotos of areas surrounding the airport operations area
  • Aboveground features and underground utility data
  • A geodatabase design with 300 feature classes, from smoke detectors and passenger assistance monitors to noise contours and 3D roof prints
  • Interior floor plan data and attribution for buildings in and around the airport, collected via floor plan surveys and CAD drawing conversions
  • An intranet viewing portal based on ArcGIS Server technology
  • Information that was integrated from the previously existing systems
  • Ten servers in multiple clustered environments, which provide performance, reliability, and availability, including a redundant failover system at a remote location in case of system outages

What users cannot get in self-serve mode from the portal, they get by submitting requests to the GIS group. User requests, about 16 per month, typically involve oversized, data-rich maps; custom reports; or complex queries. "We're getting repeat requests now because users understand what we can do for them," says Jamie Ritchie, the department's GIS coordinator.

  see enlargement
The airport stacked floor plans are available in the GIS.

For example, to assist the Operations Department, the GIS group created new emergency evacuation maps, which had been difficult to update and reproduce. These maps, complete with exits, assembly areas, and varying "you are here" orientations, were saved as PDF files on DVDs so tenants could print and post maps and share them with employees. Explains Youngs, "We could produce these because we have very accurate interior building data, which is atypical for airport GIS programs."

To assist the Fiscal Management Department, the GIS group completed a space accounting and reconciliation project. "In one day, we generated maps and reports identifying discrepancies in actual versus leased square footage," Youngs adds. "Without the GIS, this would have been labor intensive using a wheel and tape measure and taken a month or longer."

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is currently developing the PHX Sky Train, which by 2013 will begin transporting passengers to and from the airport, reducing the number of vehicles, easing traffic and curb congestion, and providing a seamless connection with the regional light rail system.

"We saved on startup costs for the train project because we provided engineers with digital terrain models, contour data, and orthophoto imagery from the GIS," Youngs explains. "So they didn't have to collect that data again."

Custom Tools Streamline Daily Business

A critical application for portal users is the GIS interface with Phoenix Aviation Department's work order management system. When a maintenance worker must replace air conditioning equipment, for example, the worker accesses the portal to find the exact location and other equipment nearby due for maintenance. This exercise maximizes productivity, as it combines activities.

"Uniting the GIS with the work order management system allows us to plan efficiently, and it's just one way the GIS is saving money," says Youngs.

Another custom application helps users manage airfield signage. Employees can access signage locations and images through the portal, plan and track maintenance, and generate reports to show compliance with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards.

The ArcGIS Server interface with the computer-aided dispatch system allows dispatchers to access geographic data when addressing calls. "We're now considered the official source of data for airport police and fire dispatch," says Newman.

One of the newest features to the airport's GIS is a project planning tool that allows users to add a proposed project location to the GIS, query the system, and run reports to detect potential conflicts, such as affected utilities and other projects planned in that area. More business tools are planned. According to aviation director Danny Murphy, "Our goal is to produce a tool for every business function at the airport that relies on location information."

Naturally, some operating practices needed to be revamped before GIS was implemented. For example, Aviation Department workflows were redesigned so that changes in the field, such as new construction, retrofits, maintenance, and tenant improvements, could be intercepted, captured, and recorded in the system by the airport's GIS technicians. Described as the heart and soul of the data maintenance operation, the GIS enables the technicians to update the system constantly, with most changes being completed within days.

The same group conducts random field checks using GPS and surveying equipment and audits interior spaces to verify data on converted CAD drawings. Employees who observe an update, such as an airfield light not captured in the GIS, can use the system's redline tool to identify the change so it can be validated in the field and included in the GIS.

Youngs and Ritchie train employees on portal navigation and procedures for requesting custom maps and reports. Youngs routinely gives project updates to management at all levels. "We continue to show everyone what the capabilities are and keep our customers engaged and excited," says Youngs.

More Information

For more information, contact Mike Youngs, GIS program manager, City of Phoenix Aviation Department (e-mail:

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