YVR tackles Olympic-sized problem

Kevin Molloy had his eureka moment almost as soon as his boss asked him to solve the most challenging problem of his career: Processing some two million passengers at Vancouver International Airport the morning after the 2010 Winter Olympics.

“”I knew we could not build facilities for just three

or four weeks because that would cost tens-of-millions of dollars,”” says Molloy, vice-president of information technology at the Vancouver International Airport Authority (YVR), remembering the conversation he had with CEO Larry Berg back in 2002.

“”The solution was to piggy-back on what other people were building by bringing the airport to key Olympic venues.””

What exactly does that mean? Molloy plans to install as many as 400 check-in kiosks at 25 to 30 Olympic venues and hotels in Vancouver and Whistler in advance of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

If all goes according to plan, this will eliminate the bottleneck that would otherwise occur when an exodus of spectators — estimated to be anywhere from 1.5 to two million — arrive at Vancouver’s airport for flights home after closing ceremonies.

At $4 million, this slick IT solution will save YVR a pile of money. “”If we were to invest in steel and concrete to house the kiosks it would cost ten times as much,”” says Molloy.

A burst of people

Says transportation analyst Mike Tretheway with Vancouver-based InterVISTAS Consulting Inc., “”YVR has found a way to handle a huge burst of people in a short period of time without incurring a huge cost. It’s a great idea.””

Why did cracking an Olympic-sized problem come so easily to Molloy? The short answer is that YVR was already preparing to

introduce check-in kiosks that print boarding passes and baggage tags.

These kiosks — which cost $40,000 each and integrate the reservation systems of 22 airlines onto a single IT platform –—marked a world first when introduced in 2003.

In the same year, with the help of satellite technology, YVR decided to test the kiosks aboard cruise ships that dock in Vancouver Harbour.

The move was intended to eliminate pressure these ships exert on airport facilities when they disgorge thousands of passengers at a time.

Over the last couple of years, the cruise-ship solution has proven to be a runaway success, and it gives Molloy confidence that one main airport connected to many virtual airports is an idea whose time has come.

“”If we can do it on cruise ships,”” says Molloy, a 41-year-old native of Northern Ireland, “”we can do it anywhere.””

Tretheway with InterVISTAS agrees, “”The technology is there, and it’s proven.””

Apart from cruise ships, YVR’s kiosks are already available at Vancouver’s three Fairmont hotels. By the end of 2005, however, kiosks will be available at 10 additional hotels. “”Each year we are going to roll out more kiosks,”” says Molloy.

As with cruise-ship passengers, Molloy expects Olympic spectators and athletes to obtain boarding passes the night before departure, and at the same time check bags with ground handlers who will store them in secure lock-ups.

But even if remote check-ins work like a charm, Molloy knows YVR will be in a state of controlled chaos the morning after closing ceremonies when some 80 per cent of spectators are expected to fly out. “”We’ll have planes taking off every 30 seconds,”” says Molloy.

The exercise will be further complicated by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), which requires all checked luggage to be x-rayed beginning in 2006.

What is Molloy’s biggest fear factor in all this?

“”My biggest fear is an abrupt change in government policy,”” says Molloy.

A terrorist attack against the U.S. in the months leading up the 2010 Winter Olympics would likely tighten security regulations.

If that were to happen, it might be impossible for YVR to handle the expected volume of passengers with new rules.

“”We might suddenly be required to screen luggage using an MRI machine or CAT scan,”” says Molloy.

“”That’s something you cannot deploy in a hurry.””

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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