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A Terminal Rebuild

Quebec City's Jean Lesage International Airport has been transported from the '1960s' to the wireless age thanks to an ambitious technological overhaul.


March 1, 2009  


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Pascal Belanger, the president and chief operating officer of Quebec City’s Jean Lesage International Airport, knew there would be no room to penny-pinch when the board he reports to gave him the go-ahead to rip out the facility’s existing infrastructure and, literally, start all over again.

The multi-million dollar project included the installation of 10 Gigabit copper and fiber cable from Superior Essex, Hubbell Premise Wiring faceplates, patch cords and patch panels and sophisticated wireless and networking equipment from Cisco Systems Canada Co. throughout the airport in order to implement what Belanger describes as a “passenger first” strategy. The goal was to ensure mobile collaboration between users, devices, critical applications and airport systems.

HP Canada served as the project’s systems integrator.

“It was not a cheap proposition, but then, we were not looking for the cheapest, we were looking for the best,” says Belanger. “The chairman of the board and I decided that we were tired of being in the 1960s. We also knew that to that end, technology will be a key component for future development in airports.”

Put simply, the facility, which accommodates more than one million passengers annually and handles upwards of 400 flights a week, needed a robust back end system in order to fully support a common use infrastructure.

“When we were starting to look at the rebuild of the terminal facility, we felt the IT component should be considered heavily,” Belanger says. “The first point that came to mind was to have a common use type facility where we would have total flexibility from a check in and gate perspective.

“That is when we began to look more actively at who could support such an infrastructure and who could deploy it quickly. We also looked at other airports around the world to see who had what and listen to success stories and horror stories.”

One such horror story, which Belanger describes as an “ugly” situation, unfolded when Terminal 5 opened at London’s Heathrow Airport in late March 2008. The first 30 days were a fiasco, and resulted in over 500 flights being delayed and upwards of 28,000 bags that failed to travel with their owners. The problems were later blamed on the terminal’s IT systems and insufficient staff training.

While nowhere near the size of the massive terminal 5, this scenario was something that Belanger and others wanted to avoid in Quebec City.

“We were very aware of the Terminal 5 fiascos and also of other airports that have had significant failures in their backbone systems in the past for whatever reason. We wanted to keep the problem away because passengers would have suffered if this had failed.”

The deployment chosen included a new network infrastructure, unified communications offering and 802.11n wireless mobility network from Cisco Systems Canada Co., and the installation of all new structured cabling throughout the facility.

According to Marc Andre Bedard, IT manager at the airport, it is one of the first sites in Canada to contain both 10-Gigabit Ethernet fiber and copper cable. “We had to put the latest cable available in order to fulfill our needs for 10, 15 or 20 years,” he says. “The whole idea is to have a backbone that can handle any application we can think of that will accelerate the passenger flow.”

The deployment was completed in less than a year.

Wireless hardware installed includes Cisco’s Aironet 1250 Series Access Points, the first to be 802.11.n draft 2.0 certified.

According to Cisco, 802.11n technology delivers up to nine times the throughput of current 802.11a/b/g networks. In addition, “data rates of up to 600 Mbps support more users, devices, and mission-critical, bandwidth- intensive applications.”

“Using an IP-enabled wireless network with 801.11n performance allows airport staff to access applications anywhere in the airport faster than older wireless networks,” Belanger points out. “Runways, for instance, can be prepared faster, reducing the need for airlines to circle around the airport.”

In addition, new self-service kiosks are connected the wireless network and can be moved to areas in the airport when and where they are needed.

“We are establishing the next generation airport infrastructure, which this clearly would be evidence of,” says Geoff Kereluik, vice president of commercial sales with HP Canada “The whole premise behind it is to make airports far more efficient in terms of how they operate. In addition, do far more with as little space as possible.

“There is only so much bricks and mortar. Through digital signage and various other wireless technologies we have deployed here, airline representatives can show up on a moment’s notice and project the image that it is their ticket stand.”

He adds that the relationship between the various vendors and airport staff was such that should an issue arise, it would be quickly solved.

Luc Deschenes, Cisco’s vice president of commercial sales for Eastern Canada, points out that now the infrastructure is in place, it will be relatively simple to add different applications.

For example, the airport authority is considering utilizing its 802.11n network for location tracking and monitoring of trucks, snowplows and other equipment. According to a joint release from Cisco and HP issued earlier this year, vehicles can use the wireless network to communicate the amounts of de-icing materials dropped on runaways and time spent on each area.

Plans are also under way to install a baggage- tracking system using radio frequency identification in order to track every piece traveling into and out of the terminal. CNS