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Airport operations soar to new heights


Faster time to insights, from 30 to 5 minutes, to improve airport operations

INDUSTRY: Public Sector
CLOUD: Azure

“Databricks has opened the door for us to understand the possibilities of using data not only for reporting but for predictive analytics and forecasting to drive business processes and efficiencies.”

— Jon Pruitt, IT Director of Innovation Research and Development, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

As the first airport to serve more than 100 million passengers in a single year, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) is the busiest in the world. To manage the fluctuations of high-volume passengers with a positive customer experience while also driving non-aeronautical revenue growth, a consolidated platform with real-time insights across various data types is required. Now, using the Databricks Data Intelligence Platform, ATL has a single source of truth to uncover new airport trends and better understand the travel needs of their passengers — leveraging predictive analytics and business intelligence to improve the overall travel experience from check-in to takeoff.

Limited data infrastructure blocks digital transformation

The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) was ready to jump-start its digital transformation but lacked the platform required for a data-centric repository and reporting environment. Without modern lakehouse architecture, the Airport couldn’t manage and ingest different data types, creating silos, redundancy and straining resources. Data reliability was questioned without strong governance controls, and downstream analytics for different teams and stakeholders were nearly impossible to deliver.

Brannon Courtney, IT Manager of Innovation Research and Development, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, explains the legacy environment: “Data integrity was a big challenge because there was a lot of duplicate data. Literally, every day we were uncovering new datasets and crunching flat files from Excel. It was inefficient, time-consuming and costly. You’d have to download a lot of datasets from various entities as opposed to just pulling the particular data you need. We wanted to make that process smarter with a direct connection to a database.” While the desire for modernization was apparent, internal team members lacked the expertise and infrastructure required to make it a reality.

ATL needed a user-friendly, supportive and unified data platform to empower data teams and enable data maturity. The Airport had to first build a single source of truth before having the capacity to augment that data with a digital twin, internal Internet of Things (IoT) sensor data and predictive analytics. Utilizing these capabilities, ATL gains valuable data-driven insights for improving operations, passenger experience and non-aeronautical revenue across airport business units.

Data simplicity and reliability on the Databricks Data Intelligence Platform

Based on the straightforward, easy-to-manage framework and integrated tools, ATL decided to build its data and AI foundation on the Databricks Data Intelligence Platform. This decision allows ATL to expand data usage through a single reliable source of truth that reveals and distributes reliable insights and analytics for data-informed decisions across the Airport.

ATL consolidated its data in Delta Lake, capitalizing on the open source storage framework to build a centralized and accessible data repository. The organization created a direct connection from Delta Lake to Power BI to enable business units and stakeholders with fresh operational data metrics. Through streamlined dashboards, near real-time daily analytics unveil hidden trends in passenger traffic and powerful insights into non-aeronautical sales. Armed with a significantly expanded view and understanding of the operational impacts on passenger experience, ATL can support upstream strategic business decisions and downstream use case fulfillment.

ATL engineers and developers benefit from the built-in Databricks Assistant — an AI chatbot that introduces the technology and explains formatting, pipelines, Power BI integration and code creation. The support tool significantly reduces development time and tech debt while instilling foundational platform knowledge for future growth. Unity Catalog for data governance and security provides transparency into the data platform with previews of Power BI outputs, making it easy to package approved data and share it for dashboarding and reporting.

Courtney says, “Databricks has introduced us to industry best practices for how we should begin and continue this digital transformation. They’ve partnered with us to make sure we get not only the resources but also the know-how for failing forward and growing data maturity simultaneously.”

Accelerating actionable data insights for efficiency wins

Since unifying its data on the Databricks Data Intelligence Platform, ATL is discovering new airport trends through fast and trustworthy data insights that improve airport operations and revenue at scale. Now, the organization is flying faster with fewer resources, a single source of truth and new opportunities for AI use cases not previously available.

Jon Pruitt, IT Director of Innovation Research and Development at ATL, describes the impact of the dedicated general manager dashboard composed of 12 different datasets and 57 data sources. “From an operational efficiency standpoint, it’s a single view of all the operational daily functions that must be overseen. Rather than funneling through various spreadsheets and workbook tabs — which used to take 30 minutes — it’s now available and visible using near real-time data that’s refreshed every five minutes.”

The productivity boost allows the Airport GM to focus on high-value tasks while supporting data-driven innovation from the top down. Additionally, business units no longer have to send a multitude of flat files, spreadsheets and PDFs for data teams to construct a particular report. Instead, they can upload specific data that is automatically visualized within Power BI, speeding time to insights and innovation without extending resources.

With a robust data infrastructure, ATL is initiating Trip Planner using IoT data from sensors throughout the Airport to predict heavy traffic, optimize gate utilization and staffing, enhance operational efficiency and drive non-aeronautical revenue. Calculating wait times, throughput and engagement with restaurants, shops and entertainment is uncovering new opportunities for predictive analysis scenarios and demand forecasting to enhance decision-making.

Looking ahead, ATL plans to expand its capabilities with its single source of truth in the Databricks Platform. Planning and development teams are shifting from paper blueprints to digital twins, and data teams continue experimenting with new insights for advanced AI use cases across ATL.