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Heathrow boosts operational efficiency with powerful data

Heathrow boosts operational efficiency Azure Purview Cover

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London Heathrow Airport must be ready to operate every day of the year, every year. Heathrow boosts operational efficiency to keep adverse weather, aircraft delays, traffic-clogged highways, public transport slow-downs, and global pandemics from disrupting its operational readiness and to identify the untapped capacity that it can use to grow sustainably, Heathrow needs an effectively managed data estate. Using data governance and analytics tools in Microsoft Azure including Azure Purview, which is currently in Public Preview the airport now uses data-driven insights to optimize its operations, support continued growth, and improve air travel experiences.

“Our platform on Azure affords us the freedom to experiment with new “what-if” scenarios key to pushing the boundaries of innovation and sustainability.”

Head of Data Analytics at Heathrow Airport

The room to grow sustainably

With millions of passengers coming through its doors and hundreds of thousands of aircraft movements each year, London Heathrow Airport is one of the busiest in Europe by passenger traffic. Its position in the heart of Europe makes it an ideal hub airport, connecting short-hop and long-haul flights and taking passengers to far-flung reaches of the world quickly and conveniently.

Surrounded by London’s western suburbs, the airport’s biggest long-term challenges are capacity and sustainability. It must find innovative opportunities to grow and satisfy its Heathrow 2.0 plans an initiative that will govern how London Heathrow operates and the role that it will play in driving sustainable growth for its employees, the local area, the national economy, and the wider industry.

On paper, the airport looks close to capacity in terms of aircraft movements, but in reality, we have operational peaks and troughs says Head of Data and Analytics at Heathrow Airport. And where we can identify troughs, we can find room to grow.

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Heathrow boosts operational efficiency for passengers with Azure Purview

Large datasets, multiple sources, unified governance

Heathrow wanted to automate and streamline data processing to help identify opportunities to improve efficiency. But to generate data-driven insights and make the right business decisions, the airport had to aggregate enormous datasets from multiple sources.

For just one international flight, roughly 300 passengers must get to the airport by car, ride service, or public transportation, check in, check baggage, pass through immigration, use multiple retail facilities, and fill their departure gate. Multiply that by up to nearly 700 departing flights a day. It takes thousands of support staff across the 3,032-acre airport to deliver all those services, everything from runway maintenance and air traffic control to housecleaning. All this creates high volumes of data that can be difficult to manage or learn from without the right tools.

The impact of COVID-19 on aviation meant that the predictable travel patterns that Heathrow relied on to make operational decisions largely disappeared overnight creating entirely new problems that couldn’t be solved without the right data.

Heathrow needed a solution to unify data governance across all its sources, automate data discovery and classification, and support advanced data analytics, reporting, and visualisations. Combining a range of Microsoft Azure data services, such as Azure Purview Preview and Azure Synapse Analytics, with powerful data visualization tools in Microsoft Power BI, Heathrow built a data insight platform that it uses to operate more efficiently, enhance customer and supplier service, and grow sustainably.

London Heathrow Airport Azure Purview 3

High-altitude analytics

Heathrow built its new data insight platform and then introduced processes to ensure that its analysts and data scientists would have the freedom and support to do more with the airport’s data. “To become truly data driven, we had to make process changes across the organisation, says Azure Cloud & Data Architect at Heathrow Airport. We have now got technical people and process change people intersecting with our data. It’s this crossroad where Azure Purview helps our teams solve our biggest data challenges.

Using Azure Purview together with Azure Synapse Analytics, Heathrow Airport’s data governance team can now pull together a wide range of raw internal and third-party data, process and clean it into usable datasets, and analyze and present unique insights in a way that makes sense to senior decision makers.

We used to have a lot of data about things we generally already understood. But now that we’ve adopted Azure Purview, we have insight into the unknown, meaning we can aggregate multiple data sources in a more user-friendly way to discover where we can create efficiencies and make better predictions.

Data accuracy, insights to support safety and cost savings

Heathrow data scientists use Azure Purview to understand the origin and definition of data fields, giving more people the opportunity to interrogate data and extract new insights. The airport’s data teams also use lineage data submitted to Azure Purview via its Atlas APIs from Azure Databricks to find correlations between datasets critical to determining how each airport service affects wider operations and finding answers to unknowns.

Once the airport’s data scientists have interrogated the data, its analysts then use the multifunctional data visualisation capabilities in Power BI to generate in-depth reporting. The analysts then give senior leaders clear reports with the most relevant insights to augment business and operational decision making.

Our main priority is to ensure that senior leadership has access to the most accurate data, presented in the right way. We use Power BI to help us trace data lineage to understand exactly what we’re looking at and better recognize the patterns that make up our predictions.

This focus on data accuracy came into its own during COVID-19. Rather than trying to identify untapped capacity, the airport used Azure Purview’s lineage and visualisation capabilities to shift its focus. It helped London Heathrow determine how it could use its data to ensure adherence with public health guidelines and travel restrictions and how it could use its resources most efficiently to save costs.

Data-driven insights, more innovation

Whether it’s using dynamic modeling to manage minute-by-minute passenger flows through the airport or blending multiple data sources to design more accurate and proactive maintenance schedules, London Heathrow has transformed its approach to data. Having built an analytics and insight platform on Azure, the airport now visualises end-to-end data lineage and tracks data flows throughout its entire estate.

Looking to the future and fewer global travel restrictions following COVID-19, Heathrow is preparing for a rapid rise in air travel demand and expects its data insight platform to play a critical role. While we’ve been coping well with disruption for months, we’ll soon need to deal with huge volumes of passengers again and all the resourcing challenges that come as a result. We’re confident Azure Purview will give us the data-driven insights to make the right decisions we need to grow going forward.

Heathrow now delivers greater efficiency and cost savings for the airport and its carriers through more streamlined passenger flows and aircraft turnaround times. What’s more, it also provides better passenger experiences helping it maintain its reputation as an airport that people want to use because it makes air travel better.