Melbourne Airport joins A380 high-speed WiFi trials

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Melbourne Airport joins A380 high-speed WiFi trials

Network supports handover of flight data.

Melbourne's Tullamarine airport has retrofitted several gates with additional wireless access points, positioned exclusively to provide a high throughput connection to Singapore Airline's A380 aircraft.

Singapore's A380 fleet uses Gatelink, which enables aircraft to start transmitting information back to an airline's core systems upon landing and docking at the terminal.

This enables the aircraft to both upload flight performance data back to the airline, and download an "electronic flight bag" for the pilots of the next flight, including logs, maps, instruction manuals and the passenger manifest.

In October 2010, Melbourne Airport retrofitted specific gates to cater for the height of the Singapore Airlines' and Qantas' A380 fleets. Gatelink too has been around for some time and is particularly popular among airlines in the United States.

But the longer flight times required for international flights to and from Australia has not made Gatelink a popular option at home - the computing equipment required weighs around 300 kilograms and has to be traded off with the weight of fuel that needs to be carried.

Singapore Airlines has decided to take the leap with its A380 fleet, trialing the technology in Singapore, Sydney and now Melbourne.

Mark Funston, information systems manager at Melbourne Airport said he anticipates the airport's network to pull 400 megabytes of data from each flight that comes in, whilst uploading 300 megabytes to the aircraft, which all needs to be turned around in under 60 minutes before the next flight departs.

But Funston was confident that aside from some specifically-positioned wireless access points, Melbourne Airport's network should handle the additional capacity with ease.

The facility consolidated five disparate networks down to one IP MPLS network over the duration of a refresh project that began two years ago.

This consolidated flight information systems, emergency messaging, TV feeds at gates, security surveillance (CCTV) and even some baggage systems.

Networks controlling baggage security and airfield lighting systems remained dedicated in the interest of higher levels of redundancy and availability.

The network consolidation project was aimed at containing current and future CapEx costs around cabling - with terminal extensions requiring cabling over distances of half a kilometre.

The airport also upgraded its wireless network to extend connectivity all the way down onto the aprons (airport ramps), used among other things to scan baggage as it moves from the handling system onto the aircraft.

Melbourne Airport already has 800 terabytes of data transmitted over its network every day (24 petabytes of data per month) - 90 percent of which is video surveillance footage.

The airport is building two new datacentres to better handle the processing and storage of this data.

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