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FIDS for today & tomorrow: a new generation of airport information displays has arrived.

Veteran air travellers (and there are a great many of them around) might have to think hard if asked how they gained flight information before the advent of today's sophisticated systems, and will recall if pressed that most of this came from audio messages, backed up by basic visual boards. Things have moved on a bit since then, and our veteran travellers would have to admit that much of the time they never clearly heard the loudspeaker messages and the information boards were unco-ordinated and painfully slow.

Thankfully, no-one should have any cause for complaint about lack of flight information today as much clever work has gone into the development and employment of today's generation of FIDS and their associate systems, which expand in purpose and number in line with operator requests. "You name it and we'll create it"--appears to be the maxim of the manufacturers. Understandably, the industry has changed, and the provision of flight information displays is no longer the province of sole manufacturers alone, but often the work of many 'integrators'.

Today's familiar types of FIDS are: the CRT-based message indicators, which are regarded as old technology but which still have much to offer; PDPs (plasma display panels) which contain gas-filled elements activated by an electric discharge, and which have been regarded as the best solution until recently; LED-carrying boards, which have been used in very large displays, and the TFT (thin film transistor) systems illuminated by rear-mounted electric bulbs and which are now seen as the most promising. Accompanying these is a whole host of location-specific, sometimes touch-sensitive, smaller units from which pieces of information can be gained ranging from destination weather to road and rail travel, one such being the newly-introduced 'MAISY', about which more later. Udo Jansohn, Product Manager FIDS, of Conrac, Germany, has no doubt in which direction the development of standard flight information displays is heading. As he told Airports International, the PDP system has been in vogue for some time and is still being made. It is an 'active' system and has its advantages, not the [east being that it can offer larger (55 to 84in [140 to 213cm]) displays. There is much to commend PDP, but it has been shown as susceptible to so-called 'burnin,' which can introduce a change in the colour of illumination to the display characters, a weakness noted in CRT system displays, and for this reason preference is being directed towards TFT displays.

TFT is the most advanced method for its task, Jansohn believes, and its other advantages include lower running costs and lifetime ownership costs. TFT's one weakness at the moment would seem to be an inclination towards 'image-seeking', which is being worked on by Conrac and the industry generally. "I'm sure that TFT will supersede PDP displays in the future if the image-seeking problem can be overcome, and I'm sure that it will be overcome in due course", said Jansohn.

For Conrac the direction of future technology is an important one as the company maintains it serves between 30% to 40% of the international airport market. A long-time player in the airport FIDS market, of over 30 years' experience, the company is now the largest supplier of flat panel displays in Europe and has over 200,000 sq feet (18,000[m.sup.2]) of floor space at its facilities in Weikersheim, near Wurzburg, Germany. Apart from its airport business, the company has divisions for railway and other transportation systems; industrial applications, and the domestic market. It continues to make complete FIDS systems for airport and other clients but can equally work with systems integrators to produce hardware or software only.

Ferranti foremost

In Britain Ultra Electronics is one of the foremost players in the FIDS industry and now offers its UltraFIDS system to airports and airlines alike. The information display division was created in 1981 by the former Ferranti company and is now the fastest growing division in Ultra Electronics. The first and second generation FIDS were based on CRT equipment using Unix servers--the latest, third generation equipment, with IBM servers, has a different suite with improved electronics. Chris Nixon, Product Manager FIDS at Ultra Electronics Manchester, also believes TFT is the way forward, with PDP systems expected to be phased out eventually. The company has already delivered a third-generation UltraFIDS to Zurich Airport and continues to refine development and research other systems. The company has a strong foothold in the USA, necessitating offices in Atlanta, Kansas and Orlando, Florida.

In the words of Steve Tyler, Managing Director of Touchstone Electronics, of Bicester, UK, the PDP system came along and was better than CRT. "Plasma has been a system for its time." Tyler opines that over the years it has emerged that the plasma system is not totally suitable for the provision of static, continuous information, hence it is falling out of favour. In Tyler's view there are some very good LED systems available and some companies are "pushing back the boundaries" with these. Nevertheless, TFT has much to offer and is probably 'the way ahead'.

Touchstone provides an interesting insight into the global and fractionalised FIDS industry of today in that the company makes neither hardware or software, but rather is a systems integrator, performing system design, installation and maintenance for others. With 24 years' experience, however, and airport clients at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and London City, the company serves to illustrate the changing nature of this area. Typical of this is the USA, where innumerable companies may contribute in part to the needs of airports for information displays of some form. An example is Clarity Visual Systems of Wilsonville, Oregon, which manufacturers LCD panels of 40 and 46in (102 to 117cm), and rear-projection LCD displays providing 40 to 67in (102 to 170cm) displays. The company also manufactures display hardware for use in airports, while the software might be produced by a software provider such as SITA. Clarity visual displays are installed in 20 US airports for Flight and Baggage Information Displays (FIDS/BIDS) and also concourse advertising, which increasingly makes its presence felt.

What's next?

Not many people will have met MAISY yet because the Manchester Airport Information SYstem was introduced only at the beginning of 2004, but this equipment represents a new step forward in the provision of information for passengers. Said to be the only system of its kind that is interactive, dynamic and totally responsive to its user, MAISY has touch-sensitive screens which can provide directions for travellers from where they are standing to any number of points in the airport including their boarding gate, and print this out as required. At the moment there are 28 MAISY kiosks positioned around the airport plus two at Manchester's Piccadilly railway station.

When travellers bring themselves to use these remarkable pieces of equipment, they also gain flight information, bus and rail timetable data and answers to the frequently pondered questions ... "Are the flights on time or are there any delays?"

Made specifically for Manchester Airport by the Fujitsu Corporation and associates, the MAISY system is integrated with the airport's real-time flight information systems, Automated mass maintenance of software systems (AMOSS) and Passenger Information Display Screens (PIDS). Travellers appear to be losing their nervousness with regards to interacting with MAISY as the terminals are currently receiving 100,000 responses a month.

As a variation on this, to make life even easier for the traveller entering the portals of a massive airport, CCTV or perhaps mobile 'phone technology could in future be employed to provide personal information about which directions to take to the required terminal; gate and flight information, and perhaps check-in confirmation. This is the view of Elizabeth Kolbeck of Ultra Electronics Airport Systems, who believes such future advances in FIDS technology are not all that far away. And she is probably right.
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Title Annotation:Flight Information Display System
Comment:FIDS for today & tomorrow: a new generation of airport information displays has arrived.(Flight Information Display System)
Author:Allen, Roy
Publication:Airports International
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2005
Words:1304
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