The nightmare digital signage problem at Gatwick Airport Monday was resolved around 5 PM local time, with the problem isolated to a Vodafone fiber optic cable being inadvertently cut – perhaps by a construction crew.
The earlier issue with with our flight information screens in the terminals has now been resolved and flights are showing correctly. We're sorry for the inconvenience to our passengers today while Vodafone fixed the problem.
— Gatwick Airport LGW (@Gatwick_Airport) August 20, 2018
The 1,200 or so flight information display system (FIDS) screens went offline for much of the day and travellers were reduced to reading departures and gate information off a whiteboard updated with marker pens by airport staff.
Turns out the airport’s much touted, award-winning FIDS set-up is all cloud-based and evidently had no working (at least) redundancy built in to the design – so if the connectivity that retrieved the flight information from a cloud-based host went down, connectivity would roll over to something like an LTE mobile data network, or even the airport’s passenger WiFi system.
It appears the screens are system on chip displays, which cut out a lot of cost of PCs. It wouldn’t matter what was driving the screens if there was no connectivity, and local caching would mean what’s on the screens would be old in minutes – and the outage lasted hours.
Appalling @Gatwick_Airport with broken monitors and a tiny white-board for announcing gates. Thank goodness I have eagle-vision and can read messy writing from a distance. Why not pre-assign gates like Canadian airports? #laughable #typicalbritain #frustratedpassengers pic.twitter.com/uSKDWN8ooX
— Elizabeth Humphries (@lizmezzo) August 20, 2018
The full story isn’t out, so maybe there is more to it – but it would seem that if there was failover connectivity built into the final design, it didn’t work. Read this news release …
Gatwick, the airport said in a Feb. 2018 news release, is the world’s first major airport to introduce a cloud-based Flight Information Display System (FIDS) – an innovative, cost effective system that is easily scalable, more flexible and resilient, and requires considerably less infrastructure and maintenance.
Legacy FID systems require software to be loaded on a separate PC behind the screen to run them – whereas the airport’s 1,200 cloud-based screens now connect via a web browser from any operating system. This takes up only 3Mbps of bandwidth – so the new real-time system is extremely fast and responsive to updates – which is key in times of disruption.
The new system – VisionAir – can also run natively on smart TVs – saving on infrastructure and maintenance costs, and demand on engineers’ time. The new system is also:
- Flexible – and can run from an internet browser or a mobile device and does not require any software installed. Content can also be managed collaboratively with other organizations – such as airlines and ground handlers – and different types of content can be hosted depending on requirements – disruption, weather, advertising etc – from the smallest mobile devices to the largest video walls.
- Resilient – unlike legacy systems – the system is more robust to network blips or power failures with mobile battery power and 4G backup available if required. It also includes a fully independent management interface that supports operation completely independent from any airport infrastructure or system if required.
- Intelligent – system has awareness of screen positions with respect to the airport layout and can target appropriate messaging depending on the situation.
- More sustainable – can control backlight, helping to reduce energy consumption where possible.
The VisionAir project started back in 2015 when Gatwick Airport decided to develop cloud-based FIDS in line with the airport’s cloud migration strategy.developed the solution and the system went live with 1,200 screens by the middle of 2017 and has been providing uninterrupted service since then.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.