The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) together with Singtel have launched a 5G Aviation Testbed at Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 3’s airside. This enables companies to use 5G to trial and adopt new solutions, which would help raise productivity for critical airside functions, including aircraft ground operations, ground handling and line maintenance services. Supported by Changi Airport Group (CAG), the testbed, which has gone live at Changi Airport Terminal 3 airside since March 2023, will last for two years. CAAS will review the results of the testbed and study its potential for wide-scale deployment at Changi Airport. The 5G Aviation Testbed is one of CAAS’ air transport industry transformation initiatives to boost manpower productivity and raise operational capabilities post-COVID.
The 5G Aviation Testbed allows companies operating at Changi Airport Terminal 3 airside to leverage 5G’s high bandwidth, high-speed connectivity, and ultra-low latency to transform their operations. Two projects, which are already tapping on the 5G Aviation Testbed, are the tele-operations of autonomous vehicles (AV) and the secure ground transfer of critical flight data between aircraft and its data centres.
Tele-operations of autonomous vehicles
AV trials for baggage transport started in 2020 to develop technology to raise manpower productivity. The 5G Aviation Testbed will raise the airport’s AV capabilities to a higher level, allowing the continuous monitoring of AV operations in real-time, using high-definition video streams with low latency and high transmission stability, such that operators can supervise AV operations remotely. The testbed will allow airport stakeholders to trial procedures and systems for remote tele-operation. It will also allow CAG to learn about the different requirements for a 5G network infrastructure in the airport setting.
Secure ground transfer of critical flight data between aircraft and its data centres
Singapore Airlines (SIA) relies on the Gatelink Wi-Fi system to transfer data, such as the latest weather and airport data, to the aircraft for use during flight. Currently, data transfer only occurs when the aircraft is docked at Changi Airport’s aircraft stands, and when the aircraft is able to connect to the Gatelink Wi-Fi system. The 5G Aviation Testbed will allow SIA to cut down on the long implementation lead-time, and decrease the use of significant amounts of fibre optic cables to connect to the Wireless Access Points. These cables will be replaced with 5G wireless data transmission, providing the same amount of coverage with enhanced connection speeds, without the need for any aircraft modification to take place. Through the 5G Aviation Testbed, aircraft parked at adjacent remote stands will also be able to receive data coverage, which was previously not feasible. Singtel’s Mobile Edge Computing will also be able to address computing resources and space constraint issues, without the need to deploy additional equipment.
Other potential use cases being explored for the 5G Aviation Testbed include advanced remote inspection of aircraft, and the use of video analytics and artificial intelligence to better predict aircraft turnaround time and drive on-time performance.
As part of this two-year trial, close to 4,000 Singtel 4G corporate mobile user lines at the airside have been given complimentary upgrades to 5G lines to facilitate the development of such use cases and augment the connectivity of aviation workers at the airside. Singtel is also gradually extending its 5G network coverage to encompass public areas in all terminals by the end of 2025.
While 5G can unlock new possibilities for airport operations, the safety of flight operations remains a key priority. Safety assurance is a critical condition for the wide-scale deployment of 5G at the airport. In consultation with the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), CAG, and local telecommunications companies, CAAS has developed safety guidelines and mitigation measures, such as restrictions on transmission power and antenna tilt angle, to ensure safety in flight operations.
Han Kok Juan, Director-General of CAAS, said, “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we took advantage of the low traffic environment to accelerate various technological trials, such as Autonomous Vehicles trials, to position the Singapore air hub for long-term growth and competitiveness post-COVID. The 5G Aviation Testbed is a critical enabler for many of these initiatives and will help boost our air hub’s operational capabilities.”
Lee Seow Hiang, CEO, Changi Airport Group, said, “The increased reliability and enhanced connectivity of the 5G network is a key enabler for Changi Airport. The technology lets us pilot systems that require reliable communications infrastructure for real time collaboration and decision making. One example is the transfer of high-quality video streams and low latency control messages from autonomous vehicles, which facilitate the monitoring of vehicle operations remotely in real-time. With this testbed available to the stakeholders in the airport community, we can take a collective step forward in enhancing manpower productivity and boosting operational efficiency at Changi Airport.”
Ng Tian Chong, Chief Executive Officer, Singtel Singapore, said, “With Singtel’s 5G powering this testbed, participating agencies and solution providers will be able to exploit our ultra-low latency, high-speed connectivity to develop and trial novel and innovative solutions that can enhance the operational efficiency and safety of flight operations at the airside and eventually apply them at scale. These solutions may include autonomous vehicles or robots that can be deployed in areas susceptible to environmental elements like lightning strikes and storms. We’re excited to be supporting Changi Airport and its partners in their continued efforts to reinvent, transform and lead the sector globally.”
George Wang, Senior Vice President Information Technology, Singapore Airlines, said, “The 5G Aviation Testbed initiative is a timely opportunity for Singapore Airlines to leverage advanced technologies in real-time, as we explore opportunities to enhance our operations. This would support our digital transformation journey, cement our industry-leading position, and reinforce Singapore’s position as a global aviation hub.”