29 Mar Gate Capacity: Knowing When To Build


A common problem with growing demand at airports is gate shortage. The apparent solution is building more gates, which is neither easy nor fast. An easier option is more efficient gate allocations and ‘steering’ traffic to smooth capacity issues. The conundrum is that this gets you only so far. How do you know in advance when you’ve reached maximum optimisation and it’s time to build?

Optimising gate usage can postpone the expenditure, but how far can you go before you need to build?

When is gate capacity really maxed?

Building new piers and gates requires significant planning, time and investment. Optimising gate usage can postpone the expenditure, but how far can you go before you need to build? And how do you know how many and what type?

Finding a reliable formula for the number and type of gates needed is difficult. Real-time gate allocation is extremely complex and seldom follows standard maxims. The variables are myriad, such as:

  • Balancing use of gates, remote stands and remote handling
  • Schengen versus non-Schengen (Europe)
  • Pier sections rotating between Schengen and non-Schengen traffic (Europe)
  • Efficient planning of available handling equipment
  • (Connecting) Passengers walking too far
  • Airline gate preferences
  • MARS stands offer flexibility but can increase complexity
  • Sufficient size while minimising small planes using large plane space
  • Variability of daily operations


Getting past the complexity

Figuring out where to optimise and when or what to build is much too complex and costly for real-time experimentation. Using a simulation model allows unlimited iterations of different scenarios to test a wide range of possibilities.

Creating an effective high-fidelity simulation model of an airport’s complexity and unique infrastructure is challenging, but not impossible. We recently developed a realistic model for one of our clients, to simulate highly-detailed traffic scenarios.

The model integrates the gate allocation complexities and plays out various scenarios to the point where there is no more space to handle aircraft. This allowed the client to test optimisation options and determine breaking points for each scenario.

How our gate allocation model works

To build the model, we first gauge actual capacity by studying current gate allocations and stand use, including the manual decisions on day-to-day complexities. Our model incorporates all these decisions, making smart allocations by simultaneously assessing future effects.

We then run simulations of the entire gate allocation process under different traffic scenarios or infrastructural changes. For example, solving Wide Body gate shortages could range from changing MARS stand usage, to more remote parking positions, to building new gates. Simulation tests the effectiveness of each option at truly solving the problem, or whether it causes unexpected new ones.

Our gate allocation simulation model is flexible enough to translate easily to any airport situation. Using it to test different scenarios provides airport decision makers with fast, invaluable insights into gate capacity and planning options, both now and in the future.

About To70. To70 is one of the world’s leading aviation consultancies, founded in the Netherlands with offices in Europe, Australia, Asia, and Latin America. To70 believes that society’s growing demand for transport and mobility can be met in a safe, efficient, environmentally friendly and economically viable manner. For more information, please refer to

Ruud Van Gils
Ruud Van Gils
My passion for aviation led me to To70, where I have contributed to and managed a large variety of projects. These projects range from aviation legislation to flight data analyses. My expertise is in performing fast-time simulations using state of the art simulator software and I develop my own simulation tools. I’m also the initiator of the To70 running team.
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