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Swanwick Airport Case Study

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The project objective and scope

National Air Traffic Services (NATS) provides air navigation services to the United Kingdom and to internationally agreed areas outside the UK. In the mid eighties, it could be observed that air travellers were increasingly experiencing delays to their schedules, and so NATS attempted to introduce major changes to their air traffic control centre at West Drayton. However, this attempt ran into much difficulty and further studies showed that the West Drayton facility would run out of capacity by 1996. Therefore NATS motioned to replace the facility, that had little room for expansion to meet future demand, with a new facility on a greenfield site in Swanwick.

This facility would become the new London Area and Terminal Control Centre (LATCC) and the proposal aimed to produce 40% additional capacity to accommodate the delays that NATS were currently facing. The project not only involved a new site but a new software system that claimed to be "more advanced than anything that is being tried anywhere in the world." The software was to be based on that of a similar project in the US, therefore minimising technological risk. The project was set up as a fixed price contract with a cost of Ј350 million.

Project life Cycle

The initiation phase of this project began back in 1988 with a solid proposal and reasoning for the project. As we know, project success depends on effective 'front-end phases' though, and feasibility for this project was not be tested. Although it used a specially-selected NATS committee, the project appeared to lack adequate consultation with staff members. The new Swanwick centre proposed an overly optimistic opening date of 1996.

The planning phase took 3 years to complete, with building beginning in 1991. Throughout this time, expenditure and an idealistic timeframe was agreed upon. The report lacks details as to how this project plan was assessed or appraised. Subsequent problems led to constant revision and appraisal of the original plan. There is no specification in the report to provide identification of each member's tasks, penalties for delay in completion and amount of risk analysis completed for any problems faced. However the team was flexible in its response to incurred delays.

These delays became all too apparent during the execution and controlling phase. Construction was completed on time by 1994. Problems starting to accrue during systems implementation with NATS acceptance of the NERC system halted from Nov 1995 to June 1997 and delayed even further to March 1998 following training and development issues. Further political disputes and a merger with Lockheed Martin fuelled more testing and review, altering the original plan beyond recognition. The completion date was delayed further to Winter 1999/2000 with a current target date for first operations resting on 30th March 2008. Closure of this project may be somewhat of a relief to the administrators, who have some difficult explanations to make within the project review. Hopefully lessons will be learnt through critical analysis of this project and brought forward to subsequent endeavours.

Organisation of the Project

The project does not appear to have been planned very well, and the level of technology chosen was far too high tech for such a change. Project management was poor in this matter and did not consider the implications of using such advanced technology in terms of compatibility with other systems. Although the initial plan was for the system to be completed in 1995, additional functions were added by NATS in 1997, during the course of implementation of the system, which resulted in delays to the completion of the project. Again in 1998, changes were made to the Training and Development Unit and further postponed the completion date of the project.

In 1998, further delays to the deadline were announced and the system functionality was reduced in order to try to meet the new deadline. It was now not known whether the system would actually meet the requirements of the users.

The organisation of this project was near to non-existent, as there appears to be no clear project leader or project team. Communication along the chain of command was extremely poor. The initial objectives of the project were not clearly defined during the planning phase, stakeholders were not identified, there was no set implementation policy and risks were not identified, let alone a risk management policy. Users were not involved in the planning and implementation of the system, so NATS could never be sure that the system was meet their needs and that it would not be resisted by users.

Another important point is that NATS could not accept that the project was a failure and abandon it and start



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