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Tech Talk: Departure Control Systems

2 March, 2022

The aviation industry is full of systems each with its own acronym, along with its own vitally important role and responsibility within the passenger journey.

Tech Talk: Departure Control Systems

The aviation industry is full of systems each with its own acronym, along with its own vitally important role and responsibility within the passenger journey. Here we take a look at Departure Control Systems and the role that plays in the smooth operation of airlines and airports across the globe.

What is a Departure Control System?

A departure control system (DCS) automates processing of an airline’s airport management operation, which includes managing the information required for airport check-in, printing boarding cards, baggage acceptance, boarding, load control and aircraft checks.

Some airlines have their own in-house system, others use a customized partition from a main supplier, for example AmadeusSabre, and SITA.

DCS systems have been developed to automate all processes related to the airline management operations, originally introduced as a way of cost reduction and safety growth by connecting check-in functions, with load control and aircraft mass and balance. A DCS can handle various operations, including check-in, printing boarding cards, baggage acceptance, boarding, load control, and aircraft checks.

A DCS can integrate with an airline inventory system, providing real-time notifications of all departure control events, such as passenger handling processes, including check-in and e-ticket management or aircraft ground operations to manage passenger and load distribution.

When a passenger checks in, the DCS checks document requirements (passport/visa) against the Document Checking System, (not to be confused with the Departure Control System, pesky acronyms!). Baggage allowance is also checked against the reservation and the bag tags are printed. When the bag tag is printed and bags accepted, a Baggage Source Message (BSM) is triggered by the DCS.

The BSM is sent to the Airport’s Message Distribution Server (MDS), often via TCP/IP and then on to a global message distribution server. The BSM is also forwarded to relevant onsite airport systems by either the internal Airport MDS or the global MDS. These include the Baggage Handling System, Sort Allocation Computer (BHS SAC), Baggage Reconciliation System (BRS) and Load and Balance System.

For transfer passengers, the MDS will either send the BSM to the transferring airport or the DCS will trigger a Baggage Transfer Message (BTM) which, in turn, is sent to the transfer station. This message is then fed to other systems in a similar way to the BSM.

For tracking and sortation purposes, some terminating airports also require a BSM from the originating station so that they can process the bag on arrival. This terminating BSM is generated at the same time as the original BSM at check-in.

The DCS is used to onload passengers who might be on standby, as well as take passengers off who have not turned up in time.

The DCS is also used for boarding passengers. The barcode on the boarding pass is scanned at the gate, passenger verification is done by either facial recognition or a manual passport check, and as long as the status is green (i.e. no seat change made, positive verification), the passenger status changes to boarded. A boarding BSM is triggered by the DCS and is sent (via the MDS) to the Load Control System as well as other Airport Systems.

If a passenger is removed from the flight in the DCS for any reason, an updated BSM is triggered with the bag “Not Cleared to Load”. This is sent (via the MDS) to the BRS which alerts the baggage handler that the bag needs to be removed from the flight.

If a bag is taken from the passenger at the gate, for example if there is no space in the overhead lockers, a system generated bag tag may be created via the DCS. This is similar to the check in process.

An extremely important element of the journey, The DCS automates key airport processes from passenger check-in all the way through to departure. Streamlining the customer experience and ensuring that flights leave safely, and on time.

Look out for our next exciting Tech Talk, looking at the role of the Baggage Handling System (BHS), coming soon.

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