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Paul Smith and Diede van de Pol work for Schiphol Telematics. Their job involves constructing and relocating technical rooms in Departures 1 and Lounge 1. The renovations that are underway have a major impact on the wiring and network services for WiFi, flight information screens, security filters and staff filters. ‘You’d think it was easy to keep everything functioning, but it’s not.’
There are hundreds of technical network rooms throughout Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. These rooms are all connected to one another via a large network, and all the network services are spread across the airport. ‘There are hundreds of kilometres of copper and fibre optic cables and glass rings,’ Paul explains. ‘Everything that is connected to a data cable leads back to the technical rooms, so these rooms are crucial for the airport to function properly.’
What happens if one of these technical rooms needs to be moved? What if the architect decides that a stairway, lift or footbridge needs to be built right where there is a technical room? ‘Then we explain how much impact that will have,’ Diede says. ‘We tell them that we will have to redirect hundreds of cables and that this will cause disruption for airlines and services at Schiphol.’ ‘We usually lose the battle,’ Paul adds, without any resentment. ‘If the architect says that this is best for the travellers then we’re more than happy to go along with it.’
Rerouting cables requires very precise timing. ‘We can alter approximately 20 cables and network services a night,’ says Diede. ‘Once a new connection has been built, we can unplug the cable from the old one and plug it in the new one.’ Paul does a quick calculation. ‘In this project, we’re moving six technical rooms and building six new ones. We expect to have to reroute or add around 5,000 cables and networks. All the logistics, and rerouting 20 cables a night mean this project will easily take 6 months.’
Can’t you just close the technical room and transfer everything? ‘No way!’ says Paul. ‘Some of the cables lead to check-in desks and security filters. And you can’t just close a security filter. Schiphol is really busy and we need every security lane to be in use. In fact, that’s the whole reason for this construction project. The aim is to quickly increase capacity in the existing departure hall, in addition to the construction of the new pier and terminal.
Paul and Diede describe their work as being rather hidden. ‘People don’t see what we are doing. But if things aren’t working properly the next morning then nothing can happen and there will be chaos at the airport. It’s a huge challenge for our team of 15 people, from technicians to managers. We do, of course, get support from contractors and specialised companies. The phrase we’re all hoping to hear a lot over the next few months is “We haven’t noticed a thing”. That will mean we’ve done a good job.’