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How Smart Airports Are Becoming Smarter

September 27, 2018

The last ten years have seen nothing less than an explosion in commercial air passenger traffic growth. According to the International Air Traffic Association, total global air traffic passengers will reach 4.4 billion in 2018, which represents a 76% increase in the volume of air passengers ten years earlier as there were 2.5 billion global air passengers in 2008. The proliferation of low-cost airlines, the growing middle class in emerging markets and friendlier visa policies in many nations have driven this massive growth. Japan in one country that has seen a huge influx in foreign air passengers, as the country had a record 29 million overseas tourists arrivals in 2017 compared to only six million in 2011. The country has an aggressive target of 49 million overseas tourists by 2020.

However this massive growth in air passenger traffic has put considerable strain on airport infrastructure. If Japan and other countries want to continue to give air passengers a safe, efficient and personalized customer experience then new investment in airport technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and biometrics will be necessary. Many airports are already ”smart” but will have to become smarter to handle future passenger growth.

Air Travel Customer Experience Has Eroded

Unfortunately as global air passenger numbers have exploded, airport infrastructure has come under considerable strain, and the overall customer experience has deteriorated. Globally passenger complaints against airports and airlines are soaring, and high profile incidents involving airline passengers are increasingly highlighted in the media. In Canada, for example, according the Canadian Transportation agency 5,500 complaints were filed in 2017-2018 compared to only 1,019 complaints in 2013-2014. Flight disruptions and baggage issues were the majority of the complaints filed.

Smarter Airports

Given that increasing passenger numbers have eroded the airport customer experience and passenger traffic is expected to increase even further, airports need to become even smarter in order to both make a better experience today and to plan for future growth. Many airports around the world have already started their digital transformation by adopting solutions such as cloud-based enterprise software but this is really just the beginning of the digital journey. There are many services that airports can offer to alleviate current pain points, and these six services are what some of the most innovative airports in the world are offering in order to offer a safe, efficient and personalized customer experience.

1. Check In Apps

Many airlines have used digital technologies to offer smartphone-based ticketing but recently some airlines are using digital technologies to offer a faster and more secure flight check-in experience. For example, Delta Airlines is using biometric check-in terminals in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. International passengers can check-in, drop off baggage, pass through security and board gates using facial recognition technology.

2. Staff Scheduling Software

One of the major causes of flight delays is sub-optimal scheduling of airport staff as flight crews and ground staff are often not receiving real time information of changes in the very dynamic airport operations environment. As such airlines are increasingly turning to cloud based solutions in order to receive real time information on smart devices and act accordingly. Innovative airlines such as Singapore Airlines and easyJet have recently adopted such solutions.

3. Employee Wearables

Wearable devices are also increasingly being used to increase airport efficiency. A recent example of wearables using used is in Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. The airport installed sensors in restrooms which would track people traffic. Janitorial staff then wore smart watches which alerted them as to which restrooms were most in need of cleaning and hence the staff could prioritize their cleaning schedule accordingly.

4. IoT Queuing Solutions

IoT is increasingly being used in airports in order to help manage long queues and optimize airport operations. Airports such as Birmingham Airport in the United Kingdom have installed sensors which anonymously measure passenger traffic and can give estimated waiting times for check-in, security etc. The airport then uses this data to optimize its staffing in different airport areas.

5. IoT Baggage Tracking

Lost and mishandled baggage is another huge area of passenger conflict, and IoT is also being used to help alleviate problems in this area. Many technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, RFID and LPWA are all being used in airports to track luggage and to quickly find missing bags. London’s Gatwick Airport recently invested in a carrier grade Wi-Fi network in order to better track and manage lost luggage claims.

6. Biometric Security Checks & Passenger Management

Biometric scanners are increasingly being used for airport immigration security checks and have already produced measureable results. Washington D.C.’s Dulles International Airport is one of the first airports in the USA to integrate facial recognition technology into immigration checks. On the third day of the system’s live use the airport was able to identify and detain a passenger travelling with a fake passport.

What Airports are Becoming Smarter Now?

Implementation of the aforementioned technologies can be a game-changing factor for customer experience at airports. Consider the tale of two drastically different airports. London’s Heathrow Airport waiting times reached 2.5 hours for non-European Union visitors in July 2018. The target wait time of 45 minutes per passenger was not achieved. Heathrow Airport could clearly benefit from using more advanced airport technologies. Tokyo’s Narita Airport, on the other hand, is installing biometric immigration control to reduce immigration processing time to 20 minutes. There is a strong need to invest in new technologies because of the upcoming 2019 Rugby World Cup, 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games and the overall boom in overseas tourism. Narita Airport is in a much better position to deal with future growth as they are heavily investing in IoT technologies.

Airports are under tremendous and increasing pressure to digitally transform and deliver a safe, efficient and personalized customer experience for their customers. It is no longer good enough for airports to be ”smart”, they now need to be ”smarter” as passenger numbers will continue to increase and customers are increasingly frustrated with the status quo. Airports can become ”smarter” but investing in technologies such as biometrics, IoT, cloud services smart hardware and big data analytics. Some airports around the world have already started this digital journey with measureable results.

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