COVID-19: Using technology in airports to fight a pandemic

Guest Author by Guest Author | Apr 22, 2020

Written by Eng. Ricardo Cerri, Chief Technology Officer, Corporación América Uruguay

Uruguay was one of the last countries in Latin America to be affected by COVID-19. This gave Uruguay’s Carrasco International Airport time to work with authorities to prepare the country’s largest airport to contain the pandemic.

As the main point of entry and exit in most countries, airports play a key role in managing health crises. In Uruguay, innovative measures such as the use of big data to aid the national prevention and containment campaign were put in place as a response to the pandemic.

With the support of a team of IT experts from the Center of Excellence run by Corporación América in Uruguay and in close collaboration with a major global vendor, government authorities are now able to use existing border information and technology for national health purposes.

The objective was to detect and identify passengers that could potentially pose health risks for the country. To achieve this, data defined as Advanced Passenger Information (API) and Passenger Named Record (PNR) was integrated into the border control system in order to identify passengers from countries classified as high risk by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and thus support airport authorities to make informed decisions in a timely manner.

Before: State of alert and surveillance

As soon as the impact of COVID-19 began to be felt around the world, the Center of Excellence, through its Easy Airport consulting division, started the necessary arrangements in Uruguay to leverage existing technology and begin detection of potential health risk profiles.

Initially the automated hits from the Government´s risk assessment system were manually matched with the border control process. Risk profiling was based on a list of high-risk countries at that point in time.

This allowed Uruguay’s border authorities to analyze and assess travelers that either started their trip in, or were transiting through, a high-risk country and could potentially endanger the health of the local or destination population.

As the virus spread to pandemic level and the list of high-risk countries continued to grow, however, it became relevant and urgent to integrate border control with the risk assessment software through automated alerts at the immigrations point of control.

Present: Timely action and proactive detection

In mid-March COVID-19 reached Uruguay and, within a few days, the country had partially closed its borders and cancelled flights from high risk countries. From the moment patient zero was identified by the authorities, the usage of risk profiling at border control allowed them to obtain valuable intelligence to support their efforts in containing the pandemic in Uruguay.

The collaborative work between the Center of Excellence and the government authorities was fundamental to interconnect and automate the border control and risk analysis systems.

Using APIs (Application Programming Interfaces), the border control and the risk assessment systems interfaces were automated, making the management of the crisis more efficient and probably more effective. This allowed alerts to be automatically replicated to the border control system so that immigration officers are able to activate specific protocols in real time for each passenger depending on their risk profile.

Border control officers also receive automatic alerts on passengers that could pose a health risk prior to their arrival to the country. This provides them extra time to prepare and identify higher risk passengers in advance.

Furthermore, if a passenger happens to test positive for COVID-19, the system can identify the travellers who were sitting in the rows around that person during the flight. Specific health recommendations and adequate protocols are applied to those passengers as well.

This technology also helps to coordinate the detour of a plane to a remote area in the airport if the majority of the passengers on the flight are identified as a health risk. This way, adequate health protocols are followed to mitigate risks.

Future: Business continuity


Nowadays the interface in place at the airport actively triggers established procedures and protocols to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. It has also played a role in following up on COVID-19 positive passengers’ cases or considered high risk.

This has provided national authorities useful tools to improve the pandemic containment, and most importantly, to mitigate the entrance and uncontrolled propagation of the virus from abroad.

The use of technology also places the airport, and thus the country, in a better position to ensure business continuity. Eventually the global crisis will start to shrink. Slowly but surely, the airport industry will go back to normal as flights will likely restart in a gradual and controlled manner.

Applying big data analysis for passenger health risk assessment has proven to be an effective first line of defence in managing the spread of a pandemic in Uruguay. It should position the airport in a better place to gradually recover its connectivity and ensure the safety of travellers visiting Uruguay.

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These technological solutions strengthen the health processes of the country, contribute to reactivating the sector and mitigate the economic impact of the crisis, while preserving the health of the local and foreign population.

Using technology in Carrasco International Airport in the midst of the global crisis set off by COVID-19 allowed the country to prepare itself for the inevitable arrival of the pandemic to the country, to coordinate quickly and efficiently amongst authorities during the development of the pandemic, and to leave the country better set to rebuild air transport connectivity in the future.

The Smart Health Travel project

The Center of Excellence has created the Smart Health Travel project to elaborate a health protocol and propose technologies which mitigate the health risks and set the foundations to gradually normalize the flights.

The technologies are been structured into two categories: big data and tech devices such as IoT (Internet of Things), thermographic cameras, disinfection chambers, video analytics, SARS CoV-2 Antibody quick tests, among others.

The ambition is to adapt and align the current interface with ACI’s Aviation Community Recommended Information Services (ACRIS), a known global industry standard for aviation data and information exchange.

By working together with national authorities and the aviation community, we will soon enter a new era for the industry and we can apply innovation to help mitigate health risks by putting technology at the service of the country’s most urgent needs.

Ricardo is an Argentine Computer Science Engineer who has studied in Argentina and Australia. He has worked in IT for over 17 years in several businesses such as pharmaceutical, consulting, aeronautical (IATA), finance and airports. He worked and lived in the Netherlands for eight years, and moved to Uruguay in 2014 to take a position as CTO in Corporación América Uruguay. His current challenge is to transform the IT department and the rest of the organization into an innovation hub, delivering value to the business, passengers, government agencies and the whole airport community. His latest successful implementation has been Easy Airport Pax, a digital and biometric passenger flow, unique in its type within South America.

The article was provided by a third party and, as such, the views expressed therein and/or presented are their own and may not represent or reflect the views of ACI, its management, Board, or members. Readers should not act on the basis of any information contained in the blog without referring to applicable laws and regulations and/or without appropriate professional advice.

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