Flexible technology is key as airports adapt for post-COVID-19 travel

Bruno Spada by Bruno Spada | Jul 20, 2020

In recent years, some airports across the world have pursued digital transformation to overcome the constraints of their existing rigid systems. By moving to modern, flexible solutions they have gained the agility to rapidly scale to match demand. This allows them to efficiently manage operations and deliver the same excellent passenger experience during times of peak pressure, as well as during quieter periods.

These airports with modern flexible technology were uniquely positioned during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. As airline fleets were grounded and passenger numbers fell, airports such as this were able to quickly scale back resources and roll-out capacity on-the-fly, to service essential flights and core operations.

Flexible technology also drastically simplified the process of ‘mothballing’ terminals, or shutting down terminals, in favour of consolidating operations in another to optimize the use of resources. Untethered to traditional connectivity networks, passenger servicing facilities only need a WIFI, 4G/5G connectivity to be relocated quickly and simply, with agent desks swappable for portable check-in stations.

With technology in place, airports were able to respond to the unprecedented and rapidly evolving situation. And now, as the industry adapts to the ‘next normal’ of post-pandemic travel, they can scale again and adapt operations to meet new requirements, whatever happens.

Portable check-in to assist in social distancing

Modern centrally-hosted technology removes the constraints and immobility of traditional fixed network connections at the airport. Instead, available in the cloud, the technology can be accessed virtually anywhere with a mobile device and an Internet connection.

Unbound from the traditional networks, this means airports can use flexible technology to check-in passengers and handle their bags from a range of new locations both on and off the airport. No longer is it necessary for check-in to take place at fixed desks, automated devices, or within the confines of check-in halls.

We’ve already seen technology used to check-in passengers and handle their bags at hotels, conferences, sporting events, schools, and even curbside at the airport to rapidly add extra capacity on-demand.

Now, off-airport services and portable check-in can be used to address new requirements for social distancing. By moving these essential tasks, off-airport or to new locations in and around the airport, such as curbside or the car park, airports can disperse operations, reduce queues, and address congestion. Instead of bringing passengers to the check-in hall, the check-in hall can come to them.

Not only this, but off-airport services can enhance the overall airport experience, making travel easier and more streamlined for travellers, who will likely be anxious about traveling after the pandemic. By focusing on convenience, there is also the potential for airports to open new revenue streams. For example, a home check-in and bag pick-up service could be launched for those who wish to minimize time spent at the terminal.

As governments and passengers around the world place an onus on airports to maintain social distancing measures, innovations which allow airports to repurpose space and to adapt to changing conditions by opening new service points with agility will be crucial. Both in delivering a seamless passenger flow and in ensuring passengers can be serviced safely with appropriate distance between them.

Biometrics underpinned by flexible platform to enable touchless travel

Biometrics were already a priority for airports prior to COVID-19. Now, though, they are a key technology for the industry as airports look to accelerate investments in touchless, secure, and hygienic travel. As new security measures were adopted after 9/11, we will see airports around the world adopting new hygiene measures to minimize the spread of illnesses and pathogens. Here biometrics will play a pivotal role.

Airports which have adopted a new flexible technology architecture will be well-placed to deploy biometrics to allow for touchless travel. Enabled by cloud computing, traditional airport touchpoints can be replaced with scans of a traveller’s biometric token such as their face or iris. This can be done efficiently without the need to install extensive new hardware. It can even leverage passengers’ own smartphones to allow for off-airport registration of biometric identifiers.

Today, a passenger can simply walk up to an automated device to check in and drop off their bags. The device automatically scans the passenger’s face on approach, registering their biometric information. Minimal physical touch is required beyond placing the bag onto the automated bag drop unit. They can then pass to security, through boarding gates, or even enter an airport lounge using that same biometric identifier and without the need to show any travel documents, ensuring an end-to-end touch-free journey.

Restoring traveller confidence through challenging times

All of these measures will be crucial in achieving what will be a significant priority for airports over the coming months: restoring passenger confidence and trust by ensuring a safe airport environment. Additionally, flexible technology will be vital in meeting passenger demands for secure, touchless, and safe travel.

Before the pandemic, passengers already expected a smooth and efficient service. Now though, from a passenger satisfaction and hygiene perspective, long queues and bottlenecks will no longer be permissible. And in the current climate, many airports will not have the capacity to invest in expensive and complex new infrastructure. Therefore, optimizing services and getting the most out of existing resources will be essential. Fortunately, again, this is something flexible, cloud-based technology can provide and where Amadeus is strongly positioned to help.

This crisis has been an unprecedented challenge for our industry. But as with all challenges, solving them requires flexibility, ingenuity, and resilience. The latest innovations will play an important role in helping airports to restore passenger confidence and will shape the next normal of travel, into the future.

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.

Bruno Spada

Bruno Spada

Executive Vice President, Airport IT, Amadeus
In early 2019, Bruno Spada was appointed to head the Airport IT business at Amadeus. He has extensive experience across Amadeus and the wider travel industry thanks to a varied and long-lasting career with the company. Since joining as a software engineer in 1990, Bruno has held a wide range of positions in R&D, Implementation, Finance, and Management. As Executive Vice President, he places a strong focus on R&D and innovation. Prior to leading the Airport IT division, he led the R&D teams for a number of Amadeus’ airline solutions such as the Amadeus Departure Control System. Bruno Spada is currently based in Madrid.
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