The airport of the future is on the horizon

Tijen Cirig by Tijen Cirig | Aug 2, 2021

2020 will remain in history as one of the most catastrophic years for many industries, especially for aviation which plunged from boom to doom, in seemingly no time. According to IATA, international passenger demand fell by 75.6% as compared to the previous year due to the severe movement restrictions imposed by countries all over the world.

The airport industry is now looking beyond the crisis to a sustainable, future-proof recovery of air travel through a holistic approach that puts the passengers’ safety at the center and supports more efficient and sustainable operations.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) through the Council Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART) are working with international and regional organizations and the broader industry to provide global guidance for the aviation sector to meet these goals.

Looking at the current environment, airports’ priorities are focused on four main areas which are all enabled by technology:

1. Bringing back passengers and restoring confidence

Safety has always been a critical element of airport operations. Even more measures and precautions are now being taken to support the wellbeing and security of airport staff and passengers while also restoring peace of mind.

How technology helps? The air we breathe indoors is critical for reducing the risk of contaminants in terminals. Airports need to provide proper air filtration and ventilation systems and look for solutions that can adjust a terminal’s indoor air quality based on the flow of passengers and changing conditions. With an integrated platform that uses sensor technology coupled with data analytics, airport managers can manage and maintain the environmental quality of a space more effectively and adapt to dynamic airport operations, based on factors such as activity and occupancy levels. Touchless systems and PPE can also help creating a safer passenger experience.

2. Comply to the new regulations

Airports should be able to monitor and measure the way the public safety requirements are respected within their premises. It is important to consider a system that can provide real-time updates on building health metrics and KPIs including air quality and terminal occupancy as well as compliance to new regulations like social distancing and mask wearing. This can allow operators to quickly address issues should the readings shift out of acceptable range and manage compliance.

How technology helps: Many airports reacted to evolving industry rules by implementing rapid, low-cost point solutions, such as social distancing stickers on the ground, plexiglass protectors at check-in, and labor-intensive point solutions that varied from extensive cleaning and people compliance, to temperature and mask wearing at strategic places. The question is, though: how sustainable and effective are they in a prolonged crisis? Healthy Buildings dashboards can provide a 24/7 view into the terminal’s air quality and can also help to reassure passengers, staff, crew and contractors that they are in a healthier environment. Healthier, efficient and smart airports depend on systems communicating well with each other. For example, when indoor air quality, lighting systems, and health screening lanes in the terminal are fully aligned to the actual arrival time of the aircraft, as opposed to when it’s scheduled, it creates a more effective and safer use of the gate. We see an increasing number of airports shifting their strategies to innovation and using the power of IoT to seamlessly integrate their systems to monitor and address any potential issue.

3. Revenue generation

The air transport industries lost close to $125 billion in 2020 according to ACI , and the airlines were hit by an astronomical 370 billion loss in revenue as stated by ICAO. Tens of thousands of jobs evaporated in redundancy and restructuring that followed while keeping the fleets at ground generated additional costs and difficulties for air transporters. The aviation industry must build their business back and drive financial growth, restore financial management and commercial agreements for concessions, and leverage partnerships which can boost their revenue. Reducing OPEX and getting government support are essential but that does not mean the investment has to stop. Programs such as the Airport Rescue Grants in the United States and similar relief funds in other countries can help airports invest wisely to quickly adapt to new requirements as well as for their long-term development.

How technology helps: Airports can leverage their existing technologies by optimizing what they have and enhancing it with features such as touchless passenger self-service and data analytics-driven asset and resource utilization. There’s also an opportunity for operators to build an airport that is future-ready – this means a facility that can address the needs of the current situation and create a connected, integrated infrastructure. An airport that builds on an open Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure and process improvements will be well situated for both near-term recovery and long-term success. One way to bring new agility and cost efficiency to airport operations is by deploying tools that provide visualization into how airport assets are used and performing, which can provide better agility, integration, and cost efficiency. An increasing number of airport-specific applications and platforms are available ‘as a service’ today, offering nimble implementations with automated updates, predictable pricing, greater flexibility, and rapid scalability when required. End-to-end integration, that links airport IT and OT systems across both landside and airside, can also provide a strategic advantage in pursuing a sustainable recovery.

4. Sustainable recovery

Most airports are defining the future organizations and business model for post-pandemic operations and part of that, energy efficiency and sustainability play a key role. A significant challenge for many airports is implementing technology to meet these new needs while keeping costs down due to the current low traffic flows and thinner revenue streams. Operators will also benefit from cost efficiencies and sustainability advantages through operational optimization.

How technology can help: Technology can help streamline the use of existing airport assets such as gates and runways, improving the real-time readiness of the terminal for flows of passengers, baggage and aircrafts, and by using intelligent energy management throughout the airport. Integrated airport technology solutions can leverage airport operational database information, which can improve aircraft ground movement management and turnaround for on-time departures, decrease CO2 footprint, and improve terminal preparedness. Integration can aid efficiency in optimizing airside runway systems, offering the ability to control, and send aircraft on the most efficient route, for easy and safe docking. The best route could be the shortest one, or perhaps the one with the lowest carbon footprint, or the most appropriate one at a specific time.

The airport of the future is on the horizon

The airport of the future is a connected, integrated infrastructure that links passenger flows, air quality, energy levels, security and operational systems and processes across landside and airside operations. It’s where passengers enjoy a safer, welcoming, frictionless, and memorable travel experience. All passenger touchpoints – from the moment of arrival at the airport to boarding the plane and departing on time – are fully aligned and talking to each other. This level of communication enables a hassle-free experience for travellers – despite numerous stakeholders involved, from authorities to terminal operators, outsourced services, and airside operations.

The airport of the future requires a strategic, integrated approach to the technology systems and processes it implements. It also requires working with the right technology partner that focuses on an outcome-based engagement, where the operator’s objectives are prioritized, and ROI is calculated with cutting-edge technologies running on a future-proof platform. It involves direct collaboration with the airport throughout each construction phase, into the commissioning and operational lifecycle of the facility.

Tijen Cirig

Tijen Cirig

Airports Vertical Director, Honeywell Building Technologies
Tijen Cirig is the global director for Airports at Honeywell Building Technologies. As a transformational leader, Tijen has a well-established career in technology solutions for airports including her previous role as the Vice President for global business development with SITA. Her experience ranges from passenger biometrics solutions, and baggage processing to airport operations management, business analytics and systems integration.
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