In the last decade, air traffic has increased significantly creating challenges for security, as well as the flow of people, baggage and aircraft. Airports are heavily investing in smart technologies such as IoT, to overcome these challenges and improve their efficiency, and security. Several technologies such as facial recognition, smart check-in, and baggage tracking and connectivity permeate every modern airport.
New trends have emerged in the last years that aim to improve the passenger experience, reducing the queues and the typical hassle of the passport check. In this article, we’ll cover eight of the latest trends in airport technology that we can see taking off in 2019.
How Smart Airports Are Being Developed
Designing smart airports is based on the creation of a “technologies blanket” in which several channels, including WiFi and 4G to allow for unified cloud-based communications, video, IoT and big data platforms. This key principle plays an important role in airport real-time management of the increasing number of flights coming and going from most airports.
Airports are using technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analysis for a wide range of applications, from customer service to operational efficiency. One example of smart airport design is Dubai International Airport, one of the growing hubs or air traffic.
The airport deployed a prefabricated modular data center solution to handle the strain the increasing demand was putting on its systems. Since the data center provides 99.98% availability, the airport uses the data center as a platform for innovations such as Smart Gate services, electronic boarding passes, and bag tags.
Airport Technology Trends
In the last couple of years, airports around the world engaged in trials of different technologies, with the aim of transforming into “smart airports”. Here are some of the key technology trends for 2019:
Several international airports, such as Heathrow, Changi, and Hong Kong, have launched biometric-related projects, speeding the check-in and boarding process. Passengers can use facial recognition technology at check-in, bag drop, and boarding gate. It saves time and is much safer in terms of security as basically, your face becomes your boarding pass.
Airlines such as Delta and American Airlines also have jumped into the initiative, unveiling biometric terminals at Atlanta and Los Angeles Airports with the aim for end-to-end biometric terminal experience by this year.
2. More self-service and automation
According to IATA’S Global Passenger Survey, travelers top priority is less hassle at the terminal, with 58% of passengers using automated immigration gates in 2017. Smart Gate systems at airports such as Heathrow and Dubai are an example of using smart technology to meet the passenger’s demands. The smart gates aim to reduce the airport queues, allowing passport holders to be processed in around 15 seconds. In Dubai, for example, the smart gates only require the passenger to have an Emirates ID, without the need for previous registration.
3. Artificial Intelligence and predictive software
Artificial intelligence (AI) uses the big data collected via the airport technology blanket and analyzes with predictive software to anticipate air traffic bottlenecks or traffic slowdowns. This predictive software technology can also be used to predict not traditional busy buying seasons when the airport needs to allocate more cargo warehouse space.
For example, software solutions of Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) logistics leverage real-time artificial intelligence to optimize delivery and fulfillment. These solutions can integrate with the airport warehousing to improve shipment management. Other uses for AI include the launch of chatbots and virtual assistants for part of airlines and airports.
Last year we saw a series of initiatives exploring blockchain potential including Lufthansa Innovation Hub’s Aviation Blockchain Challenge. In another initiative, Singapore Airlines launched KrisPay, a blockchain-based digital wallet for its loyalty program. The platform allows members of the KrisFlyer program, to convert miles to pay for their purchases at partner merchants. Although the technology it’s in its early stages, in 2019 we can expect more blockchain trials from airlines and airports.
5. Improved cybersecurity
All these interconnected systems imply a rise in potential security threats. A single attack can impact several layers of infrastructure, with critical consequences on global travel. Therefore, the industry is investing heavily in strengthening cybersecurity. One such initiative is the opening of the Munich Airport’s Information Security Hub.
It is critical for the industry to have a shared approach to maintain security at a global level so we can expect this year to see more airports strengthen their information security system.
6. Onboard connectivity
Nowadays, more than 80 airlines around the world offer inflight WiFi, something inconceivable a few years ago. Passengers can now reap the benefits of continuous connectivity. Besides the obvious convenience for the passengers, airlines can use the inflight WiFi to develop ancillary offerings.
One such example is Finnair, promoting food and beverage, travel retail and upgrade sales, through their complimentary WiFi portal. The onboard connectivity offers new opportunities such as a partnership with streaming services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime.
7. Robotic Assistants
Munich Airport has a new staff member. Meet Josie Pepper, a humanoid robot that helps with passenger’s customer service. The robot is a new initiative to provide customer information on the go. Other airports such as Incheon, South Korea are also their own robotic customer service, the Airstar Robot.
These friendly robots roam around the airport, providing passengers with guidance in an easier format via their touchscreen display. They can direct people to their gate, even leading them directly if necessary. Artificial intelligence, and in particular machine learning, allows these robots to learn and expand their knowledge base, so they can update the relevant information they give to passengers. We can expect more airports to adopt this trend in 2019 to improve their passengers’ customer experience.
8. Smart Ground Transportation
One of the biggest struggles that passengers face once they land in a new country is how to complete their journey to their final destination. Once on the ground, transport can include taxis, public transportation, or ride hailing apps native to the local region. With smart transportation solutions like HERE Mobility, airports can provide travelers with all the ground transportation services on-demand or pre-booked. This could be done by putting a self-service kiosk for smart transportation in the terminal or online through a web widget on the airport website, so travelers can complete their last-mile on their own seamlessly.
The Bottom Line
Smart airports use an array of technologies to improve their efficiency and connectivity. From sensors for monitoring temperature and lighting to smart baggage tags for tracking and directing luggage to the aircraft, biometric check-in with facial recognition and cargo warehousing management, technology permeates all airport sectors to optimize processes and traffic flow.
The benefits derivated from such technology initiatives, in passenger satisfaction, costs and time optimization and security will only drive the usage of technology in more complex and integral ways across modern airports in the future.