Future of Airports and Growth Opportunities – Digitization of Airports

Stakeholders along the value chain have been impacted by the two years of a sharp decline in passenger traffic combined with the now-changed and evolved passenger journey. All parties involved, including airports, have had to reconsider and alter their long-term plans and approaches for adapting to ecosystem changes. Cost has emerged as a key consideration, and with passenger traffic recovering more quickly than anticipated in part because to the enormous unmet demand for leisure travel, many airports are now accelerating their plans and becoming more flexible in terms of operations.

With AI- powered self-driving bots are becoming a common sight at large airports such as Changi, Narita, and others. These bots are efficient and can be deployed at large floor areas to clean, sanitize, and disinfect the floor area. These are deployed to aid airport operators achieve the required standards of cleanliness while using limited workforce.

  • For an increased focus on enhancing passenger experience various initiatives be it retail, F&B, or check-ins are providing virtual tours, simulations, and an immersive experience at airports. For instance, Dubai airport is using AR/VR to support passengers with indoor navigation of the terminal.
  • While fingerprint scanning is widely used at various airports, using Iris scanning technology and facial recognition is a step ahead in enhancing passenger processing. Abu Dhabi Airport, Singapore Changi Airport, and Dubai Airport amongst others have begun deploying iris and facial recognition for immigration and border control and other passenger processes.
  • Passenger’s movements right from even before arriving at the airport to boarding the aircraft and vice versa, are being monitored, tracked, and analysed by airport operators to understand and study patterns to support:
    • Increasing passengers throughout with existing infrastructure
    • Reducing wait time
    • Identifying bottlenecks and reducing inefficiencies
  • Airports are deploying AI-based video surveillance that actively tracks passengers in real time and provides operators critical input that can be adapted for airport operations, real-time decision making, and also making predictions such as opening more security counters if wait times increase by a certain amount or if a specific check-in counter is crowded.
  • A ground handling company in Singapore Changi Airport is utilizing AR for few activities of ground operations. The AR glasses can be used to look up information related to loading, handling, and processing on the ramp. This saves time and reduces the number of staff needed to carry out tasks and freeing up staff to be allocated elsewhere. Dubai Airport is using AI coupled with Big Data to support optimum allocation of resources in the airport.

Can Digitization Bolster Collaboration of Airport Stakeholders?

There is an increase in demand among airport stakeholders to improve situational awareness at airports by utilizing information sharing across the airport ecosystem.

Due to a lack of transparency, stakeholders had previously been reluctant to share data and work together, but digitization has made this possible and allows for a high level of visibility into the operations of all important stakeholders. It also allows for the real-time measurement of each stakeholder’s performance and impact.

Due to the mutual benefit, stakeholders are willing to connect to a single platform.

Leveraging AI and Big Data for Airport Operations

Airports continuously create, gather, and analyze large amounts of data to enable in-the-moment decision-making and anticipate operational problems and bottlenecks. The millions of data points are being individually evaluated and mapped using AI and Big Data, providing airport operators with situational awareness and warning them of probable events that may have a negative impact and viable remedies for the same. Additionally, the usage of AI and big data is applicable before passengers arrive at the airport and after they leave as well as for airside and landside activities.

Use of IoT to Track Passenger Movement

At airports’ airside, landside, and terminals, thousands of sensors are being deployed to detect and monitor passenger movements, whether they are at the parking lot, the boarding gate, or the Duty-Free shops. These sensors collect and transmit data in real-time to a central location, enabling decentralized decision-making for procedures around the airport.

Reducing Turnaround Times by Increasing Automation

In order to recruit additional airlines, particularly LCCs (LowCost Carriers), turnaround time is a critical element, hence airports and airlines are continuously looking for ways to shorten turnaround times. To reduce wait times for processes including passenger check-in, boarding, security, and ground services, airports have been using numerous digital technologies.

Enhancing Passenger Experience

The dynamics of passengers have changed in recent years due to a shift from business travel to more leisure travel, and now that passengers prefer point-to-point direct routes, both larger and smaller airports must improve their passenger experiences. This is particularly true given that passengers frequently have the option to choose between city airports and larger airports. For smooth passenger processing, chatbots, holograms, and airport apps are being used.

Innovative Digital Solutions to Increase Non-aero Revenue

Airports are becoming even more dependent on non-aeronautical revenue as some aero revenues stagnate or even fall. Airports are aiming to use cutting-edge ways to boost revenue and uncover new revenue sources to make up for losses during the pandemic years in order to support this. Airports are able to grow their non-aero revenue streams by utilizing digitization technologies like in-airport e-commerce, food ordering services at gates, and immersive VR experiences.


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