Smart airports sounds like a concept plucked from a sci-fi movie, but they are no longer a thing of the future.
Progression towards airports that fully embrace technology and data opportunities has been painfully slow. But the debate over adopting new IT solutions has shifted. Airport management seem more willing to accept the economic advantages for operations and infrastructure development.
More people are flying, so airports need more efficient methods to process flyers. Airports also want to be more profitable. They want to find ways to encourage passengers to spend time, and money, in their retail outlets and restaurants.
Surveys have revealed that in the next three years, 89% of airports worldwide are expected to trial business intelligence. 85% of airports will introduce biometric ID management tests and 59% of airports will run trials for digital tags by 2022.
Since 2016, the world’s airports have spent 68% more on information technology. That’s an investment of $11.8 billion, according to the airline-owned tech provider SITA (Societe Internationale de Telecommunications Aeronautiques).
Beijing is taking the lead
The Chinese capital recently unveiled Daxing, a staggering new airport that incorporates robots and facial recognition scanners. Robots are not a gimmick here, they perform significant tasks, such as patrols of protected areas and car parking solutions.
Other airports are trialling facial recognition for passenger verification, but at Daxing it’s the default process. Self-service kiosks match the passenger with the database to confirm identity. And they have taken facial recognition further to deliver a more personalised experience. For example, China Eastern Airlines lounge staff wear camera headsets (like Google Glass) that can identify loyalty program members. Quickly viewing relevant information enables the airline staff to better look after individual passenger needs.
What also makes Daxing a world-leader in smart airports is its use of cloud-based technologies to simplify and improve services. It’s still early days and of course the implementation hasn’t been without hick-ups, but it will be fascinating to watch this space!
Airlines are pushing for change
Airlines can see how smart airports will benefit carriers. According to Skift, Emirates has already calculated that it could remove as many as 2500 employees per shift, just by removing the traditional check-in lobby. The airline could then re-deploy resources in higher-value services elsewhere.
Security will take on a new look
Daxing isn’t the only airport turning to new technologies to face the challenges of travel in the 21st century.
London’s Heathrow airport has announced it will spend $63 million on installing new computed tomography (CT) by 2022. And here’s where it starts to appeal to travellers – the next-generation CT security equipment will mean you can keep your liquids and laptops inside your cabin baggage! There are environmental advantages too. Not having to bag everything or buy bottled water in the terminal will cut down on single use plastics.
You can see how the advancements of smart airports could make a big difference to the way we travel…
Imagine you’ve checked in at the office and printed off your baggage label (or by 2022 you won’t even need to print anything!). When you arrive at the departure hall, you drop your bag on the machine and go to the departure lounge and board your flight. No need for passports, they know you. You don’t even notice the security checks. No need for boarding passes, the airline recognises you.
Security services will be able to identify threats by using facial recognition alongside artificial intelligence and subatomic particle analysis. It’s not beyond possibility that from historic data they will know what individuals normally pack. Then if you’re carrying something unusual, it will raise alerts.
There will no doubt be privacy concerns to overcome, but will more seamless travel experiences be enough to encourage travellers to embrace smart airports?