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IT Last modified on April 10, 2016

Turning to technology

Airports that embrace digital technology will be best placed to cope with traffic growth and rising passenger expectations, writes Fujitsu’s client managing director for the transport sector, Russell Goodenough.

A quick glance at the top 10 list of the world’s busiest airports in 2015 shows that demand for air travel is at an all-time high, with Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport continuing to lead the way by becoming the first gateway to handle over 100 million passengers in a calendar year.

Coping with growth is, of course, a good problem to face and with new infrastructure sometimes not possible or maybe years away in terms of its development, airports are increasingly turning to technology to help them cope with rising demand while still providing the best services possible.

Indeed, we are living in a world where everything is now connected and, as a result, is changing the way we live, travel and do business. 

The growing number of devices also makes it even easier to connect and collaborate with each other. According to a survey by international internet-based market research firm, YouGov, the average household now owns 7.4 internet-enabled devices. 

Technology has never been more sophisticated and airports have a fantastic opportunity to take advantage of this huge array of devices and become truly intelligent. 


Intelligence is the future

With intelligent mobility – the move from a series of separate journeys to an integrated, intelligent system, driven by a more user-centred travel experience – airports can harness the digital age to enhance the industry. 

By taking advantage of Wi-Fi analytics and beacon technology in mobile devices, for example, airports can find out where a passenger is located within a terminal and this can be used to monitor and improve their airport experience.

Identifying crowded areas, for instance, can allow airports to increase staff levels to meet demand or even change passenger flows to avoid bottlenecks.

This information can also be fed into digital screens that show advertising that is relevant to the passenger based on recent movements – helping to guide them around the airport and spend money. 

Once an airport has built up a profile of passengers, it can then upsell advertising to retailers with stores inside the airport to ensure the relevant content is going to the right people, creating a win-win for both airports and retailers. 

There are, of course, already many great examples of where digital services are playing a big part in an airport experience. EasyJet, for example, launched Mobile Host with Gatwick Airport, which combines live data from the airport, Google indoor maps and passenger booking details to provide up to date personalised instructions for passengers on their mobile phones.


Benefits of intelligent airports

Without doubt digital technology is revolutionising the transportation experience, but in my opinion, there is huge scope for improvement in both usage and satisfaction as intelligent mobility can help transform the airport industry in five key areas:

  • Passenger centricity – the use of technology to help improve the passenger experience.


  • Increasing capacity – an issue that many are talking about it, but taking advantage of digital services can help us understand and deal with the growing number of passengers year-on-year.


  • Increasing efficiency – the use of technology can help reduce costs across the airport, for example, developing the optimum staff rota depending on busy times at the airport.

  • Increasing safety/security – technology can allow airports to analyse the perimeter and improve border security.

  • Improving sustainability – this is more than just C02 emissions, but also refers to the sustainability of jobs. As the transport network continues to change, digital can help progress services in a more effective way.


What’s next?

In the medium to long-term, we can expect the physical airport environment to shift more towards an airside-dominated, retail centric landscape, as technology will remove the need for a large portion of the currentlandside infrastructure. 

It also won’t be many more years before air travel for most of us will involve our baggage being routinely collected from our homes by courier and dropped off at our end destination hotels meaning that the check-in halls and baggage arrivals areas of tomorrow will look very different to today.

Such changes will open new opportunities for airports to reclaim real estate that is presently designated for operational systems and repurpose it into revenue-generating retail space where the passenger experience is improved by technology such as location-based services.

As we all know technology can truly make a difference, although it is important to remember that whether it is noise sensors, minimising noise for residents or implementing technology to increase revenue streams, enhancing the customer experience must be a top priority.

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