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IT Last modified on December 9, 2009

Turning to technology

Nimrod Halfon explains how innovative IT solutions can help airports beat the ‘capacity crunch’.

Many airports cannot afford to expand their airport buildings either because of environmental restrictions or budget limitations, so an ever-increasing number of them are turning to technology to ensure that they are equipped to meet future demand.

In essence, they are finding that innovative IT solutions can help them increase the passenger handling capacity of their existing infrastructure and lessen the need for costly new terminals and concourses.

And in many cases, the same solutions that enable more efficient use of existing airport space can result in improved customer service and reduce long-term costs as well.

Today’s airport IT solutions are concentrating on four key objectives – the need to reduce queue lengths; reducing the amount of passenger processing activities required in terminal buildings; sharing resources (check-in desks, gates, carousels; and automated solutions as a substitute for manpower.

Reducing queues
Decreasing the length of queues allows airports to accommodate more passengers in the same existing space, hence facilitating improved usage of the terminal building and better customer service as well.

Self-service kiosks are the first technology that comes to mind to improve service and shorten queues. This technology is quite mature and can be found in most airports. It comes in two versions, airline dedicated kiosks and common use self service (CUSS) kiosks.

More advanced queue busting IT systems found at some international airports include biometric technology in the immigration hall. This solution validates incoming international passengers, allowing them to avoid the immigration line all together.

An additional innovative solution is the use of self-service kiosks that allow certain passenger to complete immigration forms on line, enabling a faster immigration process.

Removing passenger processing activity
Performing some of the passenger processing (mainly check-in) outside of the airport frees up space in the terminal, improves customer service and may decrease costs for airlines and airports.

Web check-in is the most significant solution that shifts a complete segment of passenger processing from the airport to the home or office.

A unique solution is hotel flight check-in. This solution is traditionally deployed in tourist-oriented destinations such as Las Vegas and Orlando, but gradually generates interest with other airports. Hotel flight check-in can remove a substantial workload from terminal space, because unlike web check-in this process provides a solution to the baggage check-in as well.

Some airports have deployed CUSS kiosks in local train stations leading to the airport and other strategic locations, which allow passengers to obtain their boarding pass on the way to the airport.

Still in research stages is web check-in that will allow passengers to produce their own baggage tag at home. There are several options – some of them designed around RFID and the solutions will be significant contributors to opening up airport space and improving customer service.

Sharing resources
Providing the technology to share airport assets by many airlines is an obvious and proven solution to minimise additional terminal expansion and capital investment.

Introducing exciting and new common use solutions to enable sharing airport resources by many airlines allows the airport to accommodate more flights and more passengers using the existing check-in counters, gates and baggage carousels.

The use of a common baggage drop is still is in the early days of deployment and pilot stages by several airlines and airports. This solution facilitates an improved use of airport space and improved customer service.

Although the existing common use solutions are quite mature, we still see resistance from some airlines to use a true common use solution. In particular we see more use of dedicated self-service kiosks rather than CUSS kiosks which provide a more efficient use of airport space.

Automated solutions as a substitute for manpower
In many cases automated appliances such as kiosks will use a smaller footprint than an employee work area. This may result in more efficient use of space as well as a reduction in long-term costs.

In addition to self-service kiosks, which were mentioned above, some other innovative solution technologies are self bag check-in which allows passengers to produce their own baggage tag and the biometric solution in the immigration hall. These solutions are some of the examples that can be used to reduce the footprint of passenger processing equipment.

Summary
We see that nearly all technologies that facilitate more efficient use of the existing space in the terminal involve the remote completion of passenger processing activities or reducing the amount of time that the passengers spend in the check in area or arrival halls. Less time in the airport translates to the ability to accommodate more passengers using the same existing space.

Most of these IT solutions are available today, however the main challenge is to obtain the co-operation of airports, airlines and security and immigration authorities to implement the solutions.

Furthermore these IT solutions may transform the architecture of airport terminals, so we should see more and more new airport terminals designed to accommodate self-service check-in and further innovative solutions designed to provide more efficient use of the given square feet (or metres).

The fact that most of these IT solutions improve customer service levels and reduce an airport’s long-term costs ensures that they have a bright future.

Airport World 2009 - Issue 6

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