IT at Airports: Today and Tomorrow

Deepak Halan is an associate professor at School of Management Sciences, Apeejay Stya University

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“The new Terminal 2 isn’t just one building but a complex machine comprised of 118,000 individual assets that need to work in harmony to deliver a good experience”—John Holland-Kaye, CEO, Heathrow Airport

Amsterdam’s Schiphol and London Heathrow airports have installed self-service bio-metric passport gates that use facial recognition technology. Japan’s All Nippon Airways, on the other hand, makes smart tablets available to travellers so that they can check in quickly, navigate the airport, and receive real-time messages about their flights. Information technology is quickly transforming aviation and touching every aspect of air travel from the point of departure to arrival at destination. The airports of tomorrow are going to be a very new and exciting experience and are expected to become one of the more pleasing parts of the journey, rather than one of the most boring.

The travel experience will begin the moment you make your reservation. For example, on arrival at the airport, you can choose how to check in: auto check-in when entering the terminal, use a self-service electronic kiosk or stand at a conventional desk-based check-in. To check-in bags, self-tagging stations will allow you to efficiently manage your luggage. If you have no bags, you go straight for security check where identity sensors will confirm your identity.

Self-service biometric passport gate being used by a passenger at Heathrow Airport (Image courtesy: www.futuretravelexperience.com)
Self-service biometric passport gate being used by a passenger at Heathrow Airport (Image courtesy: www.futuretravelexperience.com)

Your boarding pass, identification and biometrics will allow you total control of passage through the airport, all the way to aircraft boarding. The key to this automated travel vision is biometrics, in the form of iris scan, fingerprint, facial recognition, etc. Digital technology will eliminate holdups in check-in, bag drop, security and boarding by doing away with the most time-consuming element—human interaction. Biometrics in every phase of the process will help airports to remain vigilant with passengers. For example, on inbound international flights, the passenger verification process will complete even before the aircraft lands.

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Soon your face will be your passport. Australia has developed the technology to introduce fingerprints, iris or facial recognition at major air and seaports to replace passports for passenger identification by 2020. This will help to improve security by making it easier to detect threats. The system will also avoid paperwork or manual processing for majority of the passengers and make it easier and quicker for people going in and out of airports.

Integration and wireless innovations

Fully integrated, end-to-end solutions using information and wireless technology will eliminate the use of large amounts of cables, leading to lower costs, greater efficiency, greater mobility and geo-location, and a greatly enhanced passenger experience. For example, using wireless beacon technology and a simple smart phone app, individual or group messages can be sent to inform only the targeted passengers of relevant gate changes, or ground handlers can be apprised of a weather forecast change. These systems will identify the closest ground handler to secure vehicles nearby.

A system of perimeter cameras controlled wirelessly will create geo-fencing to keep specific assets in particular areas, warn ramp drivers about their speed, or immediately direct fuel trucks or other services to the relevant aircraft. It will be possible to integrate information technology in a modular manner, choosing a la carte from an extensive menu based on need and budget. Innovations in secure and reliable cloud technology will help substitute local infrastructure with shared service, making the technology more efficient and cost-effective, even for the smallest airports.

Enhanced passenger experience

Imagine boarding a flight after scanning your boarding pass, tagging and checking your bags and locating the nearest spot for an airport manicure by tapping a screen. Passengers will be able to weigh their own luggage without the assistance of an agent, and drop the bags off at luggage acceptance points. Do-it-yourself boarding will allow passengers to speed up the process of getting to their seats. Self-service kiosks will be available for passengers to resolve issues such as booking new flights if previous flight was cancelled.

Flight attendants are carrying more advanced devices with passage of time (Image courtesy: www.technologyrecord.com)
Flight attendants are carrying more advanced devices with passage of time (Image courtesy: www.technologyrecord.com)

Flight attendants will have a new, advanced type of mobile device that provides every bit of information right from the name and age of passengers who might need a little extra attention to notes about fliers’ all previous flying experiences. They will carry phablets for communication with passengers, who will be able to text their requirement from their seat. The devices hand-held by the crew could be fed with highly specific information, such as a flier’s request not to wake him up for a meal. The devices could even be used to quicken maintenance—for example, by taking a picture of a damaged tray table and transmitting it to the mechanic at the other end to seek help in fixing right away.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Keeping all this data on customers so they could move around the airport freely to get to their gate, and board their plane is very dangerous. Put as much effort into securing the data from internet hackers. Nobody will feel safe when they consider all the big corporations that were hacked. Everybody from HBO, to Equifax, nothing is safe if it involves the internet. Consider a closed internet system that ties all airports together with hardware encrypted communication between them and the data center. It would take a long time to get it up and running, but in the end it would secure our airports from internet hackers up to a whole new level. Any communication to the outside would have to go through a system that would involve a gateway that would use optical character recognition to take a picture and turn it back into words, this way nothing could pass through the system that was not intended.

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