EyeforTravel San Francisco 2018

April 2018, San Francisco

Why airports should turn to tech in 2018

As airports became increasingly overcrowded last year, IATA said that investing in technology rather than infrastructure could provide an answer

Airport saturation is now a universal complaint, as air traveller numbers soar. From Heathrow to Mumbai, Dublin, Istanbul and Dubai, aviation is bursting at the seams as the summer of 2017 showed very clearly. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has been warning of problems caused by the lack of expansion in airport infrastructure to cope with increased demand. Only 43% of global traffic departs from slot-coordinated airports!

Confirmation from a major airline comes from Turkish Airlines CEO Temel Kotel, who was quoted by Aviation Daily as saying that terrorism was “only the second largest challenge to airlines”. The biggest challenge was “the lack of airport infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific region and Africa”.

He added: “Demand in Asia-Pacific and Africa is increasing, but airport infrastructure cannot accommodate this demand. There is a slot problem in these regions. We need to stimulate investment in adequate airport infrastructure.”

However, in spite of the vast costs and formidable planning obstacles, new airports are being built. Turkey is due to open ‘the world’s largest airport’ in 2018 on the European side of Istanbul. Also in 2018, Italy is getting a new airport at New Brescia Verona, and Germany one at Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt Airport. Beijing is building a massive new airport, it, too, claiming to be the world’s largest. (As it adds tens of airports a year the country, says China Business, is suffering from that rare phenomenon – overcapacity.) India is another planning to open new airports in 2018, so are a number of South American countries.

Immediate solutions

Technology rather than new infrastructure could bring immediate solutions, is the plea from IATA. “Increasing demand will bring a significant infrastructure challenge. The solution does not lie in more complex processes or building bigger and bigger airports but in harnessing the power of new technology to move activity off-airport, streamline processes and improve efficiency,” it says.

Technology is already easing congestion, especially at security and in baggage handling and passenger flows

In fact, technology is already easing congestion, especially at security and in baggage handling and passenger flows, according to a report by leading IT consultants, US-based Frost & Sullivan: “Technology evolution has led to the development of niche solutions that enhance accuracy, reduce false alarms, and increase efficiency. Solutions adopted by airports include sensors operated using low energy Bluetooth, existing wifi infrastructure, or video analytics to identify and track passengers.

“Mobile applications (APIs) have been developed that engage with passengers by providing relevant information on their mobile devices allowing them to execute control over their journey. Location-based services and indoor wayfinding allow passengers to track their location relative to their intended destination within the terminal and receive guidance, offers, and service information.”

In another airport development of 2017, air transport IT firm SITA worked with British Airways and three airports – Heathrow, Geneva, Miami International - to explore opportunities for how a private blockchain (there is a difference between private and public permissionless blockchains) could be used by airports for using smart contracts for shared control of data. The result was this FlightChain white paper.

Yet to be announced, however, is any real progress in the US – the health of the country’s airports as described in the 2017 American Society of Civil Engineering report is put at “grade of D in terms of their condition”. According to the report, airport congestion there will continue to get worse “by the day”.

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