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BLOG: Using technology to enhance the airport experience


Technology such as artificial intelligence can help airports increase efficiency and improve the passenger experience without compromising on security, writes Chris Bishop.

When it comes to commercial aviation, it would not be an exaggeration to describe the first few months as “difficult” for the industry.

Flights have been cancelled with little or no notice across the US and Europe, with airlines and airports each blaming the other for the debacle.  Moreover, those passengers lucky enough to have flights are being asked to turn up even earlier than advertised to make their journeys and, then confusingly, contacted again and told to not turn up too early.

And of course, there are the near countless photos chronicling huge piles of lost and separated luggage across traditional and social media, which have become a symbol of the chaotic situation many airports, airlines and travellers currently find themselves in.

Much of the problem is being blamed on staffing and resourcing issues, as recently acknowledged by Lufthansa in a letter sent to its customers, with too many experienced staff retrenched during the COVID pandemic and a delay in re-hiring qualified staff by airlines, airports, and other aviation infrastructure organisations.

And, in the case of the UK, the Brexit situation has not helped either. However, airlines and airports have acknowledged that things need to change, with fresh demands being placed on global travel as part of the post-COVID recovery, and digitisation is leading that change.

Assessing industry appetite

Aviation is recognsied as a pioneering sector that has often been at the forefront of digital transformation. It is acknowledged that a major uptake in aviation digitalisation has significant advantages for both the industry and its customers, with optimised effectiveness, lower operational costs, improved safety, and enhanced passenger experience amongst the benefits.

This was borne out by a recent survey that found both airports and airlines have earmarked digitalisation and sustainability as key investment priorities by 2024, with the majority of airlines (84%) and airports (81%) expecting to spend more in 2022 compared to 2021.

The report found that spending on equipment and solutions to support the automation of passenger processing will see a significant rise, with the goal of creating a more streamlined and digitally enabled journey to boost passenger confidence and enhance passenger satisfaction.

But what does that digitisation look like in practice? How can airports increase efficiency and improve the passenger experience, without compromising on safety and security – becoming, in effect, ‘smart airports’?

One way is through the adoption of Artificial Intelligence solutions – systems that can automatically raise alerts and enhance the decision-making process across a wide range of operational areas within aviation.

The role of AI

We already know that implementing AI into business processes can reap huge benefits, such as automating workflows, increasing sales, providing predictive analysis, improving customer experiences, and detecting fraud.

These benefits become even more pronounced when considering the composition of a modern international airport. With multiple stakeholders involved in its ecosystem (retailers, baggage control, check-in, etc), it is vital to intelligently monitor the data relating to what is happening at any one time, in any given area, allowing airlines and other stakeholders to enhance the customer experience and improve operational efficiency.

AI-based solutions can play a key role in detecting patterns of behaviour. Every component of an airport journey from ticket purchase, seat selection, boarding, or ground transportation, generates meaningful data.

Interpreting this data in real-time and combining it with other IoT sensors and CCTV video footage from across an airport allows airport operators and airlines to dynamically respond to changing circumstances.

An example of this is the use of artificial intelligence video analytics (AIVA) connected to existing CCTV cameras.

Using  geospatial algorithms to determine an individual’s location in the camera field of view in real-time, AIVA can determine how many people transit through the camera FOV, which in turn can be displayed within the operational control room in the form of heat-maps, showing the passenger density at a given time. All achieved without knowing who the person is, their gender or ethnicity.

In addition, by combining this proven technology with machine learning algorithms, an airport can monitor multiple ground servicing activities, identify safety concerns in real-time, or notify the operational staff when delays occur.

This technology is also appropriate for airport MRO facilities, where the turn-around time for the maintenance of an aircraft is managed down to the minute. Having the ability to dynamically manage staffing at security checkpoints and being able to predict peak footfall periods so that retailers can plan accordingly are among the additional benefits.

Managing security

However, despite all the benefits that AI-based video solutions can offer, airports are aware that the success of such systems is based on capturing and maintaining public trust, adhering to government regulations, and addressing privacy concerns, particularly with technologies such as facial recognition and tracking technologies.

Face recognition technology is seen as particularly controversial, both in the UK and US regarding its usage.  However, while such concerns should absolutely be listened to, respected, and factored into strategic plans, it is also true that current AI led technologies and solutions are able to provide meaningful insights without compromising or impinging on an individuals’ privacy, which in turn enhances the safety and security for passengers and staff.

Airport operators and airlines know that by becoming smarter they will be able to manage the new post-COVID environment and operate in a way that delivers optimum outcomes for all their stakeholders.

The challenge is large but, with the right technology, used in the right way, is not impossible. Computer Vision AI-based technology will form a central part of the solutions along with IoT and 5G. But simply incorporating these technologies will not be enough. For complete success, it must be done in a way that acknowledges and addresses the concerns of those that will benefit the most from it, including the travelling public and airport and airline staff.


About the author
Chris Bishop is the sales director APAC and marketing director at Ipsotek, an Atos company.

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