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AW6 2020 Information Technology NEWS

Track and trace


Location intelligence can redefine passenger journeys in today’s COVID-19 world, writes Esri’s global transportation industry director, Terry Bills.

Air travel in the best of times has always had its unique challenges, stresses and unknowns for both the occasional as well as the business traveller.

Between guessing the travel time to the airport, finding parking and clearing long security lines, there was seldom time for that relaxed cup of coffee before boarding your flight.

And then COVID hit, and air traffic in essence collapsed worldwide. US air travel at the bottom declined by 95%, while passenger traffic in Europe declined by 90% to 97% depending on the country.

Thankfully, things have improved since the dark days of March and April, but while passenger numbers are slowly returning, it is clear that a full recovery will be long and painful for most airports around the world.

Against that backdrop, there are a number of actions that airports can take that will not only reassure passengers of the safety of returning to the airport, but also ensure a safer and more efficient passenger journey once at the airport.

Indeed, by leveraging the power of location intelligence, airports can make air travel safer, and more secure in the context of the COVID pandemic.

We divide these actions into three different areas: two of which are focused on changes to the passenger journey, and one which is focused on changes to the airport’s daily operations.

It is likely that some of these changes will become permanent, as air travel is forever changed by the impact of COVID.


Passengers’ concerns and expectations have changed considerably during COVID: health and safety are top of mind, and airports need to find new ways of communicating and engaging with their customers.

In this regards, ACI-North America recommends focusing on the essentials of ‘Health, Safety, Kindness, and Connection’.

The airport experience will be different, and passengers will need to know what to expect when they arrive and be reassured that their health and safety are the airport’s top priority.

And here airports will need to find more effective ways of communicating that message to their passengers. One way that could be particularly powerful is through the use of an ArcGIS Story Map.

A Story Map is designed to create a digital narrative that walks the reader through a scripted story – to communicate what the airport is doing with respect to cleanliness, and what has changed in terms of their journey through the airport.

Simple pictures, visuals and maps of the airport can let the passenger know ahead of time what is different, and what they should expect.

Secondly, passengers would like more information to plan their journey to the airport, and to make sure they arrive will all the relevant information they need to successfully navigate to their gate.

In this regard, the opportunity is ripe for airports to design the next generation of airport mobile application.

Personalised information such as current travel time to the airport from their home, updated parking information (and reservations), linking of passenger boarding passes to the airport app to facilitate greater contactless processing, information on security clearance times, all updated in real-time, so the passenger has the best information to plan their trip to the airport.

In addition, the airport is able to recognise when the passenger has arrived at the airport, to help more effectively guide them through the airport process.

Offering incentives such as the ability to pre-order food and drinks and discounts on airport shopping could act as an incentive to passengers to download the airport app, which in turn, will help further the goal of a contactless experience.

Taken together, these actions are designed to create a more intimate form of engagement with the passenger, and greater confidence and brand loyalty.

Terminal to gate

While every airport will approach changes to their passenger journey and changes to their terminal space differently, it is also clear that every airport will have to make modifications to the basic passenger flow.

Some airports are creating passenger ‘holding areas’ with social distancing to manage the regulated flow through the airport, while others are making changes to the terminal layout to accommodate physical distancing.

In the US, some are considering TSA appointment times for clearing security, and others are implementing floor markings and redesigning lane management procedures with special family lanes to accommodate related family groups.

In all cases, the airport will have to have a better understanding of their real-time passenger behaviour and management. And that is where Esri’s ArcGIS Indoors can play a critical role.

The solution is designed to not only provide a complete floor plan of the terminal, along with wayfinding capabilities, but also for real-time passenger tracking.

In essence, the Indoors solution provides not only the customer facing capabilities that can guide a passenger safely through the airport, but also the ‘passenger management’ command centre functionality that allows an airport to monitor and track (and control) passenger behaviour in real-time.

Identifying unsafe passenger queueing and passenger ‘hotspots’ can alert airport security personnel of where needed intervention should take place, as well as the real-time location of all the airport’s security and other staff located throughout the airport.

In each case, airport security personnel have a real-time view of all current activities and operations.

Greater real-time operational control

Given the increased safety and security requirements of airports under COVID, airports are increasingly becoming 24-hour, real-time decision-making environments.

This is especially true with respect to safely managing the passenger flows through the airport, but also providing reassurance to an increasingly concerned travelling public.

Our view is that airports need three interrelated information systems to effectively manage a modern airport – security, operations, and now, a passenger management command centre, each relying on a real-time view and monitoring of airport activities.

I have previously discussed the ability of Esri technology to provide a real-time operations centre to control and significantly improve operational performance, but with the unique capabilities of ArcGIS Indoors, passenger management is also now an easier reality.

It can be used to model and understand passenger flows, where bottlenecks are likely to appear, and how passengers can be safety guided through the terminal to the gate. As such, the Indoors solution provides a common platform which can bring together airport staff, TSA personnel and the airlines to collaboratively redesign the passenger journey through the airport.

Many of the standard operating procedures – for TSA screeners, for airport security personnel and for airline staff – will by necessity need to change and adapt to these new requirements under COVID.

Taken together, we believe that our technology and location intelligence provide the framework for airports to provide a safer and more secure experience for passengers and help ensure their confidence in these difficult times.

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