Smart Airports: Review

Technologies are quickly entering all aspects of everyday lives. With machine learning, artificial intelligence, and IoT (Internet of Things) turning into an integral part of the world’s operation, it’s becoming harder and harder to find a non-technological approach to many different activities.

When it comes to airports, it’s impossible to take a step without seeing technologies in action. Electronic board passes, baggage tracking, automatic notifications, and much more are making flying easier and much more convenient.

In the third decade of the 21st century, many airports are adopting Smart technologies, making passenger, carrier, and staff experience even more impressive. From smart security features to terminal operation elements, the word “smart” is no longer a novelty. It’s a vital part of airport functionality.

What is Smart Technology?

Before exploring the innovative aspects of a smart airport, it’s important to define what smart technology is all about.

SMART is an abbreviation that stands for Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology. However, it’s often used with the meaning of clever to describe tech that allows users and devices to connect with internet networks.

The reason why technologies are “clever” is because they allow simple objects like balls, watches, and fridges to interact with each other. What may have seemed impossible in the past is becoming an everyday reality.

The three types of smart tech are:

  • Smart devices – devices with automation features that can be programmed via a user interface. An example is a robot vacuum that you can program to clean the house at any time you wish. Such devices don’t require network connectivity to operate.  In an airport, an example of a smart device is automatic luggage scales.
  • Smart connected devices – these devices are controlled via a wireless or wired connection. An example in an airport is a smart security camera that scans faces to allow automatic gate passage.
  • IoT devices – a set of programmable devices that are connected to each other through the internet. These devices are automated and scalable. An example is a smart city or a smart airport.

Overall, smart refers to increased connectivity between devices that are highly programmable. The goal of smart technology is to simplify certain processes, heighten security, and collect data for further analysis.

What is a Smart Airport?

A smart airport is an airport that takes advantage of connectivity and related technologies to operate. It implements IoT devices and smart devices to streamline operations, improve passenger experience, and increase the efficiency of airport staff.

The smart technologies many airports are already using include:

  • Automated entrance gates
  • Smart cameras with facial recognition options at automated boarding gates.
  • Passport checkpoint automation
  • Airport navigation
  • Health monitoring system
  • Automatic luggage weighing
  • Automated luggage scanning.
  • Automated cleaning and maintenance robots
  • Smart airport parking management

While COVID-19 slowed down the passenger flow through airports around the world, traveling is slowly getting back on track. Today airports are actively using new smart technologies to:

  • Reduce airport traffic
  • Increase passenger safety
  • Improve airport environment
  • Optimize data processing time
  • Manage health risks

Some airports are getting around to implementing smart technologies faster than others are. However, you may be hard-pressed to find an airport that doesn’t use any smart technologies at all.

Billing Systems for Smart Airports

As more and more airports are using the latest smart airport technology to improve their operations, the demand for high-quality software is on the rise. The increasing traffic in airports around the world makes many aspects of airport operation complex.

One of the issues many airports struggle with is billing. While it may seem to be a straightforward issue at first, airport billing has many different aspects. It’s also closely tied to smart technology options.

The annual airport for ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) states exceeds $13 billion. This likens airports to corporate enterprises with an impact on the local economy. The complexity of the billing process requires airports to seek top-notch software options.

One of the key issues airport management faces is smooth system integration. With many networks intertwined in the airport operation, the cost of such system implementation skyrockets.

Integrating systems to enable accurate airport billing is a challenge. Both large and small smart airports are dependent on seamless billing system operation. A small error in billing could develop into serious consequences for the entire airport.

Smart Airports Under Pressure

No matter how high the traffic is, each airport is under pressure to increase profitability in order to fund future improvements that include smart technologies. Stakeholders are always on the lookout to find new revenue streams and optimize airport operation.

When the complexity of airport operations delays billing data generation and slows revenue realization, the airport suffers.

With the right billing system, an airport receives an opportunity to:

  • Negotiate new carrier contracts
  • Find new revenue sources
  • Reduce billing errors
  • Expand routes
  • Encourage loyalties with new discount structures
  • Managing non-carrier contracts for retail and other airport departments

Overall, as the airport grows and implements smart technologies, the complexity of its billing process grows with it. Staying with old billing technologies is out of the question. However, finding the right solution is tricky.

Smart Airport Examples

Let’s take a look at current examples of smart airports and the cutting-edge technology they are currently using.

1. Edinburgh International – Security Scanners

Edinburgh airport is the 6th busiest airport in the world. Every year, it serves 14.7 million passengers.

Since 2019, Edinburgh International airport is taking advantage of smart scanner equipment. These units scan and analyze the entire cycle of the passenger in 2.5 seconds. This time is short enough to allow the passengers to pass through safely without disturbing the airport traffic flow.

Using this type of scanner doesn’t just keep the entire airport safe, it helps maintain high accuracy rate and decreases the frequencies of false security alerts.

Security is one of the most important issues in airport operations since 9/11. The new cameras make it smoother and more efficient.

2. London Gatwick  — Luggage Handling System

London Gatwick is a busy airport. Every year (except during the pandemic), it has to process over 46 million passengers. That’s a tremendous amount of luggage to work with. The airport implemented the baggage handling system, which involves 100% traceability and improved baggage check-in capabilities. Right now, the baggage can be checked-in 18 hours before departure.

This doesn’t just improve the speed of passenger processing in the airport. It also reduces lost luggage claims, which also take up the time of airport staff.

3. Dubai International – Smart Corridor

Dubai International airport processes 100 million passengers every year. This results in huge queues at immigration control. By implementing the smart corridor, the airport solved the problem.

Smart corridors capture facial features and use iris recognition. All a person needs to do is walk through the corridor. The smart technology gathers all the necessary information and initiates the clearance process immediately. The scanning process takes only two seconds.

IoT and Value for Smart Airports

As some airports are already implementing IoT technologies to streamline their operations, others are still looking at the possibilities. With the current technologies, it’s possible to tweak all airport operations and create an optimized and secure environment.

Here are the examples of value that IoT brings to smart airports:

1. Passenger Experience

By improving passenger experience, the airport can increase its passenger flow, attract carriers, and increase its revenue. Examples of such experience improvement include:

  • Wayfinding options for passengers at the parking lot or at the check-in area.
  • Improve the check-in process with automated baggage scanning and advance check-in.
  • Passing the security checkpoints with facial recognition sensors in play.
  • Boarding the aircraft without standing in line.
  • Passing customs via a 2-second scan without standing in a long line.

All these optimization options prevent passenger frustration and help everyone board their flights on time. By minimizing the time a person has to spend at the airport, airports are increasing passenger satisfaction.

2. Airport Experience

Implementing IoT can also improve the experience of an airport from the airport’s stakeholder standpoint.

From the aircraft's arrival to the gate to plane maintenance, technologies can take the process to a new level. Biometrics and digital IDing doesn’t just get passengers through the airport quicker, it leaves more time for aircraft maintenance, thus shortening the turnaround for each voyage.

One of the greatest implementations that make the airport experience easier is driverless vehicles. From baggage transportation to maintenance vehicles, airports spend a tremendous amount of time and money on moving them around.

By implementing smart communications tech, it’s possible to automate these vehicles.

Smart Airports: A Look in the Future

Smart airports use technologies to improve operations, experience, and value for passengers, staff, and stakeholders. With COVID-19 restricting airport use, the pent-up demand is likely to become an issue in the nearest future.

Airports, airlines, and related partners will take full advantage of the new smart technologies, sensors, processors, and instant communications to create a brand new foundation framework that changes the way traveling works.

Passenger checkpoints will no longer be a combination of information sharing at check-in, security scanning, and boarding. Instead, the real-time communication analysis and smart scanning will take care of the entire experience within seconds.

As smart capabilities evolve over time, passenger experience will be improved even further, minimizing the time spent in the airport and maximizing traveling capacity.  Passengers will take an active role in designing their route through the airport, and putting their convenience ahead of the standard procedures, which will become outdated.

Overall, smart airports are only a logical addition to the smart world of the 21st century. With time, the smart approach will be implemented everywhere, streamlining the entire concept of the living, working, and traveling experience.  

New Business Models for Additional Revenue Streams

With technologies on the rise, smart airport stakeholders may look to expand into new non-aeronautical revenue streams.

  • Parking
  • Car rental
  • Real estate
  • Retail
  • Food and beverage

All they can benefit from the new technologies. Declining airport economics in the past years forced airports to rely on these streams. With the new approach to technologies, airports can start benefiting from increased revenue coming from both aeronautical and non-aeronautical sources.

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