November 3, 2015

The Impact of Travel Technologies on Efficient Airport Operations

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Written by: Zina Aziz
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The growth of personal mobile technology is ushering in a new era of passenger-centric services. In today’s environment of instant information, passengers expect to be constantly informed by connecting to a variety of sources while maintaining contact with their social networks. To keep pace with these consumer expectations, airports around the globe are responding by implementing new technology platforms and devices, to not only deliver a seamless traveler experience, but to also improve customer loyalty and operational efficiency.

Sometimes termed ‘disruptive technologies’, these include biometric screening and robotic technology, which helps drive operational efficiencies and deliver a seamless airport experience for the traveler. Some of these innovations are not disruptive per say, as they have existed in some form for a number of years. However, they have risen in popularity and use recently, due to a global increase in passenger movements and the need to maintain an efficient travel process in an environment that was not designed for such volumes. Combine that with a weak global economy, which has resulted in less airport funding, airports are resorting to these new technologies to cut costs – most often by removing human services – while remaining attractive to airlines and the passenger.

The use of physical characteristics to verify identity

Little over a decade ago, biometrics barely existed in airport security. Now, the issuing of ePassports with microchips is the default in most countries. As a result, iris, face and fingerprint recognition systems are in operation at security gates worldwide. Biometrics is simply the term used to describe the use of physical characteristics to verify identity. This trend gained tremendous popularity following the 9/11 attacks, however it has slowed down in recent years. Despite the fact, airports are now recognizing their benefits and are increasingly deploying them in terminals. These benefits include not only identity verification, but also processing time reductions, which helps to alleviate congestion during peak periods and reduce passenger wait times.

air_03_air_photo_03A wide variety of airport biometric technology exists today, ranging from gait recognition, which recognizes a person from the way he/she walks; to biometric electrocardiograms that identify individuals by their heart rate. Travel innovations are wide ranging, however those adopted by airports today tend to focus on facial fingerprint and iris recognition. Across the European Union, passport control eGates use facial recognition to identify discrepancies in facial bone structure compared to the document image. For the US automated entry system and across much of Asia, fingerprints are used. Meanwhile, trusted traveler schemes such as Amsterdam Schiphol’s Privium have opted for iris recognition.

An example of an airport at the forefront of this trend is Miami International Airport. It recently ordered 44 automated biometric kiosks, bringing the airport’s total to 80 kiosks. Airport director Emilio T González described the expansion as an “investment” that “demonstrates our commitment to providing the best possible arrival for our international travelers.” The same explanation is given by Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel, Istanbul Ataturk Airport in Turkey and Burgas Airport in Bulgaria

Biometric technology has come a long way, and it is expected to continue to do so for the next decade or more. Those to ultimately prevail will most likely be those enabling gateless security systems. They are today referred to as ‘biometrics on the move’ or ‘biometrics in motion’. They would require a complete shift of thinking of airport operations, as the systems would use cameras and sensors to screen individuals as they move around the terminal. This may sound extreme today, but if passenger traffic continues to rise, such measures may become a reality sooner rather than later, to further streamline the travel process.

Robots are transforming the way we move around airports

Who wouldn’t want to be greeted by a robot to guide them the next time they arrive at an airport? This dream scenario is becoming a reality along with many others, as robotic technology increasingly gains traction. With airports expanding to sizes never seen before and more individuals traveling to farther destinations, the notion of introducing a system to aid navigation is become more viable than ever.

Standing at the forefront of this trend is Geneva Airport, which in partnership with BlueBotics, introduced a robotic customer service agent in the baggage claim area. The robot helps travelers locate any airport amenity or outlet by accompanying them to the location. Passengers could simply touch the screen, choose which facility they wanted to be directed to and follow the robot.

This technology is not only being used to aid the passenger, but also to showcase the various services the airport has on offer, which is often not used, as passengers are simply not aware of them or do not know how to get to them.

Image copyright Serva Transport Systems GmbH.

Image copyright Serva Transport Systems GmbH.

Düsseldorf Airport is another example adding value to the passenger experience and innovating to stand out from its competitors. The airport in partnership with Serva Transport GmBH introduced a robotic system that collects and parks a vehicle at the cost of EUR29 per night. The system returns the vehicle at the curb after the passenger has landed, which is done by linking the passenger’s itinerary to their license plate. The airport currently offers 249 automated parking spaces.

This field of innovation is continuously developing. Now researchers are researching and designing robots that will be able to check-in passenger luggage and or deliver the items to the passenger once they land at the airport. This again satisfies airports’ need to reduce the time a traveler spends in the terminal and thus reduces strain on infrastructure.

The airport technology evolution is in full swing

It is very likely in the not so distant future check-in counters will be tucked in a corner and human agents may be even more unnecessary, especially as airports continue on the quest to cut costs, speed up travel and make their facilities more hospitable. Technology is expected to continue to transform the airport travel experience to be more relaxed, as various platforms will keep tabs on the individual and inform them where they need to be and when. This in turn will allow them more time to dine and shop and thus deliver stronger financial returns to the airport.

This evolution is very much in full swing. If airlines, airports and the industry’s suppliers do not recognize its relevance, they risk losing vital ground to their competitors.

Zina Aziz is an aviation analyst and enthusiast from Australia. Having been fascinated by the airline industry for as long as she can remember, she greatly enjoys writing and analyzing the latest news and developments. Be sure to join her on TwitterLinkedIn and Facebook.

About the Author

Zina Aziz



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