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Smart Travelers Need Smart Airports

Smart cities get a lot of press, but how about smart airports, or the “aerotropolis” as they’ve been dubbed? Resembling a condensed city, airports comprise concessionaires, retail shops, airlines, service companies, government agencies (air traffic control, customs, and border control) and public safety organizations. To be successful, airports of the future will need to fully exploit the power of new technologies, including sensors, processors, mobile apps and behavioral analytics, and focus on three major imperatives: improve the passenger experience, increase operational efficiency and improve financial success.

Passenger Experience

From the moment passengers enter the airport (still two hours before a flight) to the time they board a plane, their experience is dictated by lines and waiting. Digital IoT beacons placed throughout the airport can help make navigation easier and wait times less frustrating. Hailed as a “game changer” in passenger processing and retail, IoT beacons can provide real-time texts via Bluetooth-powered digital beacon-linked maps. These notifications can share updates on everything from parking availability to airport shuttle schedules and restaurant table availability, to tracking luggage.

In the example of tracking, which has become inexpensive and feasible, the beacons connect to an airport’s cellular network to provide live information about baggage location. At each point in the journey – from check-in to cargo-hold – passengers can track their items. IoT beacon and RFID tag technology also come in handy when tracking down lost items, translating to fewer lost bags and less money spent on passenger reimbursement.

Operational Efficiency

A passenger-friendly airport can’t exist if it’s also not an efficient one. For the most part, the different facets of the airport ecosystem operate in silos. By leveraging IoT technologies throughout an airport, information and capabilities can be easily shared across each of the business entities residing within it. This will allow for faster turnaround times for airlines and faster set-up times for tenants, which can lead to an improved passenger experience. All of which can lead to greater benefits for the communities that the airport serves.

Here’s an example: as part of the infrastructure modernization program at its 14 underdeveloped Greek regional airports, Fraport Greece – a joint venture between Fraport AG (owner/operator of Frankfurt Airport) and the Copelouzos Group – will equip the Greek gateways with SITA’s latest common-use terminal equipment (CUTE) technology to help them improve their operational efficiency. Boosting tourism means improving capabilities, processes, procedures, and in some cases key infrastructure. These improvements make the airports more efficient and user-friendly, says Dr. Stefan Schulte, Fraport’s executive board chairman.

Financial Success

Driven by rising demands from increasingly connected travelers, airport operators are investing heavily in digital technology. An increase in global revenues ($158 billion, according to SITA Airport IT Trends Survey 2016) has allowed for generous budgets for IT investments, with current IT spend exceeding $9 billion. Improving passenger processing was the main IT expenditure, with two-thirds planning major IT developments in passenger self-service solutions. Over the next three years, 34% plan major investments in digital technologies such as interactive wayfinding, and almost half will implement Bluetooth-enabled beacons.

“The airport is where it all comes together,” says SITA’s Matthys Serfontein. “It’s where information communications technology can have the greatest impact, operationally, commercially and in enhancing passenger satisfaction.”

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