Joining the dots: Now is the time to harness technological innovation to drive smart efficient airports

A viable aviation sector is a useful bell-weather for a nation’s health and prosperity.  The ability and numbers able to travel for business, trade and or a holiday are indicative of a nation’s viability to reach beyond their immediate domains.  Recent summer interruptions and detrimental events have included weather, security and other technical or strike action disruptions, but nothing on the scale of COVID 19.

COVID-19 impact on the aviation industry

Aviation is not unique in being impacted, yet the global impact of COVID on the industry has been more severe than many other sectors.  Without flights, there is no income.  Like any industrial sector, and most related eco-systems, there are clear and associated knock-on effects.

The summer peaks fund the leaner periods; sufficient profits are sought to sustain marginal operations through leaner periods.  Staff capacity and equipment are rarely scaled to the maximum peak requirements, but to a viable optimum level below.  During the peak summer periods, there is little capacity for wider planning and functions outside the core delivery; all hands are required to operate the pumps.  Except in COVID!  Politicians, newspapers and thought leaders proclaim a v-shaped bounce back, but the fundamental industry basics need to be retained and operative, to ensure any ramp-up can be swift and viable.  Outside the core hub airports, operations have ground to a halt, leaving limited cargo operations.  The irony is that aviation is expected to distribute any effective vaccine worldwide, on an assumption, there is a remaining capability!

How can airlines and airports fight back?

Airlines are reducing capacity, some more severe than others.  Airports are on minimal manning, retaining essential services only, and this is being questioned, tested and cut on an ongoing basis.  Financial recalculations explore how long funding can last, if at all.  One might say the position is bleak.

Yet military strategies agree attack is the best form of defence; the human race is inventive and robust, so how can airports and airlines fight back?  A useful parallel can be taken from office workers, where formerly it was implied virtual offices would never function!  Well, they are having to, and many are excelling.  Initial reluctance and hesitation have become the new normal.  Newspaper are pumping out articles of the new normal, assuming the return to the office is dated.  We recall similar protestations about the financial crisis in 08/9, spelling end of business travel and no need for any face to face meetings.  A year after, there were considerably more businesspeople flying than previously.

Aviation is predicting exponential growth; all airports have master plans to map their growth.  COVID may be bleak now, yet in years to come, this will be seen as another blip (and that is not us just being hopeful).  There will be a recovery, a vaccine, track and trace.  There will be flights to match demand, but when and on what scale is the factor no one can predict.  And rightly so.  As the 2nd wave of rising R rates worries us all, the impact of safe and efficient travel must concern us all.

So, how to attack?

Technology app – in the hands of the passenger for airport efficiencies

Given there is little travel and airports demand efficiencies, now presents the opportunity to grasp new technology and process reviews to enable the future.   AiQ has articulated in our ‘Airport Recovery 2020 for EU Regional Airports’ case study whitepaper that planning assistance is required to speed and enable airport recoveries.  Using our Airport Recovery Tools (ART), airports can benefit from light and agile recovery planning.  Through the provision of simulation of capacities, space versus the demand from new health screening, impact on queue lengths and time is essential for recovered operations.

Yet this is only the first step; just imagine if this process could be passed onto enabling passengers through airports, whilst supporting capability.  Amadeus has released their Blue Print on technology, a smart move to cloud to remove legacy systems that they expect would free space, integrate facilities (CUSS and remote bag-drops) and allow flexible use areas; the holy grail for all airports at busy times.  As AiQ demonstrates, new COVID testing queueing only exacerbates current physical space demands!  Increasing airport real estate is the hardest and most expensive factor; determining the opportunity cost investment is where AiQ can validate options.

Enhanced technology exists, but not yet in the hands of the user or traveller.  Heathrow and elsewhere are trialling touchless and hands-free transit through check-in and bag-drop, by leveraging advances in blockchain, AI and face recognition.  Passengers are able to remotely check-in, be recognised once they enter the curtilage of the airport, so remotely checked-in, with baggage tags printed at dispersed drops.

Giving passengers the confidence to fly again

Now is the time to connect all these technological advances into a comprehensive product.  Adrian Stratta from AiQ is discussing an integrated app with technology companies, serving both smoother customer engagement and transit, airport efficiency and security (both physical and health).

For the passenger, an app that provides concierge services, remote check-in and baggage services, streamlined and enabled security (face recognition and further background checks) through to geo-tracking and navigating progress through an airport (regardless of language and signage), offers the fastest route or managed gate changes, directing time and distance.  Making it easy for the passenger to navigate safely through the airport in the era of COVID will provide confidence to fly once again.

For the airport, it will assist flow management, in turn directing where and when peak flow will occur, allowing staff to be targeted against demand, useful for 3rd parties, ground handlers or those manning static and security functions/gates.  Retail presents a major airport income stream, for which messages can be ‘pushed and optimised through the same concierge app.  As the passenger passes, it alerts a ‘buying offer’, free coffee or duty-free discount.

Finally, security, any such app provides a (translated) direct message to the traveller, to move away from danger, given they are geo-tagged.  Crisis management teams now have a locator and a way of directing instruct crowds and movement.  As people are tracked, COVID monitoring and reporting could be adopted, automated and synchronised.  Having such systems linked to key databases and face recognition, security measures are enhanced (provided the GDPR protocols are observed) and omnipresent, so seamless.

If you want to be part of the airport app journey and discuss developments, contact Adrian Stratta from AiQ who be delighted to hear from you.