People travel for a variety of reasons. Those reasons are unlikely to fade away. Staying locked in is not human nature – and recent surveys have amplified this trait. One global survey, conducted between July and August 2020, showed that 69 percent international travelers and 79 percent domestic travelers planned to travel in the next six months.
As air passenger volumes recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, airports will focus on three key aspects:
- Reducing costs by sweating existing assets while improving safety and security
- Restructuring operations to drive down costs and to use assets for maximum ROI
- Rebuilding the workforce with new skills so that more can be achieved without adding to headcount
The key to doing this is to build connected airports. Airports that connect internal systems, partners and passengers, and can consolidate and share data. This makes it possible to put the power of analytics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), Virtual Reality (VR) and mobile applications into the hands of airport operators.
The goal of these advanced technologies is twofold. On the passenger side, the goal is to engineer great experience and safety, reduce queues and improve boarding processes. On the operations side, it is to provide better on ground support, drive sustainable energy practices and create a future-ready workforce.
Reducing costs and enabling safety at every step: Airports have traditionally relied on video surveillance to deal with safety threats and to enforce regulations. Every service provider – from customs to law enforcement, fire personnel to medics and airline operators to ground handling – makes use of video technology. However, they fall short due to the siloed use of the technology. The existing cameras can be connected to deliver extraordinary insights. Their video feeds can be integrated with an analytics platform to:
- Count people and provide real-time footfall in any zone of the airport
- Adjust air-conditioning, the availability of security personnel, or the provisioning of extra security lanes based on passenger density
- Apply rules to monitor people movement and detect proximity violations
- Capture and scan images to identify passengers and airport personnel not wearing PPEs or masks (video analytics has become smart – for example, it can identify the subtle difference between a PPE and a thawb or the long tunic traditionally worn in Arab countries – making the technology highly usable).
- Analyze images for a variety of tasks from flagging suspicious behavior to detecting left objects, luggage, fires, or creating alerts for passenger-related incidents such as a medical issue or an altercation
To implement this new level of video analytics, airports need not begin from scratch. Airports need platforms that aggregate, anonymize, standardize and analyze live feeds for real-time insights using prebuilt AI and ML computer vision algorithms and visualizations to manage large indoor spaces automatically based on rules and alerts. Airports can use these platforms for several use cases to support automated real-time management and post-event investigations.
Restructuring operations to enable sustainable, safer and more efficient operations: Airports are complex operations that rely on multiple service providers. On the aviation side, these include luggage loaders, fueling systems, technical inspections of aircraft, and airside equipment. On the non-aviation side, they include car parking, customs, catering, retail, security, F&B, and HVAC management. Each provider and airport system has its own IT infrastructure and data standards. These disparate systems need to be connected to generate intelligence that improves airport operations. The first step to doing this is by IoTize assets followed by standardizing and integrating the data. Such a connected airport ecosystem can transform operations through:
- Real-time performance visibility into critical assets
- • Early failure detection and avoidance of unplanned downtime
- Reduction of airside congestion resulting in minimized safety and security violations
- Reduction in aircraft turnaround time, leading to improved capacity
- Enhanced airside efficiency through automated scheduling and optimized deployment of connected Ground Support Equipment (GSE)
- Smart building energy management with real-time alerts to support sustainable practices
Rebuilding the workforce to be future-ready and productive: With the COVID-19 pandemic, the workforce of every organization has been reduced. It is no different for airports. When passenger volumes go up, airports will have to manage their operations with a smaller workforce. This means training and multi-skilling existing employees and achieving the training objectives at scale.
Many of the ideas and use cases mentioned are industry-changing. They have the capacity to alter airport operations forever, and depend on connected systems, equipment, and workforce, so that data can be shared and analyzed for intelligence.
Every industry, from manufacturing to retail, is investing in creating connected ecosystems that demonstrate the characteristics of robust and resilient networks. It is time for airports to catch up.
Adnan Saulat, Mindtree