IT: Digital Transformation of airports and their processes

The arrival of the pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of airports and their processes. Throughout the post, we will analyze the previous situation and the needs derived from the new reality. In this post, you also found some new technologies that are increasingly being implemented in airports, such as drones, 5G, or robotics.

Adaptation of operations and technology to the new normality

To find out what the current needs of airports are today, let’s first take a snapshot of their pre-pandemic situation: Airports needed to increase their operational capacity; upgrade, renew and deploy their systems; and increase their revenues by investing their efforts in improving the user experience.

After the pandemic arrives, these needs changed and became much more urgent: declining revenues, increased competition from remaining traffic, increased costs to maintain revenues, declining passenger confidence, and the outbreak of new processes with health measures such as pre-checks prior.

To be able to respond to these previous and future needs, from Airport Gurus we recommend a series of measures:

  • Review of operations and technology plans to optimize processes, improving airport operations.
  • Identification and review of the technology used, implementing those new technologies and IoT to make processes more efficient and regain user confidence.
  • Establish a roadmap to implement the new reality of the facilities and operations at airports.

New technologies in digital transformation

Now that we are aware of the new needs of airports and the urgent need for digital transformation, let’s take a look at some of the new proposals that airports are starting to implement.

Drone use

When we talk about drones and airports, the first thing that comes to mind is the possible interference of these small aircraft with the different planes entering and leaving the runway. And, while it is true that there are certain limitations to the use of drones at airports (i.e., control radius, maximum height), they are starting to be implemented within the digital transformation scheme.

In Spain, AENA has initiated a pilot project at Burgos Airport involving the use of drones for certain activities. One of the most interesting is to replace birds of prey to clear the airspace with drones. But it also intends to expand its functions in the management and maintenance of different spaces. Thus, they are used to check infrastructures, beacons, and pavements or to calibrate runway lighting systems.

The ultimate goal would be to be able to use this type of technology to replace the different vehicles in charge of maintenance work at airports, especially on the runway. The benefits are obvious: time reduction, efficiency in the processes, and greater sustainability. In addition, these devices can provide instant information in the event of interference both in the airspace and in their maintenance tasks.

5G Technology

By 2024, 5G is expected to have more than 1.5 billion subscribers who can connect to the IoT. And airports are not going to be less. The use of these high capacity/speed connections will enable the digital transformation of many the world’s airport services.

The application of 5G in this type of space can be divided between the functions that are focused on improving the user experience (perception in the external aspect of an airport); and the internal management function related to better handling of air traffic as well as the rest of airport operations, which are expected to be more efficient, faster, and more accurate.

The road to smart airports goes through the acquisition of this type of cutting-edge technology. Some of the applications would be baggage handling, optimization of delivery times, resource management, monitoring and optimization of different vehicles, streamlining the flow of passengers, among others. And it is more than likely that the implementation of 5G will lead to the expansion of airports with intelligent facilities designed to get the most out of this technology.

And like all technological breakthroughs, this one has provoked both praise and criticism. While in December 2020 Helsinki-Vantaa Airport became the first airport to implement 5G in one of its terminals as well as a 5G-enabled autonomous service robot; French airports declared themselves firm opposition to the use of such technology.

Airport robotics

The digital transformation in airports has gone a step further and is incorporating robots to perform different tasks. We have already seen the case of the robot with 5G at Helsinki airport, but let’s learn a little more about what this type of technology can offer us. Their functions are many and have been incorporated into many airports around the world, including Seoul Incheon Airport, Lyon Airport, Munich Airport, or Nairobi Airport.

Let us get to know some of the functions of the robots in the different airports:

  • Attend and resolve user queries using artificial intelligence and IoT.
  • Temperature control to users.
  • Recording passenger data.
  • Give warnings of sanitary measures: mask and gel.
  • Cleanliness of the facilities.
  • Parking vehicles.
  • Sharing information with the different terminals of the airport workers.

These are just some of the measures taken by airports to carry out a digital transformation that, although it had already begun in many of them, has now been accelerated by the new post-pandemic reality.

It is now more important than ever that passenger transit areas ensure maximum efficiency and safety to regain lost passenger confidence. And this will be possible by carrying out an effective digital transformation.

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