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IT solutions and digitisation integral to airports of the future

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The global pandemic will have long-lasting effects on the aviation industry, but the key question for now is how to get everyone back in the air safely. What can be done to help people feel secure, and how can IT solutions be used to track this?

Author

Richard Smith

Vice President, Engineering & IT

Since its introduction in the late 1940s, the use of software in the aviation industry has become widespread – from the first travel reservation systems to the integration with hardware, such as baggage handling systems.

Now the industry is being challenged by an unforeseeable future in which passenger volumes cannot be predicted. Airports and airlines need to be able to scale-up their activities at unknown speeds, with reduced resources. At the same time, they must focus on giving passengers a safe and pleasant travel experience, while working to increase people’s trust in flying again.

Data is playing a huge role in improving airport operations and increased digitisation is no doubt shaping the future of the market. Software is applied in just about every area of the business, with ‘machine learning’ and ‘artificial intelligence’ (AI) increasingly used to optimise airport operations.

Connectivity is everything

If you think of an airport as a physical building, software is part of every element within it and surrounding it, from parking and retail, to airline operations. All of the different stakeholders in and around the airport system are connected via IT. Aggregating everything together is certainly a challenge, but something I also see as an exciting opportunity.

In terms of software, ensuring the best passenger experience – from parking your car to boarding the plane – is tied to the overall IT solution. It’s a massively powerful operation that often isn’t used to its full potential, but that’s where the opportunities lie.

Connectivity is a big focus area for Vanderlande. The passenger journey has so many touchpoints, and each of them must work effectively and efficiently. The more they are connected, the less chance there is of passenger flows surging or halting, for example.

Airports want the passenger experience to be the best it can be, and it’s all about ease, speed and comfort. Better connectivity between the different touchpoints offers airports the opportunity to optimise the experience for their passengers and gives them a competitive edge.

Planning for the ‘new normal’

The global pandemic will have long-lasting effects on the industry, but the key question for now is how to get everyone back in the air safely. What can be done to help people feel secure, and how can IT solutions be used to track this?

While bag sanitisation is certainly one area we’re looking into, there are other questions to answer. For example, what can we do from a software perspective to help prevent crowding at areas such as baggage reclaim?

Bags could be sorted to multiple carousels to thin crowds, or IT can be used to tell passengers exactly when they need to go to a carousel. This type of software notification – and other IT solutions such as crowd-tracking apps – could help reduce anxiety and the risk of virus spread, and give passengers the confidence to travel again.

Unseen threats

Although 2020’s been a challenging year, cyber security remains a constant issue, and we spend a great deal of time and effort ensuring that our global systems are secure. If an IT system is brought down an operation can be out for minutes, hours, days or weeks, which can have a significant impact on any business.

Digital connectivity in an airport – right down to a piece of technology controlling a motor on a conveyor belt – also means that if it has some intelligence to it, and is connected in the wrong way, you can be exposed.

Any airport’s CIO thinks about this on a minute-to-minute basis. However, this can be mitigated by having the right security partner, scenario-planning, and having contingency plans.

Actionable insights

There’s a saying that ‘there’s data and there’s information’, so how do you convert data into useful information? The term ‘artificial intelligence’ is fine, but I prefer the term ‘actual intelligence’ – because that’s taking knowledge, experience and data, and turning it into actionable recommendations that improve performance.

There are software and computer chips in so many things these days, and by using best practices and our domain knowledge, we are in an ideal position to help airports mitigate risk, improve operational performance and keep people safe.

 

Check-in Podcast

I have discussed this topics in Vanderlande’s Check-in podcast as well. Listen to the episode here:

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