In 2020, airports have tended to resemble ghost towns. It’s clear to even the most casual observer that there are significantly fewer passengers and flights. We’ve seen similar situations to a less extent in the past (such as SARS) and need to assume that COVID-19 will most likely not be the last pandemic.
As history has shown us, it will take time for passengers to become comfortable with travelling again. They are not only looking for a pleasant experience, but a safe one. This means that airports are now pivoting towards an increase in health and safety measures while striving to maintain security and the passenger experience.
An opportunity to rethink
Take for example the security checkpoint, which is usually a high traffic area. Before the pandemic, airports would traditionally only open the number of screening lanes required to meet the fluctuating demand. Over the past few months however, we’ve seen airports open all their security lanes even with exceptionally low passenger traffic to allow for social distancing measures to be implemented.
While this solution can work temporarily, there is a catch. Opening all lanes increases OPEX at a time when airports are handling approximately 10% of typical passenger traffic. The challenge will come when operations ramp up again and pre-COVID passenger traffic levels resume.
Airports will then have to accommodate a higher number of passengers safely. If there is any positive to be derived, it is that the pandemic has given the industry the opportunity – and time – to define and integrate new solutions.
Reducing the risk
The need for higher throughput and raised security requirements will certainly accelerate the introduction of some existing technologies such as CT scanners and automated screening lanes (ASLs).
CT scanners, which have started making their way to security checkpoints in recent years, allow passengers to leave more items in their luggage such as liquids and laptops. With fewer items to divest, passengers will spend less time at the checkpoint, contributing to a higher throughput. This also means fewer touchpoints for passengers and staff.
There is equally a strong case for ASLs, which automate the transport of trays and reduce the need for manual tasks to be performed by both passengers and agents. Automated tray return systems also help to optimize the performance of the entire checkpoint, especially when a CT is being used.
While these solutions can help increase throughput and reduce points of contact, passengers must still use trays to divest their belongings. Trays are known to carry germs as they are touched by hundreds of passengers every day. To reduce the risk of pathogen transmission and further enhance safety at the checkpoint, the aviation industry is turning towards a proven method of sanitization: UV-C light.
To ensure adequate sanitization of trays between each use, we have developed a UV-C system designed to be integrated in the tray return system of Vanderlande’s ASLs. Shielded from passengers and agents, the UV-C application exposes each tray to germicidal ultraviolet light as they are transported back to the beginning of the lane.
Software can also have a positive impact on checkpoint operations. Using a remote screening software like PAX Multiplex, screening agents can perform their duties away from the checkpoint. From a health and safety point of view, fewer people at the checkpoint means less risk of transmission.
Another benefit of remote screening in a pandemic is that two people can screen images coming from multiple lanes when traffic is low. This increased flexibility allows airports to better manage passenger throughput and staffing levels.
The power of data
The checkpoint is made up of different building blocks that must link together seamlessly to optimise efficiency. At Vanderlande, we have an open system that allows us to integrate different pieces of technology and connect to multiple vendors. This gives airports the flexibility to choose what they want from best-in-class solution providers.
But we’re looking further than checkpoints, and instead at the end-to-end journey. With expertise in both baggage and passenger handling, we can collect a high volume of data that could be fed back to airports from different touchpoints.
This would help them to identify peaks for example, and contribute to more efficient planning. Data derived from remote screening could eventually be linked to other processes, and we’re currently pooling this in a so-called ‘data lake’. This information could then be used to make long-term efficiency improvements.
The positive message is that existing technologies can help airports today and in the future. Through careful planning, airports can increase throughput and improve the customer experience, as well as maintain the highest levels of health and safety. The pieces of the puzzle are all out there, it’s just a question of integration.
I have discussed these topics in Vanderlande’s Check-in podcast as well. Listen to the episode here: