Unlocking the untapped potential for data at airports

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At a time when the end-to-end optimisation of processes is key to ramping up, coping with rising demand and preparing for a ‘new normal’, data is a valuable resource. More than ever before, airports need to be more efficient with what they have, and unlock the potential of data insights to allow for continued process optimisation.

Author

Darren Durham

Manager PAX and IT Solutions

In recent years, the aviation industry has moved increasingly towards digitalisation, with passengers expecting a more seamless, stress-free, and transparent journey. Indeed, with data being generated at every single step of the passenger and bag journey from the moment a trip is booked, right through to arrival, there is a significant potential for improvements. That is, of course, if the potential of this data is recognised and unlocked.

Data is a valuable resource that remains untapped for most airports. In the majority of cases, data is collected and used in organisational silos by various stakeholders and for specific applications only – for example in passenger, baggage and ground handling, as well as airport management. In a time when the end-to-end optimisation of processes is key to ramping up and preparing for a new (post-COVID-19) normal, that situation is not ideal to allow for the best results.

Ramping up operations, while keeping costs under control

The pandemic brought many challenges to the aviation industry, accelerating the need for more effective data handling. We are already seeing passenger numbers increasing, with the supply not able to cope with demand.

The pandemic forced airports to look more closely at ways of streamlining their operations to reduce costs due to the significant decrease in passenger traffic. The implementation of new, temporary, but partly permanent measures – such as partition screens and social distancing – also required increased visibility and control over passenger flows throughout the airport.

Process optimisation

For many airports, COVID-19 called a halt to numerous expansion and upgrade projects originally planned to enhance capacity as an answer to rapidly increasing passenger traffic. Airports are also having to adapt their operations to new regulations, and cope with the post-recovery surge in demand with increased capacity needs. As the travel industry and traffic are picking up again, so is the pressure on existing infrastructure.

Airports are facing these challenges and asking themselves: “How can we bounce back from the pandemic with reduced resources?” Besides finding and training additional employees, they need to be more efficient. This is where data insights can be incredibly beneficial, allowing for continued process optimisation.

An opportunity to improve

According to ACI Europe’s Round Table Report on the Recovery of European Aviation (page 26), investments in IT and digital solutions should be a priority for airports. The report claims that “passenger and freight flows can be accelerated and quality improved by digitalising processes and remodelling”. It even states: “It is fundamental to ensure that the current crisis does not derail digitalisation but serves instead as an opportunity to modernise and further innovate.”

The solution is to facilitate better collaboration between airports and their stakeholders so they can all share, integrate and leverage existing data. By doing so, it will become possible to optimise end-to-end operations, and gain efficiency both above and below the wing. Even in the short term, the industry must work hard to ensure that data regarding passenger vaccination records is shared seamlessly and confidentially. This could see cross-border travel recovering much faster and more efficiently.

Opening up new services

By tapping into the potential for data (such as check-in information and flight schedules), better predictions can be made about passenger flows at the security checkpoint lanes – a traditionally high-traffic area. Hold and carry-on baggage screening results could also be combined for more effective passenger throughput.

In addition, bag-tracking information could be shared across multiple stakeholders to facilitate improved bag flows. This would also allow for the implementation of ‘off-premises’ capabilities, such as bag drop and reclaim, and customised bag sortation at arrivals. New services will be possible, including remote pick-ups and drop-offs, and airports will gain a harmonised end-to-end view of their operations.

Even before the pandemic, we anticipated that digitalisation and automation would make a significant impact on airport operations and the passenger experience. Take for example applications such as touchless self-service applications, biometric identification, scheduled boarding and personalised wayfinding.

However, we also see digitalisation becoming an integral part of the passenger experience through the use of ‘digital companions’, such as apps and other platforms. These would deliver important information to travellers about the status of their journeys and the whereabouts of their luggage. We’ve already developed a digital ‘divest assistant’ to complement our security lanes, which will guide passengers more seamlessly through the checkpoint area.

Remaining competitive

Leveraging data will also open the door to introduce additional process automation across the airport environment, by using AI-driven and machine-learning technologies. In turn, digitalisation will facilitate the implementation of predictive analytics. This can be used to improve both passenger and bag flows, perform smart system diagnostics, predict maintenance requirements and reduce overall operational expenses.

We have long recognised the huge potential for digitalisation in the aviation industry, but also see that the integration of data requires open communication and collaboration. In addition, disruptive technologies, new market entrants and changing regulations will require a more sophisticated response from all stakeholders.

As a result, new ways of working and solutions are required to harness the untapped potential for data. That’s where Vanderlande can deliver added value. Not only do we develop digital solutions and understand how to bring all the data together, but we can also integrate new technologies and help any individual airport future-proof its operations and safeguard its competitive position.

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