This article was originally published in the Summer 2018 issue of The Record.
Catching a flight is challenging. Travellers must arrive at the airport, check their baggage in, pass multiple security checks and find their boarding gate, all within a short time frame. To enable travellers to do this, airports need to keep processes running smoothly and planes flying on schedule. They must also ensure passengers have plenty to entertain them while they’re waiting for flights. This will be much easier at the airports of the future, which will be powered by multiple digital technologies – from internet of things networks that collect operational and passenger data, to drones that inspect runway safety and industrial machine learning systems that automate logistics planning.
Two of the most pivotal technologies will be analytics and artificial intelligence (AI). Airports can use analytics can track weather patterns so airports can predict, and prepare for, adverse conditions. Alternatively, analytics can be used to pinpoint the destinations that are most popular with passengers so airports know which airlines to partner with. Analytics can also allow airports to identify passengers’ personal preferences – such as what food they buy – so they can provide the optimal mix of retailers and food outlets.
AI helps airports put these insights into action, automating tasks and powering proactive services that enhance and personalise the passenger experience. For instance, AI solutions could track unattended baggage and enable airport staff to swiftly reunite passengers with misplaced items. Meanwhile, AI-enabled smartphone apps could send passengers directions to their gate, personalised discount coupons for their favourite restaurants, or notifications about expected delays. In addition, location-aware AI systems can instantly alert staff to security threats, or send safety information to passengers during emergencies.
Airports and airlines could even combine AI with biometrics to automatically identify passengers, eliminating long security queues. Delta Air Lines has piloted an AI kiosk that enabled passengers to self-scan their bags and boarding passes, then confirm their identity via facial recognition screens connected to the US Customer and Border Protection database. Passengers found this more convenient than today’s processes.
Initially, analytics, AI and other digital technologies will help to optimise airport operations and make air travel a safer, faster and more enjoyable experience. Over time, these digital technologies will allow airports to better understand passengers’ needs and enable them and their key stakeholders – including airlines, retail stores and food outlets – to integrate their IT systems with the wider infrastructure in smart cities. Once they’ve done this, airports will become the centralised hub of the entire travel industry.
John Tsucalas is industry chief technologist at DXC Technology
Share this story