Enhancing airport operations and traveller experiences with data
By Ian Forde-Smith, co-founder and CTO, Aerocloud
After the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions last year, air travel has gradually resumed. So much so that the UN Aviation Agency now predicts that later this year air passenger demand will exceed pre-pandemic levels. However, the aviation industry still faces a whole host of challenges. From staffing shortages and tighter budgets, airports are under immense pressure to manage the anticipated influx of passengers all the while maintaining a high level of customer experience.
One crucial aspect that airports must prioritise is ensuring seamless passenger flow throughout the entire journey: from check-in and baggage drop to security screening, boarding, and departure halls. Any disruption in this flow can cause a ripple effect of delays, long queues, and unhappy passengers.
Therefore, it is critical that airports leverage technology – and the data that comes from it – to not only avoid such consequences but more importantly ensure success as air travel demand increases.
Data is the key
Data truly is a vital resource to airports to achieve smooth operations and a hassle-free passenger journey. However, typically small to mid-size airports rely on manual processes to monitor crucial information, including passenger queue data, flow patterns, and individual travel times between zones. This approach is time-consuming, resource-intensive, and prone to delivering inaccurate information, which can lead to skewed predictions and planning decisions. Additionally, manual processes fail to provide a centralised, real-time view of airport operations, resulting in decision-making silos and suboptimal outcomes.
Fortunately, airports now have the option to leverage technology to automate this process. By utilising computer vision to track passengers accurately and anonymously throughout their journey, airports can comply with local privacy regulations while gaining a more holistic understanding of travellers’ airport experiences. When combined with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), this data can be used to identify trends, draw insights, and predict future scenarios to inform more accurate decision-making.
Four ways that airports can utilise data
But, how can this all be put into practice? Here are four effective ways in which airports can utilise data:
- Improved operational decisions: By employing real-time data, operational decisions can be enhanced, enabling staff to address bottlenecks promptly and efficiently in operations. For instance, staff can receive alerts when travellers have been waiting for more than 20 minutes at a check-in desk, prompting them to take instant action such as opening additional desks to clear the backlog.
- Better resource planning: By merging AI and ML with data insights, airports can optimise resource allocation by adjusting employee schedules to meet operational demands. For example, if they know that departure halls are particularly crowded between 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm on Fridays, they could potentially enhance the frequency of bathroom maintenance checks or increase the frequency of waste collection.
- Frictionless passenger experience: Ensuring that the staffing levels match the passenger demand can enhance the traveller’s experience by minimising queues and maintaining high facility standards. Additionally, passengers who have access to multiple local airports are likely to be loyal and choose a particular airport for future travel if they have a positive experience.
- Maximise concession revenues: Passenger flow is a crucial revenue driver for UK and European airports, especially as it facilitates the movement of customers through security and into departure halls. Collecting data on passenger movements can add significant commercial value to concession partners, including duty-free shops, retailers, and hospitality providers, as they can leverage insights to optimise spending. For instance, during peak passenger traffic, concession partners could launch promotional campaigns or create pop-up stores to boost sales. Moreover, airports can benefit from analysing passenger flow data while planning layout changes, such as relocating seating areas that obstruct the flow of travellers to shops.
Embracing data innovation for better airport experience
After years of unease, it’s brilliant to witness the airport industry experience an exhilarating phase as travel appears to be returning to pre-pandemic norms. However, the game has changed considerably since March 2020, with airports now faced with numerous challenges such as limited budgets and staff shortages.
This is why it’s imperative for airports to explore how advanced technologies such as computer vision, AI, and ML, could offer valuable data and insights. Failure to do so could prove detrimental to their survival. To place themselves in the best stead for success, airports should take a proactive approach and leverage technology to enhance their operations, provide seamless passenger experiences, and ultimately boost their profitability.