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Digital innovation guiding airports to success

Gautam Samanta, head of Europe, NIIT Technologies, discusses how adopting new technology will help airports deliver the high-quality experience and operation they desire.

Airports may look like high-tech places, but in reality, they are ripe for digital disruption and innovation. The stakes are high – with every delayed or canceled flight, the industry faces huge amounts in lost revenue. Passengers, meanwhile, are often unengaged and lacking information, which is just as problematic. Airports have to act, and look for ways to become better at crunching the numbers and producing data that makes their operations smoother and more efficient.

We are entering the era of the smart airport. Insights supersede guesswork and creaking archaic computer systems. Old pieces of hardware or airport fittings are being transformed to become data receptors that feed into connected IoT services. There are benefits for all to be had when a reliable IT infrastructure underpins it all.

Some 3.8 billion passengers travel by air every year, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). What’s more, the organization predicts that by 2035, that number will almost double to 7.2 billion. Not only does today’s industry have a challenge to operate more efficiently to protect revenues, it also has to prepare for a customer boom. Airports will only be able to cope if they dramatically improve how they support passengers travelling through airports, and prepare their systems for the future.

Transforming travel

Key to optimizing airport operations is the gathering of data at every operational point. The issue, however, is not just when and where to collect data from across an airport, but it is also vital to know what to do with the data once you have it. Indeed, it is this stage that will ensure your investments in smart technology will deliver returns. The IT set-up has to be geared to drive real benefits and real change.

For example, some of the work NIIT Technologies has carried out for airports recently includes optimizing take-off schedules. Strict rules are set by the regulators for when a plane can pushback – the procedure for when a plane leaves its bay and prepares for take-off. It is important to ensure that each pushback window is optimized. We have worked with major airports on using airline data to calculate how many planes can pushback within a certain timeframe, and when each pushback should take place so that it is as efficient as possible.

Elsewhere, we’ve also used data to conquer a common airport problem. Usually, the biggest airlines hog the check-in desks. Whether they need the desks or not at a given time, some airlines are assigned desks that could be better used by other airlines who are overloaded. Queues that snake around the airport building suggest that many airports are still yet to get a handle on this.

We’re helping to roll out dynamic desk allocation that analyzes the load factor data of planes. We look at how many people are expected to check in on each individual airline and assign desks based on actual need rather than the size of the airline. It makes airlines more efficient, and also makes for a better passenger experience.

Airports get smarter

Improved passenger experience is rapidly gaining in importance. Passengers have more choice than ever and will consider using the airport with the best service, rather than just selecting the one that is closest. This is where IoT can shine and improve the service thanks to slicker-run terminal buildings.

Even basic improvements can make all the difference. Take something as straightforward as tracking every asset at the airport, such as bins. Adding sensors can show, for instance, when the bin is full so that it is emptied when needed and not before or when it is overflowing.

There’s also the ability to better track passengers using low-power Bluetooth beacons. It makes sure they are in the right place at the right time and can navigate terminal buildings. Passengers want to be in control now more than ever, and airports need to respond with ways to make that happen. They should be able to keep passengers informed and engaged at all times.

Building relationships

Engaged customers are happy customers, and when you know how to segment and appropriately target each passenger, you are able to provide relevant services and promotions to them. Airport passengers are a captive audience that retailers can engage with if they take the correct approach.

Change is afoot for airports around the world. Successful airports will be smart airports thanks to better services for customers, and more efficient and automated processes and operations.

The vital underpinning of success will not just be the way data is collected, but also how the data is aggregated and analyzed. To do that effectively, airport operators must have a reliable IT infrastructure that is ready to deal with the rapidly changing face of travel. If they get it right, they can lead an industry that is well positioned to provide next generation services.

January 17, 2018



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