Navigating the airport through the Internet of Things

Airlines, it seems, are getting a little excited about the thought of the Internet of Things and what it could do for the traveller experience.

Research shows 86% of airlines believe I0T will deliver clear benefits in the next three years and more surprising is the 67% who say it is already demonstrating benefits.

The research, part of a wider Airline IT Trends Survey from airline technology specialist SITA, also shows 37% have already devoted budget to development in the area.

That said, only 16% are planning a major project while 41% say they will make some research and development investment.

Some areas of the journey are likely to benefit faster than others – check-in for example is seen as a priority for 42% of airlines surveyed and bag drop also makes it into the top three for many carriers.

These are likely the areas where carriers feel they can have more influence faster and they’re seen as pain points for the traveller.

The areas are also easier to tackle than say, security and immigration or bag collection because of the necessary collaboration with government bodies and ground handlers and data security and privacy issues.

IoT SITA airline it study

So, where might I0T improve the experience?

SITA’s tech boss Jim Peters says that through sensors status and location information can be derived from people, (travellers and staff) through their devices, as well as all the physical items in an airport.

He sees a clear role for the organisation in providing the infrastructure for I0T at airports in terms of putting in the sensors and connecting them, processing the data for airports and carriers and helping analysing for further improvement.

In short, he says:

“Everything that can be connected, will be connected.”

And, for a real life example, step forward Paul Griffiths, chief executive of Dubai Airports, who describes getting passengers to gates for on-time take-offs as an airline’s nightmare.

“We have 200,000 passengers a day of which between 60 and 70% are transitioning so one of the biggest challenges is to efficiently connect them.”

He claims many passengers lose themselves in the retail area and that a recent trial at the tills using boarding passes and alerting them to the need to get to the gate has reaped dividends and is not far from being rolled out.

“I’m looking forward to changing the game and using the technology. If we can improve the on-time performance the customer is happy and the airline is happy.

“The potential there is enormous in terms of turnaround time. A plane on the grounds makes zero, imagine what we could achieve.”

Griffiths adds that is massive opportunity f the industry could apply some of the same thinking and processes that are used in Formula 1 pit stops to optimising the turnaround of an A380.

Recovery in the event of weather and other incidences is another area highlighted by him where the I0T and intelligence gathered through devices could help better manage operations and “track on a granular basis what every component is doing to make the journey more effective.”

Big ideas – and he goes a step further in saying that it will even change airport design with artificial intelligence dynamically controlling how aircraft are managed around hubs to optimise turnaround.

Massive opportunities but also challenges in terms of investment, managing the privacy side and collaboration between the various parties involved. Peters says:

“There are a lot of stakeholders – airports, government, security area –  and they are all doing the IoT.

“They need to see how they can come together and share, get around commercial sensitivities and put on the table the joint benefit of sharing which outweighs the problems of commercial sensitivities.”

Both Peters and Griffiths were speaking during the SITA Air Transport IT Summit in Brussels where sharing and collaboration challenges were a consistent theme over the two-day event.

Interesting to note that on a pragmatic level, the sharing and cooperation is already apparent in some incidences such as following the F1 in Montreal every year, as highted by James Cherry, president and chief executive, Aeroports de Montreal.

“When necessary we do a good job of collaborating. It’s the single biggest day, the Sunday after the Grand Prix, and we’ve never had an issue. Everyone shares and collaborates because everyone has a self-interest, a benefit.

“When industry collaborates it can move mountains so how do we harness what we have done and make sure everything we do gets treated in the same way.”

The full SITA Airline IT Trends report will be available in the autumn but click here for a summary of findings so far.

This paper on privacy and the Internet of Things is also worth a read.

NB: Reporter’s travel and accommodation for the Air Transport IT Summit was supported by SITA.

NB2: Internet of Things image via Shutterstock.

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About the Writer :: Linda Fox

Linda worked at tnooz from September 2011 to June 2018 in roles including senior reporter, deputy editor and managing editor.



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