Traditional airports organize in distinctive silos that separate the procurement, management and operations of the network infrastructure, the built environment and the controls system. Different stakeholders within the airport “own” each of these systems and work to their individual ends to develop solutions that work within their silos of responsibility.
Viewing technology, and the data it can produce, as the synthesis to merge each of these silos into one holistic airport operation immediately opens opportunities. Understanding that each silo is tied together and nothing within the walls of an airport operates within a vacuum provides a new lens to view the airport environment. Fundamentally, data becomes more and more powerful as it becomes more available.
The air travel industry takes passenger satisfaction seriously. Airports rely on consumer survey organizations such as J.D. Power or Airports Council International’s Airport Service Quality to measure and benchmark themselves across the industry. Each of these rankings measures overall customer satisfaction by means of survey questions spanning a variety of services. Survey organizations have not yet developed algorithms or metrics that allow an airport to relate preventive facilities maintenance to overall passenger experience. By proactively eliminating the risk of future problems through prevention, an airport can save higher maintenance bills while simultaneously eliminating both direct and indirect passenger pain points. Transforming a physical asset into digital format — data — via sensors is the first step required to start getting information that can be acted upon, a prerequisite for many elements of passenger satisfaction.
If you could predict which assets (toilet, passenger boarding bridge motor, roof top unit, etc.) required preventive maintenance based on real-time data and predictive analytics, maintenance and operations teams could get ahead of the curve and prevent a last-minute gate change or restroom closure for repair during a peak period or flight bank. This type of predictive maintenance could offer a positive experience and mitigate possible risks, meaning you could proactively curate the passenger experience rather than wait for the next system or component failure that will need to be addressed. With each unanticipated failure, a cascade of impacts is caused that could easily be avoided with the preemptive maintenance and management that data and analytics can provide. Breaking down the silos that have led to maintenance operations reactively fixing emergent problems can generate new proactive approaches and solutions.
As many benefits are attainable by providing ubiquitous connectivity via 5G or Wi-Fi 6 between sensors and analytics engines, there are many more that have yet to be identified or prioritized until the advent of a business need. Although we’ve experienced outbreaks of infectious disease in the past, the broad implementation of new key health and wellness protocols has not been widely viewed as mission-critical until COVID-19 struck. Now, airports and their constituent stakeholders struggle to find power and data connectivity for new temperature sensors, infrared cameras, touchless checking, queuing and screening. Ceilings enabled with Power over Ethernet (PoE) with 5G or Wi-Fi 6 capabilities can help provide the infrastructure to support any new or unproven technologies in beta environments less expensively. This allows for a fast fail and reset, if necessary, that is the hallmark of bleeding edge technology adoption. Breaking down the entry barriers in the operations silo can empower new solutions.
Revenue in the aviation environment has many traditional sources, most of which are well-understood during steady state operations. Data, as a source, is a frontier that has yet to be mined fully in aviation — a deficiency that is now exacerbated as passenger counts plummet. Airport operations are never easy or casual. Rapid growth strains some areas and rapid contraction strains others. The potential for route modifications, shrinking or consolidated airlines, and shifts in consumer spending underscore the very real need for airports and related ecosystem partners to maximize each component’s contribution. Positive valuations can arise from lowered operating expenses, increased revenues, or both. This potential can only be maximized if revenue silos are identified, which requires candid conversations across many commercial, technical and operational fronts. If traditional revenue silos can be dismantled and reassembled optimally, commercial teams will become empowered to find new solutions that reflect the current market conditions.
Once solutions are implemented, more information can be shared with passengers. Digital signage or even organic light-emitting diode (OLED) glazing can provide on-demand information about the cleaning and care protocols utilized in the immediate vicinity, locations of high-volume traffic from anywhere in the airport, real-time performance data illustrating the temperature, sound levels and gates with the most flight density within a defined time duration. As a passenger, imagine knowing where to go to free yourself from announcements, uncomfortable ambient temperatures and overactive gate areas for the next two hours in advance of your flight. Breaking down the information silo can empower passengers, creating more control and comfort.
While it is difficult to anticipate industry disruption or other types of socioeconomic upheaval, aviation can take steps now to minimize and mitigate future turbulence. Combining 5G connectivity and specialized data collection tools can lead to improvements in multiple arenas, including workforce efficiencies, energy savings and space optimization. Connectivity allows airports to glean more data that, when used along with appropriate and rigorous analytical tools, becomes invaluable information for decision-makers. Getting that data requires networks and an integrated approach to systems analysis. But in a siloed world of traditional procurement models, where those networks and connected assets are all being procured and managed independently, the lack of unification leads to an inconsistent data management and analysis system. Daily, seasonal or disruptive operations can flex as demands on resources or financial constraints emerge from thoughtful analysis of the data produced by sensors, beacons and connected devices. Having the right information at the right time allows for insightful direction without guesswork or wastefulness that has plagued industries without broad data availability and utilization.
This is the sixth in our “Investing in Airport Technology” blog series. Today’s society craves interconnectivity, especially when it comes to technology. Airports should consider opportunities for improving the passenger experience using new technology and operational efficiencies.