Regardless of the business and economic environment an airport operates in, knowledge of physical assets in the aviation industry is crucial. This knowledge traditionally occurs through physical review of existing assets and related attributes that are often stretched by demands of keeping the mechanical heart of every airport facility running. In today’s 5G and developing Wi-Fi 6 environments, new infrastructure is able to provide data that can be reviewed, analyzed and actioned remotely, transforming the traditional capabilities of an airport into the information age.

Additionally, data is more and more available when required sensors or other input sources are networked. This data availability brings new life and urgency to conversations about bandwidth and broader network coverage in general. Greater wireless connectivity paired with data sources and analytics can provide much-needed expansion of capabilities within the airport facility, along the passenger journey and in response to the ongoing changes in the world we live in.

An airport’s ability to implement new and emerging health, safety and sanitary health protocols effectively and efficiently — especially in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic — is a vital building block to consumer confidence. This foundation, along with airlines and other key stakeholders, will collectively drive aeronautical and nonaeronautical revenues that, in the past, might have been taken for granted.  Conventional wisdom once urged airports to be cautious adopters of technology, reasoning it better to allow consumers to see it and experience it in other realms first.

The industry has seen this with many trends including mobile applications, social media and free Wi-Fi.  In today’s environment, the airport’s role in regional economies does not allow it the luxury of time that it once afforded. Technology in general, and data specifically, can lead the way if ubiquitous cellular and wireless connectivity barriers are removed. With required social distancing, touchless technology and self-service solutions are among many active discussion threads. These new developments could strain even a carefully planned wired network, but at a minimum, they will push airports to discuss overall infrastructure capacities. Those planning exercises must also address wireless needs. 

Mobile application is another area where airports can benefit from faster, more universal network connectivity. With an app, employees can provide and receive crucial updates; targeted ads can be created for passengers; and concessions can offer mobile ordering and payments.

Consider an application that marries aggregated data from a location and number of passengers with the surrounding physical facilities. The app could deploy limited cleaning staff and resources where and when such employees are needed based on actual conditions. This real-time information and action may make the difference between clean and dirty in a time when cleanliness is paramount, and provide passengers and staff with added confidence as they return to flights. In addition to more efficient operations, mobile applications offer substantially faster means of communicating during periods of heightened security, natural disasters or other unforeseen disruptions. 

As new information emerges on the global COVID-19 pandemic, recommendations by the World Health Organization, American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), and other industry leaders illustrate an increased focus on air quality through proactive HVAC management and monitoring. Airports are discovering there are financial hurdles to indiscriminate implementation of recommendations to increase the air quality in their facilities. For example, by increasing fresh air in locations that contain high occupant loads, a dilution of potentially virus-laden air may be achieved, and consequently, virus transmission may be less likely. Airports can increase fresh air universally across an airport by adjusting the outside air percentages utilized in existing air handlers, but, unfortunately, this universal approach can come at a high cost of energy to heat or cool outside air for the season.

Selectively adding fresh outside air in targeted locations as the number of occupants increases and reducing outside air when passengers leave an area or depart on their flight might result in the desired dilution without excessive energy usage. To enable this type of targeted approach, real-time data regarding the number of people in distinct areas is necessary. Incorporation of sensors networked to the building management system controls can provide information to allow accurate and efficient management of outside air percentages while optimizing sustainability and cost efficiency. As more equipment is received from original equipment manufacturers with embedded sensors, this type of facility management will become mainstream. But for airports with aging infrastructure and systems, the addition of networked sensors provides a solution to increasing the measurement, monitoring and control of existing assets.

With this infrastructure, the number of passengers congregating in front of conventional locations for flight information display systems (FIDS) can be captured. If they are stopping to look at their boarding passes in other areas, perhaps those FIDS should be relocated. Closed-circuit television cameras watch transportation and landside access portions of the airport campus. If video analytics are deployed, those cameras might also reveal threat patterns from suspicious behavior. This allows for better utilization of existing assets, improvements to the overall passenger experience and operational efficiency of the airport. 

We’ve named just a few use cases and scenarios where a physical asset can be leveraged to help an airport do a better job of running its business. Once an asset and its attributes are digitized, we can track changes over time. As an attribute changes how should an airport change the way it manages assets over time? Through the measurement and monitoring of existing asset attributes new opportunities for management and control with a business improvement focus become possible. Real-time information, and the data that can be developed from leveraging technology, provides a pathway to achieving digitization of an airport’s existing assets and harnessing the power that comes that data.

 

This is the third in our "Investing in Airport Technology" blog series. As the aviation industry faces new challenges, enhancing the passenger experience is always at the forefront. This includes utilizing data to improve the travel journey as well as enhance revenue streams.

Read the Second Blog in the Series

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As an architect and project manager at Burns & McDonnell, Lori Top provides strategic project leadership to the aviation practice as a strategic adviser.  She leads a collaborative process among our clients and teams to create the vision and strategic road map, and plan for successful execution of complex projects and programs.