March 1, 2019
By Alan Pritchard, Senior Consultant, FarrPoint
Edinburgh Airport has recently announced their busiest year ever for a Scottish airport, with more than 14.3 million passengers passing through its doors throughout 2018 – an increase of 6.5% on the previous year. It’s a massive achievement but it also raises significant challenges.
More passengers and more flights ultimately means more moving parts for airports to deal with. This also has to be managed in the context of a growing demand for a personal passenger experience with information available at the click of a button, not to mention strict security and compliance regulations. Internet of Things (IoT) technology can play an important role in meetings these challenges.
How can IoT technology be harnessed in airports?
Airports are enormously complex environments, so it is perhaps unsurprising that there are a wide range of applications for IoT technology within them. One way of categorising these different areas is to think about the back-end and the front-end of the airport; that is, the behind-the-scenes functions that keep the airport running smoothly and securely, and the passenger-facing operations that ensure a quality customer experience.
In both applications, however, the core structure of an IoT ecosystem remains the same. A series of sensors or devices collect relevant data. This data is then transmitted over a network to an analytics platform that analyses said data in order to turn it into tangible operational insights. From there, airport personnel can make faster and more informed decisions, which in turn help the organisation as a whole to run more efficiently.
Behind-the-scenes airport IoT
Delving into the specifics, an example of behind-the-scenes IoT technology in an airport is the use of weight sensors throughout the baggage management chain. By recording the weight of luggage on a vehicle, an IoT ecosystem can identify immediately when an item of baggage has been added or removed, something which could represent a severe security threat – or simply a forgotten item. This allows airport personnel to intervene rapidly and keep things running smoothly.
Location sensors and RFID tags on vehicles and throughout different areas of the airport can also make for far smoother management for restricted zones, rapidly alerting management when a vehicle or airport operator is somewhere they shouldn’t be. Again, being able to make these calls automatically and rectify them in real-time goes a long way to keeping airports running smoothly and avoiding costly delays.
Passenger-facing airport IoT
On the passenger-facing side of things, IoT technology can dramatically improve an airport’s ability to get the right information in front of passengers in a timely manner, which is fundamental to the difference between a positive and negative airport experience.
Tracking passenger journeys through airports using sensors and camera networks can enable airports to better arrange signage – both static and digital – and even plan scheduling to ensure a smoother experience. London City Airport claimed to be the world’s first airport to test such a project, back in 2013, and this soon evolved into a sophisticated interconnected IoT network throughout the whole airport.
Many airports, including Helsinki Airport in Finland and Miami Airport in the United States, have established systems comprising Wi-Fi and iBeacons, a form of technology which uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) proximity sensing to transmit a universally unique identifier that tracks passengers as they move around the airport by following their mobile devices.
In turn, those passengers can be offered tailored, location-based services and information so they can make the most of the airport’s facilities.
Underpinning airports’ IoT capabilities
The technical and network requirements airports need in order to run effective IoT ecosystems vary enormously according to the precise technologies being deployed and the scale and scope of the airport in question.
However, two key points to remember are that all IoT ecosystems are underpinned by network connectivity, and with their strict security regulations, it is particularly important for airports to silo off different applications and datasets from each other. With careful infrastructure planning, the IoT can be a truly transformative prospect for airports the world over, helping them to run more efficiently and offer a top-quality passenger experience. Are you ready to take off?