Airports are facing major challenges. The economic boom until the early 2020s was followed by lockdowns and then freedom to travel again. These challenges are solvable, but they require smart airport planning. With that, a great deal of efficiency is there for the taking. Achieving this requires more cooperation, data sharing and smart software for airport planning.
Airports are definitely not making the most of the opportunities they have. The restrictions that airports have to deal with, such as spatial limitations or emissions limits, mean that they have to look for increased returns within existing boundaries. The main reason why airports do not get the most out of the business is due to inadequate synchronization of changes and the associated data. Improvements are there for the taking.
Satisfied passengers generate more turnover
Airports with a vision strive to improve their returns through two primary objectives: improving the passenger experience (1) and giving passengers more opportunities to make the most of the time they do or do not spend at the airport (2). Do passengers feel comfortable from the time they enter the terminal until the moment they take off? Then they will have more time to do fun things, such as shopping or drinking coffee. If the passenger queues for too long or spends too much time going through the necessary check-in procedures, this has a detrimental effect on the passenger experience and puts additional pressure on the airport organization. More staff are required and investments are needed to resolve these inefficiencies.
Airports as part of various logistics chains
The improvements that airports can make affect many logistics chains. The ecosystem surrounding a large airport, such as Schiphol, Brussels, Frankfurt or Heathrow, consists of a wide range of operators who together form an economic entity. Apart from the airport, there are the airlines, cargo handlers, security and catering companies, air traffic control, maintenance companies, customs, travelers and all kinds of other organizations that provide services.
Airport planning requires more than sharing arrival and departure data
Budgets are available to airports as well as to the various operators at airports to initiate improvement plans. Yet the question is whether the current plans are sufficient. The biggest challenge is that, on the one hand, all parties involved need to collect data and also share it with each other. This goes beyond making arrival and departure times available centrally. Data on passenger numbers, traveler profiles, numbers of suitcases, crowds and lengths of queues, but also, for example, the number of security lanes that will open in the next half hour. This data is relevant for all organizations involved to ensure optimal planning. The parties involved actually have very similar challenges that they can tackle by sharing data quickly and openly.
Three categories of planning challenges
Airport companies face different planning challenges such as seasonal variation (1), daily varying demand curves (2) and air traffic disruptions (3). Seasonal variation applies to both passenger and air cargo. Daily peaks in the number of flights can be considerable. This leads to an excess of staff in the quiet moments between these peaks. Disruptions are caused by departing and arriving flights, although departures are more controllable than flights arriving late or early. Disruptions lead to planning deviations that can be shared in real time and across the airport.
Three important tips that help to bring about improvement
The challenges involved in airport planning can, to a large extent, be better managed than they are at present. Airports that have the ambition to make real use of the complex dynamics must be able:
- To understand what is happening now and at any time when a change occurs.
- To respond immediately and effectively. For example, by moving a security team from one terminal to another.
- To understand the influence of very short-term interventions on airport dynamics in the minutes and hours ahead.
Improved airport planning is a basic requirement
In an ideal world, all parties involved at an airport would collect data and share it with each other. This data then forms the basis for greatly improved airport planning; for long-term, medium-term and short-term planning. Good data gives a clear picture of the consequences of a change. Planners know a lot, but the dynamics at an airport are so large and complex that it is impossible to get a clear picture of everything with limited or partial planning. The aviation sector is one of the most digitally organized industries, but there is insufficient sharing of data.
Deploy airport staff more efficiently
Access to up-to-date data in real time will allow queues to be reduced and staff to be deployed more efficiently. This leads to more revenue from satisfied customers and at least to lower costs for staff. After all, if you know exactly how many people are on a flight and how many pieces of baggage the aircraft is carrying, then the consequences are also clear.
Smarter and faster response to change
The value of good data, better synchronization and predictions is enormous. Not only in periods of economic prosperity, but also in times when people fly less. Sharing data more efficiently and quickly gives machine learning technologies the chance to uncover patterns. This can be used to enrich the planning processes of all parties involved at the airport. Airports with a vision can thus respond to any situation and further optimize returns between now and an hour to an hour and a half. This is the most decisive period for passengers. Airports give themselves the opportunity to keep the passenger experience positive and possibly still make money. Are you curious about the improvement potential that lies ahead for your airport?