4 reasons your airport needs to adapt to new technologies and how to do it

4 reasons your airport needs to adapt to new technologies and how to do it

The airport industry is going through a major business transformation. To ensure a smooth operation, you need to understand the triggers and how to adapt. This post explains the triggers, highlights the key technologies impacting airports now and in the future, and what elements to keep in mind when adopting them at your airport.

The triggers behind the transformation

The transformation is fueled by four triggers:

#1 The first trigger is passenger growth. Airports that have previously been able to operate without constraints are now feeling the pain of long lines snaking through the terminal, causing delays, unhappy passengers or misconnections resulting in social media uproar.


#2 The second trigger is the rising importance of retail revenue: the increased significance of non-aeronautical revenue (NAR), is forcing airports to shift focus. At an airport conference, I overheard a vendor describing airports as malls with runways attached. This is in line with a recent ACI analysis that shows that retail concessions remain the largest source of non-aeronautical revenue for airports at 30.2% (ACI Economic Report March 2019).


#3 The importance of retail revenue is closely tied with the third trigger, the need for increasing passenger satisfaction: Having a bad experience at the airport once, leaves the passenger with a lasting impression of not wanting to show up early, resulting in fewer sales and less revenue. Also, being stressed by the passenger journey through the airport reduces the desire to spend time in retail. Even though your airport may stay within your service level agreements for wait time at security or check-in, the actual passenger experience may still be poor, if lines snake outside the roped-off queuing area or if the airport layout causes confusion and a sense of chaos.


#4 The final trigger is the increased applicability of new technologies. Biometrics, CT-scanners, and baggage tracking software have now reached a level of accuracy and affordability that can significantly improve processing times and security measures while making passengers happy. However, the technologies are not just plug ‘n play. Airports need to understand their operational processes and have a holistic approach to airport operations to gain the full benefit of adopting new technologies. The technologies driving the transformation and how they create a better airport


The first step before adopting new technologies is, therefore, to map your current processes and harness the data already available at your airport. The use of data-driven decision making and optimization goes a long way in improving both the passenger experience and ensuring growth without expansion. Furthermore, through data integration and the use of smart, easy-to-use planning tools you will be able to identify your airport’s specific operational pinch points, select which type of technologies to focus on and consider how they can supplement existing business processes. The following section briefly outlines key technologies and their value for different operational areas.


If your pinch point is within check-in, the future rhymes with taking control while introducing mobile infrastructure and continuing to push self-service:

  • The full-service kiosk will partly be phased out within the next 5 years and the check-in and boarding card process will take place before arrival at the airport.
  • Mobile kiosks can be the more flexible replacement for the full-service kiosks.
  • Development and adoption of face recognition and the single token concept will also help to decrease transaction times and passengers’ satisfaction, although this will take longer.
  • Operational optimization also depends on the willingness of airlines to agree to the use of shared services. This will be affected by the airlines’ need to differentiate and brand themselves and reflects the level of competition at your airport. However, using accurate planning tools will usually get you a long way before having to expand infrastructure.
  • Within baggage, the permanent bag tag will gain traction within the next 5-10 years, with RFID being the more expensive option, due to high implementation costs.
  • The smaller bag tag printers can help airports deal with an increasing number of passengers in the coming years.
  • The permanent baggage tag is unanimously selected as the future within baggage
  • Airport operators will start engaging more actively in the baggage operation where millions of data points are generated. The data points are not only valuable for the baggage operation, but for other operational areas as well.

For security, the main development centers around security level differentiation, biometric solutions, advanced scanners, and automated tray return systems.

  • The main driver of performance improvement in security operations is the adoption of advanced scanners. C3- or C2-level scanners that let passengers keep liquids and/or laptop in the bag will increase throughput and improve process times and the passenger experience.
  • The introduction of centralized image processing (CIP) and automated tray return systems contribute to an increased throughput and reduced wait times.
  • Security level differentiation works towards an overall reduction in the process time and Risk Based Screening helps security staff focus on the few travelers that pose the biggest threat.
Emigration / immigration

Within emigration and immigration, the main development centers around biometrics, eGates and mobile apps.

  • The wider use of Primary Inspection Kiosks (PIK) and eGates improves processing times and reduce wait times during entry and exit into the country.
  • Also, the wider use of mobile apps for the border can help streamline the traveler inspection process and enable border security officers to focus more on inspection and less on administrative functions.
  • As officers become more familiar with the automated solutions, transaction times are expected to decrease significantly and through this, reduce reliance on border officer staffing
  • The use of new technologies, like biometric face scans, will also play a key role in the retail aspect of running an airport. The pre-enrollment of personal information provides airports with valuable information on individual preferences to tailor offers to each individual passenger. This will enable airports to increase NAR significantly, although it also requires airports to think carefully about data security and regulations.


What to consider when adopting new technology

When adopting new technology to your airport, there are some basic steps that you need to take to ensure you are getting the expected return on investment:

  • Do a test run! Before purchasing new technology, make sure to either test it at your own airport or visit other airports that have it, to see how it works in a live airport environment.
  • Get the required know-how! Ensure you have the right skill set to assess the value of the technology to your airport. If you are missing the skills, get it from outside your organization. This can be done by carrying out a technology maturity assessment.
  • Get the right people! Ensure you have the required skills needed to work with the technology implementation. It is important that the required resources are identified as part of the project acceptance.
  • Measure the value! Have a clear understanding of what the aim of implementing the technology should be, and make sure to measure the new piece of technology from implementation. Quantifiable metrics should be put in place to support this.
  • Take small steps! By doing a limited installation at first, you get a chance to harvest learnings and use them for a full roll-out. Also, make sure that you have a framework contract that allows for quick project extensions without another round of procurement.
  • Decide on one or more suppliers! Consider the value of having one versus several providers. For certain areas, multiple suppliers may be required to deliver the services.


AUTHOR: Sarah Frances Procter
Sarah joined Copenhagen Optimization in 2017 after having held a variety of roles, including Route Development Manager, Airport Operation Management, and Director Real Estate at CPH Airport. Before this, Sarah worked in both the FMCG industry with PepsiCo International in the UK as well as in the IT sector.
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