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Passenger Terminal World speaks to three of the key speakers ahead of next week’s Passenger Terminal Expo and Conference in Barcelona, Spain

To find out more information on the event and to register, click here.

Who? Huw Thomas, Partner, Foster + Partners, UK

What? Thames hub: aspirational or essential?

When? Tuesday 25 March at 16:30 in the Airport design, planning and development session

Why do you believe the UK needs a new hub airport?

If the UK wants to maintain its global access, it has to add new destinations and I believe the best option for this is to build a new four-runway hub airport in the Thames Estuary. This will be the most viable way to increase airport capacity in the UK. 

London Heathrow has been incredibly successful since World War II and has defined global hub connectivity, but it has reached capacity. The UK needs to serve an additional 55 cities by 2020 to maintain its global access, but this isn’t physically possible at Heathrow. In addition, we don’t see Gatwick or Stansted airports offering additional hub capacity – they will offer new solutions and they’ll innovate, but it won’t be what we vitally need, which is hub capacity.

How long would it take to build a completely new airport?

The decision whether to build a brand new airport or to add a new runway at Heathrow or Gatwick will take exactly the same amount of time. It’s a legal process and there are no shortcuts.

With regards to the construction of the new airport, as it will have water on three sides, we can build large-scale components around the country and ship them in. This will save time. Due to this port infrastructure, we can mobilize a wider construction industry and we won’t have aircraft flying over us. We could do extraordinary things, the sort of things that we’re well used to doing in emerging markets. You can’t do that at Heathrow and Gatwick, you can’t pre-assemble large components and bring them in because the roads aren’t there. You can’t have large cranes because there’s aircraft that will knock them over, so you’re severely constrained. That’s why Heathrow’s proposals are in the same sort of construction timetable it would take us. It would take us six to seven years to build the airport from when it get’s the go-ahead.

What would you say to people that are against the idea?

Regardless of what people may think, a new airport would not cause more disruption and I’d even argue that it would be a lot less disruptive than expanding Heathrow or Gatwick. The disruption from noise, pollution and risk is clearly higher at the existing locations because population surrounds them.

Choosing a site, which is very sparsely populated, is the right thing to do. At the end of the day, the UK will get an airport that’s designed to be operationally efficient, therefore it’s cheaper for airlines to operate out of it, has enough capacity, it takes away the artificial constraint on supply and should reduce cost and ticket prices.

The main challenge standing in the way of the new Thames Hub airport is political will. There’s no doubt that the money is there for something like this, there is global interest in investing in this sort of infrastructure. What we would be proposing is on the level of what Dubai is now doing with Al Maktoum International. The UK Commission has told us that the proposals need more work – they offer extraordinary opportunity and advantage, but they also raise questions around scale, risk and cost. Once the commission has looked at the proposal in more detail and if they feel that all their questions have been answered adequately then they may elevate the plan to the shortlist, which currently features the two proposals from Heathrow and Gatwick.

Who? John Jarrell, Head of Airport IT, Amadeus IT Group, Spain

What? Happy airports make more money

When? Thursday 27 March at 12:25 in the Customer service and passenger experience session

What areas can passenger satisfaction be improved?

I believe passengers are especially concerned with basic needs, including things like short wait times, punctuality of flights, baggage delivery on time, short check-in lanes, a fast and smooth security process, and the ease of navigating through the airport. Anything that adds complication, stress or waiting time can really add to passenger dissatisfaction.

The airport experience is often rated as the least pleasant segment in a trip. It’s the first and the last part of the journey and often sets the tone for the overall experience the passenger has. They just want to get in and out of the airport as quickly as possible. Obviously there are some people that are exceptions, but I think that’s the general mindset. It’s important to change the negative perception people may have of airports and drive a pleasant customer experience.

How can technology improve passenger experience?

There’s a lot of ways that technology can really improve customer satisfaction and one would be through the use of business intelligence tools. If you can enrich quality data to provide better information to the airport operator well in advance of when resources are needed, it can reduce waiting times and so on. Technology that automates the passenger process is also helpful in terms of saving time and smoothing the process. Think of self-service check-in, self-service baggage drop, boarding pass scanning, and automated boarding gates – these are fast, easy and simple solutions. 

Baggage reconciliation can also be used to improve passenger experience. Although this technology has been around for a long time, it is continuing to improve. If you can check before a bag has even been loaded on to an aircraft that the passenger is not going to be on the flight, it prevents the delays that are caused by baggage handlers having to go back on the plane, find a specific bag and take it off. By integrating a baggage reconciliation system directly with the passenger database in the reservation system, it will let airports determine whether that passenger has even checked-in yet and if they haven’t, they might not want to load the bag.

What will the audience learn from your presentation?

We are fairly new in the airport community and we recognise that, but we’ve been providing centralised cloud-based solutions, software as a service infrastructure and community platforms for the travel agency and airline business for the past 25 years. Those concepts are now gaining traction in the airport market and we’re experts in those contracts, so I think airports can learn a lot more about our plans with software as a service, community platforms, etc. Our recently acquired company UFIS brings unique airport IT software development expertise, and a well-established suite of AODB, FIDS, Common Situational Awareness and Resource management systems. UFIS is also ahead of the industry with its new platform Airtilus, a centrally-hosted platform which matches Amadeus’s vision on where the new generation of IT solutions for airports need to be.

Airports don’t necessarily have to spend large amounts of money. These concepts, including software as a service, infrastructure as a service, pay-as-you-go transaction based models, don’t have to involve major capital expenditure. They can be paid for on a passenger-by-passenger basis. That means airports don’t have to have as many budget difficulties raising capital, it’s a more efficient model that’s been used in other industries. This is a desire of Amadeus, to bring those types of financing mechanisms to the airport business because we do recognise that airports are increasingly capital-constrained and we don’t think that should keep them from implementing technologies that can help improve the customer experience and their profitability.

Who? Stephane Cheikh, Innovation Manager, SITA Lab, Switzerland

What? Wearable technology for our industry – hype or hope?

When? Wednesday 26 March at 17:10 in the Customer service and passenger experience session

How can wearable technology be used in the airport terminal?

Wearable technology (WT) or wearable computing are the same terms and can be interchanged. Both are computer-based devices that users wear to interact via different form factors, be it smart glasses, smart watches, smart bracelets or a few other types of devices. We are just starting the New Year and it’s already looking like a new electronics war is brewing. Just as companies battled over tablets and video game consoles last year, 2014 is shaping up to be the breakout year of wearable electronics.

In fact, we’re currently working with Virgin Atlantic, who were the first in the industry to test how the latest wearable technology can enhance customers’ travel experiences. Concierge employees in the airline’s Upper Class Wing at London Heathrow’s Terminal 3 are using wearable technology to deliver the industry’s most high tech and personalised customer service.

At SITA, we’re focusing on WT for professional use. We see airport and airline staff using three types of WT: smart glasses, smart watches and smart bracelets. We need to remember that staff will wear these three WTs in addition to their mobile phone, which will be connected to their wearable device.

In 2014 and 2015, SITA Lab foresees that WTs will mostly communicate via the phone, which is where the data connection will take place if wi-fi is not available. Some WTs will have applications running locally, but most will use the tethered phone to communicate with the rest of the world if no wi-fi is available. In 2014 we will see more and more applications and use cases using WT in airport terminals, but they will be “trials” still at a development level. SITA Lab foresees that in 2015, wider scale deployment of WT solutions for the workforce will replace existing airport terminal processes.

How will this type of technology affect passengers and airport employees?

WT will only succeed if it improves current airport operations and processes. Right now a few trials are taking place to evaluate the technology and see if these processes can be optimised when using WT. In a couple of years, the passenger should appreciate a quicker journey through the airport and better accuracy at security, thanks to WT.

WT promises the immediate availability of data without having to look at your phone or tablet; the information will be available either in front of your eye or on your wrist and your hands will be free. WT will also give airport staff more accurate and contextual information precisely at the right time. Other applications include the ability to scan barcodes and passports without holding a scanner. Lastly, WT will enable airline and airport staff to go hands-free, so they can better assist passengers or hold required documentation if/when needed.

How should airports be preparing for the impact of wearable technology?

As usual, WT will be useful if and only there is a combination of these two elements: first, a form factor – a watch, glass or bracelet – which is easy for staff to wear and use; and second, information displayed via this device, which is accurate, contextual and usable. On the second point, airports have data (i.e. AODB) that they can push and display to staff via WT. Airports can start making this data available via APIs so that WT applications can consume them in the future. Airports can also conduct small trials to test the form factor and think about the information to be displayed via this device.

SITA Lab has taken the lead in testing and trialling WT for the air transport industry. We have been working on WT since mid-2013, testing and comparing WT devices, and developing a few applications for testing with airlines and airports.

March 20, 2014

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About Author

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Kirstie joined the team in early 2017 and brings writing, communications and client experience with her. Now an assistant editor, she produces content for magazines Passenger Terminal World and Postal and Parcel Technology International and their websites. Away from the office, you will find her struggling along the pavements of Surrey as she trains for the Great South Run, blogging on her lifestyle website or searching the internet for photos of sausage dogs.

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