Merging technology: the benefits for airports

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The global growth in the number of people traveling by air presents some unique challenges, beyond merely making sure airports are large enough to accommodate passengers, says Christian Carstens.

Technology offers some exciting solutions, such as sensors and cameras, to help us understand passenger volume and flow. However, selecting the right solution can be challenging, as no single technology can meet all measurement requirements. In addition, an airport’s existing environment must be considered when choosing a system – as well as meeting current needs, it must be easily scalable for future demands.

Technology can be costly to install, and there is a direct correlation between numbers, cost, and lead time. Therefore, minimizing installations while maintaining high levels of accuracy is crucial.

Making the right choice
It is essential to start with the desired outcome, rather than the technology or the accuracy of the data it promises to deliver. For example, an airport may want to deliver wait time information to passengers, or better match capacity with demand at the right times. Once the desired outcomes have been identified, the next step is to define what data is needed to achieve them. While cost and efficiency considerations cannot be ignored, it is important to clarify the levels of accuracy required to make the right decisions.

In identifying challenges and outcomes, it is also critical to understand both the individual, isolated airport processes and to get clarity on their interdependence. It can be tempting to focus on a single pinch point, such as check-in, security or border control, without understanding its effect on others, or how it, in turn, is affected.

Experience, however, tells us that knowledge about one process will lead to another, eventually flowing between all processes. With an airport-wide understanding of flow patterns, it is easier to focus on the right challenges and to more effectively improve all operations. It is therefore essential to choose a solution that supports the analysis of flows, rather than just single-process queue management.

A global trend
There are many emerging passenger flow technologies available, from mobile device tracking to camera-based solutions. According to SITA, 77% of airports will have business intelligence initiatives for queue management by the end of 2019. The question is: which technology is the most effective for the issues that need to be solved?

Camera and wi-fi/Bluetooth sensor
New 3D camera solutions provide an unparalleled level of accuracy for people-counting and dwell-time statistics, offering a detailed picture of wait times per processing point. However, cameras are unsuitable for measuring how people move through multiple processes, as they struggle with gaps in coverage and are easily influenced by changing environmental conditions like lighting and physical obstacles.

Wi-fi/BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy)/Bluetooth sensor solutions are ideal for measuring airport-wide flow, and queue and dwell time through multiple processing points by detecting passengers’ mobile devices. They are, however, unsuitable for people-counting.

Combining the requirements of the data with those of the physical environment will determine solution. Often a combination of technologies is the most accurate and cost-effective option. Choosing a sensor agnostic solution will enable the use of some of the best data-acquisition technologies on the market.

The best of all worlds
Taking an approach that supports and utilizes data from several sources, and maximizing the advantages of independent technologies and their strengths, provides a solution that is economically viable and scalable, delivering the desired outcome.

The airport will be more adaptable when adjusting to variable ceiling heights, lighting conditions, expansions and so on, which means fewer redundant installations, and reduced costs. Creating a low-stress, predictable experience for passengers will always play in the airport’s favor. Shorter queues, predicted wait times, and more efficient processing really can make for a seamless, pleasant and memorable airport experience.

Christian Carstens is marketing manager
at BlipTrack, Veovo. 

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