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How tech is set to transform airports in the next decade

 JKIA in Nairobi
The JKIA in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Airport operations technology provider, Sita, is predicting a momentous evolution in airport operations in ten years, thanks to digital technologies for passenger and cargo-handling.

SITA business development director Benoit Verbaere said clearance of incoming and outgoing passengers will be fast-tracked via use of non-human contact digital technologies that enhance efficiency and security.

Speaking when Sita unveiled 10 bold predictions on how the technologies will transform airports into giant flying “park and ride” centres, Mr Verbaere said passengers’ experiences will be based on unique insights, driving industry forces and emerging technologies.

While introduction of biometric security, mobile check-in, and baggage tracking have helped fast-track operations in airports, Sita hinted that technology advances would precipitate a digital explosion of devices where data captured via Software Defined Networks will be collated and analysed for better airport operations.

“Passenger numbers are set to double in the next twenty years, but airport expansion will not. Passengers will demand a stress-free experience and the only way airports can work smoothly is by adopting new technologies that enhance efficiency,” he said.

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For back-end airport operations, a digital twin technology — an advanced computer simulation that takes data from across the entire airport and airline operations to visualise, simulate and predict what will happen next — will be applied at all levels within airports.

“Operational activities will be automated where possible. Automated messages such as: ‘Two A380s will land at the same time because one is delayed: ensure there are enough people on immigration desks.’ or ‘The feedback from the restrooms on the second level is negative: send the cleaners,’” says Sita.

The study suggests that the next decade will also accommodate inter-digital device communications with various players enjoying limited access rights to their sector portals.

“Every single journey has 10 or more different entities that make a trip possible. Stakeholders from entities within airports — airport authorities, airlines, government agencies, ground handlers, restaurants and shops — must collaborate with the entire system linked into a global ecosystem of connected airports,” it noted.

Sita said advanced networking technologies such as blockchain provide tremendous potential in facilitating the secure exchange of information within airport entities and onwards onto the global airports ecosystem. The main function of the new technologies will be to help passengers board and disembark faster from aircrafts that will be facilitated to get airborne as quickly as possible.

Security checks and check-in processes will commence outside the airport where passengers adopt e-tags for themselves, their luggage as well as cargo thereby doing away with physical document checks and the embarrassing body search.

“Risk within airports will be constantly assessed by specialist artificial intelligence (AI), using the passenger’s digital identity where sensitive elements of this data will be used only by governments, which will use automated collaborative systems to approve — or, in some cases, not approve — the various steps of the journey,” it says.

This could see the burden airlines borne by airlines on processing passenger data for border security purposes become easier.

While just-in-time technologies have been successfully applied in the logistics, manufacturing and retail industries among others, the report said the same is to be applied in airport operations, thanks to connected, automated and autonomous vehicles as well as robots to be used within airports.

The connected devices platform also opens a shared services capability helping various entities to reduce costs of operations within their units “for their common good.”

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