As the world’s population continues to grow the demand for air travel also increases. For airports to be able to match the needs of all future passengers, proper infrastructure must be developed. This is time-consuming and can take many years for new infrastructure to be operationally ready in order to extend airport capacity to landside operations. During this period, airport operators are faced with the challenge of relying on existing facilities while the new one is being properly deployed to prevent running into any shortages. This balancing act requires robust planning and collaboration among all staff.

Integrated planning and de-siloing

One of the most valuable tools for the development of airport infrastructure is an integrated planning approach between all different process units, stakeholders, and time zones from long-term predictions until the day-of-operations. Initiatives like the Airport Operations Plan (AOP) by Eurocontrol and SESAR show the optimization potential when using a collaborative approach. The AOP was created as follow-up of the A-CDM initiative and aims to connect all divisions at an airport for planning, monitoring, and post-analysis of the process (steps included). An integrated planning approach enables the identification of bottlenecks that might occur in cross-dependency with other checkpoints along the passenger journey. This can create an organizational challenge – working in collaboration across hierarchies towards a joint vision.

In data we trust

As the saying goes, “You can have data without information, but you cannot have information without data” (Daniel Keys Moran). With technological developments evolving faster than airports can keep up with, the amount of available data is also increasing – which means the demand to create analytic capabilities is an absolute must. Airports need to build up business intelligence (BI) teams and data officers to take full advantage of what is available and in turn ensure airports are seizing opportunities from a business perspective. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning are two technologies that can heavily support and reduce individual work, which can cut costs. Currently, there is still a need for individuals to set these up and steer processes to properly decode the findings. Nevertheless, these technologies will change the way we work in the future. From biometrics to object identification and smart self-learning predictions, the potential use-cases are huge and will further help to optimize airport operations. The major advantage is the amount of data that is produced by these systems will provide key information to be able to create an airport digital identity, the so-called digital twin. This digital “copy” of the airport environment and all its resources, facilities in combination with key metrics would allow for stakeholders to make decisions on the fly as well as immediate what-if scenarios to make solution findings easier.

Learning from real-life examples

Examples of successful digital relationships within the industry do exist, proving that collaboration and the optimization of data exchange can improve overall operational efficiency. Digitalization can improve transparency, communication, and the management of an entire airport. For example, Frankfurt Airport implemented an operational data warehouse to build the foundation for their analytics touching on various business units. This data provides new insights allowing to further develop data-driven projects. The use of forecasting and simulation helped Frankfurt Airport link flight related activities to passenger processing and as a result empowering planners and operations to further optimize the usage of facilities and resources.

Capacity meets technology

In order to meet the growing demand, there is an absolute necessity in combining technology when collaborating in optimizing airport infrastructure. Capital expenditures for IT solutions are normally less than spending in concrete creating a higher value of the existing costs per square meters per passenger. Ensuring the future of airports is built smart with the right tools in hand is exactly how airports will provide passengers the journey they expect.