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U.S. airport leaders
have exceptional passenger growth on their hands that shows no signs of
slowing. A 150% increase in America’s air passenger numbers is forecast by 2040.

This sounds positive at
face value. More passengers, after all, means more revenue. But continual
traffic increases also amount to great pressure on airport operational teams to
facilitate seamless journeys. 

This explains why 89% of U.S. airport leaders view securing federal
funding as a priority today. And the good news is that President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure
Law
recently released $970 million in grants benefitting 114 airports.

Accessing federal
cash isn’t the only means, however, to scale capacity for rising passenger
numbers. U.S. airport leaders understand that technology will be critical for
transforming operations for the better. According to AeroCloud’s study, more than half (58%) agree that failing to
invest in new technologies to optimize their operations – such as SaaS
platforms, automation and AI – is a key risk to their operations over the
coming 12 months.

This is because
airports leaders don’t just operate in the silo of their own airport. They’re
fully aware of how other airports are leveraging cutting edge technology to
scale capacity by managing more inbound and outbound flights. Des Moines
International Airport, for example, is using a cloud-native gate management
platform to set AI and machine learning on diverse data sources to offer
up-to-date and accurate flight information, which enables the airport
operations team to dynamically plan and manage their gates, hard stands and
apron operations. This drives efficiencies while simultaneously optimizing
physical and technological investments to support the Iowa airport’s growing
number of passengers.  

So, how can airport
leaders replicate such success? Having the right priorities in upending airport
operations and experiences is key.

No excuses to ignore
data potential

Airports have been
comparatively slow in harnessing data to supercharge their operations. Forty-three
percent of U.S. airport leaders say
they still use processes like depending on
Excel and Word documents to store and manage operational information. Not only
is this more error-prone, but it skews planning decisions because data is
outdated by the time it’s inputted and siloed since it lives within just one team
function.

Airports need to be data-driven
so key processes such as gate management systems, flight information displays (FIDS)
and more are informed by real-time information. With a cloud-based approach to
unify data, airport leaders are in a great position to do just that and benefit
from more automation to boot.

It’s important to
stress what being more data-driven means in practice for airport workers in
their day-to-day lives. Legacy airport management systems typically have a
limited number of “seats” which excludes a broad range of airport stakeholders,
such as airlines and ground handlers, from accessing vital operational
information.

This isn’t good
enough. Operations teams need a single source of truth, fueled by real-time data,
to keep a tab on flight operations as they happen and communicate in an
informed way with colleagues and customers alike. This also should be available
to all stakeholders, not just a select few, and accessed from any device on the
move. That’s important because it extends the benefits of data-driven decision-making
to as many users as possible. This is “data democratization” in action.

With the right data
foundations in place, airport leaders can set AI models to work optimally across
their organization – critically, to improve overall passenger experience.

How AI overhauls the
airport passenger experience

Facial biometrics is an
increasingly used technology in airports across the U.S. To date, The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has deployed Credential Authentication Technology
(CAT-2) scanners to introduce facial recognition technology into the security screening
process of nearly 30 airports nationwide. It plans to bring this technology to
more than 400 federalized airports over the coming years. 

While facial
biometrics is helping airports get passengers into concession areas more
quickly – AI can be combined with this technology to cut passenger wait times
even further. From applying AI to existing X-ray and CT systems to detect
prohibited items more quickly to speeding up the traditional boarding pass
check where AI can verify a boarding passenger’s identity based on their
previously collected facial biometrics scan. 

These examples
demonstrate AI’s potential to automate repetitive, manual checks so that staff
can be redeployed into other areas of an airport where their presence could be
needed more.

Intelligent airport
operations 

Airport operational
staff know full well, however, that direct customer touchpoints are only one
side of the passenger experience coin. Airport back-end operations also need to
run smoothly for passengers to have a great experience and, again, AI holds
massive potential here.

Passenger flow is
critical to passenger experience but too often continues to be monitored via
manual stopwatches and clipboards. AI-powered computer vision allows
operational teams to understand the passenger journey from curb to gate. It
captures movement using existing CCTV infrastructure and flags when dwell times
are high in specific areas which could indicate issues, such as not having enough
personnel at security, to remedy the situation. Critically, this technology keeps
passenger identities anonymous in compliance with local data privacy
regulations. 

This is cutting-edge
stuff – but just one benefit from using AI to monitor passenger flow. When this
data is fed into an airports data analytics platform, they’re able to identify
patterns to predict future scenarios such as having more cleaning staff on duty
during peak times and what times of the day to offer deals in concessionary
areas. In short, this represents truly intelligent airport operations.

Upsides make AI rollout
a no-brainer

In conclusion,
airports have everything to gain from harnessing AI and machine learning to
achieve their priority goals. Processes enhanced by AI boost passenger
experience while making the jobs of airport workers easier across individual
aspects of airport operations. And, in an overall sense, upending legacy
systems for a cloud-based, data-driven approach puts reliable, real-time data
into the hands of more airport workers. The benefits of this can’t be
overlooked.

Taking steps to use
more AI might feel daunting for some airport leaders. Starting small, being clear-eyed
about AI’s practical potential today and ensuring that good quality, reliable
data feeds AI models are all great ways for these leaders to move forward with
rollouts of AI that are mutually beneficial for management, staff and passengers
alike.

About the author…

George Richardson is CEO of AeroCloud.



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