Airports built to last

| | in Oped

Early engagement of a technology partner in the design phase of an airport terminal enables a paradigm change in its construction

There has been a strong collaboration in recent years between architects and IT specialists in the development of new airports and terminal design. The role played by technology in providing flexibility to an airport has enabled it to handle the relentless growth in passenger numbers. Starting with a shared infrastructure for check-in and combining it with self-service, airports have now moved the check-in process from the airport to train stations, hotels and other venues. In turn, this has reduced the area needed at the terminal to cater to the passengers. A design that incorporates a mix between self-service kiosks and traditional counters at the terminal reduces the number of physical counters, which means more floor space can be utilised for retail space.

Intelligenceflexibility: Besides infrastructure, airports can use technology in their operations to remain flexible. Business Intelligence (BI) for both day-to-day operations and future planning uses data from multiple sources for data exploration and predictive analytics, allowing airports to be flexible, proactive and more efficient. To deliver the data that underpins the intelligent airport, the terminal needs an agile and connected infrastructure that can bring people and systems together. This is best planned at the design stage of any terminal construction or upgrade.

Plug and play: Deploying a single IT infrastructure allows all stakeholders to connect, creating a true-shared infrastructure and a ‘plug and play’ tenant-friendly airport that is more attractive to airlines and concessionaires. An agile and connected information and communications technology (ICT) platform can easily accommodate current and new technology, such as near field communications (NFC) and wearable computing, as well as meeting the demands for connectivity and bandwidths of the new generation aircraft, such as A350, B787 and A380.

Pace of change: Upping the pace of change is the ‘connected traveler’. Who could have foreseen even a decade ago that almost every passenger (97 per cent) would be carrying a smartphone, tablet or a laptop when they fly, and that one in five travels with all three? The challenge is that these travelers expect to be connected throughout the entire journey, which is vital to one of the airport’s top imperatives: Passenger satisfaction. Airports must address the expectations of constant connectivity and service improvements — while also keeping pace with growth in demand.

Connected operations: Connect experience plays a key role role in part in improving passenger and baggage throughput, ensuring the rapid turnaround of aircraft and providing an enhanced customer experience. That may be anything from speeding up passenger check-in and boarding, to optimising aircraft servicing and loading, or embracing the digitally ‘connected traveler’, and creating a personalised airside retail experience.

ICT at design stage: It is important to incorporate this ICT infrastructure,  including structure cabling, server rooms, and so on, into the airport or terminal design. Bear in mind that advances in cloud technology will mean fewer requirements for the ICT infrastructure to be on-site. It is here that architects and IT specialists can collaborate to determine the infrastructure that needs to be built so that one can make capital investment in areas able to generate revenues, such as retail, rather than being wasted on unnecessary, on-site, energy-consuming technology. Very much a part of the future-proof airport, SITA’s ATI Cloud is starting to be deployed by airports worldwide. By centering infrastructure in the cloud, together with data and services, airports can simply and cost-effectively embrace leading and future-proof IT services.

Paradigm change: Early engagement of a technology partner in the design phase of an airport terminal enables a paradigm change in its construction. The traditional capital programme method of ‘design-bid-build’ is now giving way to the ‘design-build’ framework. This emerging method is much more agile, delivering a more cost-effective and accelerated approach to airport terminal capital building programmes. When you consider the heavy reliance on technology in an airport terminal — which is possibly greater than in any other public building — the early engagement of a technology partner in a ‘design-build’ framework will become the de facto standard for any modern airport building program.

Looking ahead: What’s clear is that it is very difficult to predict what will happen in the next 10, 20 or 50 years. Although on an average, airport master plans have a planning horizon of 20 years, technology changes more rapidly. Consider the main drivers of change in the airport IT infrastructure in the next 5-10 years. We’ll see passenger-centric business models combined with the ‘Internet of Things’, which will continue to demand more self-service, mobility and connectivity. Then there’s the rise of BI and big data for improved planning and decision making, which has still a long way to go.  Reality is that no one knows what the future will hold but airport architectural design must align with IT planning so that airports can manage the rollout of IT solutions mapped against clearly defined business objectives. Forward-planning at this level will surely deliver lasting benefits to airports and their stakeholders.

(The writer is President, Airport Transport Solution, SITA)


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