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Economics Last modified on August 2, 2017

All about data

New technology continues to provide airports with new sources of data about passenger behaviours than can be used to improve operational efficiency and boost revenues, writes Tony Chapman.

You’re rushing to the airport to catch a flight when the service you’ve subscribed to sends a text message. It’s letting you know there’s an accident ahead and provides an alternate route.

It also lets you know that the parking garage you typically use is just about full and offers some other options. Because of the updates, you make it to the airport in time, jump on your flight and off you go.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? While it may not be available today at your local airport, this type of solution, and others like it, are generating a lot of interest in the aviation community.

These technologies are part of a new set of solutions that focus on traffic, queue and flow management to enhance the passenger experience, optimise operations and improve revenue by using data to better understand passenger behaviour before getting to – and once at – the airport.

Unlike passenger facilitation solutions that enable travellers to go through security, check-in, drop bags, etc, as quickly and as efficiently as possible, passenger behaviour technologies focus on what passengers do in between those events.

Ultimately, the goal is to get a better understanding of passenger behaviour from the time they leave their home to how a passenger transits through the airport by using analytics.

Airports want to know specifically where passengers go, where they queue, where they dwell, and more about their dining and shopping preferences.

New technologies provide new capabilities

Tracking and flow management solutions have existed for some time, but technological limitations have slowed adoption. However, that’s changing. The per cent of devices that can be tracked using Bluetooth, for example, is actually very low, so previous solutions did not provide as much value. But new capabilities, like indoor satellite and advanced sensor networks, are removing limitations and making these solutions more useful for airports, and passengers, alike.

And the value does not need to come from tracking an individual but rather from understanding the general behaviour a person exhibits. For example, airports want to know that Person A was in security for 10 minutes, then stopped at a certain shop and then headed to the gate 45 minutes before departure.

At some point in the future, airports may be able to identify an individual, but that’s likely to be subject to personal approval to opt in to a service, which will provide the passenger with a personalised service and other unique benefits, similar to the way a person may give up some of his or her privacy when using Google.

Optimising operations

Technologies that measure traffic in real time, reporting volume, speed, lane occupancy, queue length and other information are very useful to an airport as well as to arriving and/or departing passengers.

Systems that are continuously updated with the actual behaviour of passengers enable airports to proactively address issues.

Inside the terminal, effective people flow management is critical to an airport’s core business. Extensive video systems, neural networks coupled with artificial intelligence and deep learning techniques and other technologies, enable airports to get real-time measurements and analytics of passenger behaviour, predicted wait times, ongoing throughput levels and lane opening data, for example.

If predicted queue times at security are increasing, the head of security might receive a message to open a new line – eliminating issues before they become problems and increasing passenger satisfaction.

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Understanding passenger analytics

Understanding where passengers dwell can provide unique insight for infrastructure decisions and also help maximise revenue. Understanding why people tend to congregate in this area versus that can impact how an airport designs, redesigns or builds new infrastructure.

How can it impact revenue? If an airport knows where its passengers dwell, it could, for example, charge different retail rates for different areas based on passenger behaviour.

Likewise, an airport could control the content on its digital signage to determine the best placement for product advertising. It could mix and match advertising and track it so it can bill based on the demographics and the number of people who see it.

Combining data creates powerful insights for airports

While airports globally are looking at implementing a number of these solutions, the biggest value will come from integrating passenger analytical data with the operational data captured from existing airport systems, like Rockwell Collins’ ARINC airport operations, passenger processing and self-service systems.

This integration would provide a much more comprehensive data set and enable airports to understand every aspect of its passengers’ behaviour. Most importantly, the data could be used to optimise operations and provide the services and facilities that it believes its customer wants.

And what if systems outside and inside the airport could be integrated? Take the example of an airport that bases its number of security screeners on expected passenger arrival rates and suddenly it’s not seeing those people? Real time data feeds, to an integrated system, could identify the issue as a traffic accident that’s delayed travellers, and just knowing when things were likely to clear up would enable the airport to adjust its staffing and/or add more self-service systems in real time to handle the peak passenger load when it arrives.

And this integration could provide airports with even more insight. What if we could tell an airport if Airline A’s passengers behave differently from Airline B’s? Or if passengers behave differently in the evening than they do in the morning?

Using this data could impact the design and planning of airport infrastructure to best accommodate actual passenger behaviour.

In the future, airports will be well served by looking at IT solutions that provide fully automated ways of understanding what passengers are doing throughout their journeys, from the moment they leave home until they board the plane.

Ultimately, understanding and using passenger behaviour data and integrating it with operational data will be the key to unlocking the airport of the future.

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