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Arup associate director and aviation security specialist, Stacey Peel, reflects on the challenges of designing the airport of the future and reveals a new passenger processing concept that could help eliminate queues at airports.

As the aviation industry finds ways to draw on the benefits of new technology, such as using blockchain to protect sensitive information, and seeks to improve its return on investment by planning ahead for emerging trends like autonomous vehicles, there is a lot of blue sky thinking about what the airport of the future will look like.

In 2016, the industry talked of what Internet of Things (IoT) meant for airports and airlines. In 2017, the circular runway concept captured our attention as this blue sky thinking is critical to driving innovation.

But how do we get from where we are today to what we are confident will be the norm in the next two to three decades? Many of today’s major capital developments aspire to be innovative, but many of the concepts being considered are still just that, concepts.

The alternative options are to be first adopters or, as more commonly happens, revert to the same model of delivery with incremental upgrades in infrastructure and system performance.

Unlocking the traditional approach to solving problems

Arup’s recent work with India’s GVK Group challenged these options. Using our Future of Air Travel or FOAT methodology – which is founded on organisational psychology theories developed to unlock traditional approaches to problem solving – we looked at ways of bringing to life current thinking, identifying new ideas and driving innovation.

In GVK’s case, the focus was on being future ready, with the key priorities being:

  • Delivering a zero-queue terminal
  • Re-imagining retail, entertainment and dining
  • Designing the future terminal – one space, multiple uses
  • Cost efficiency

The FOAT workshop resulted in nine pilot programme ideas – all implementable and all giant steps towards the airport of the future.

At the recent Passenger Terminal Expo in Stockholm, GVK and Arup shared, for the first time, the details of one of those nine pilots by taking a deep dive into the zero-queue terminal.

The pilot focused on what is feasible in the next one to five years with current technology and architecture, and how this could take GVK’s airports one step closer to being future ready.

Today’s disjointed and disruptive passenger terminal experience

Whilst today’s terminal model might be compared to a shopping mall, its provenance is the need to process passengers before and after embarkation. This is recognised in the nomenclature ‘Central Processing Unit’. Those processes, individually and collectively, have evolved and increased over time in quantity and in many cases complexity.

And, as a direct result of the processes being owned and facilitated by many different entities, the passenger experience is one that is disjointed and disruptive, with multiple stress points caused by:

  • The passenger needing to compensate for the technologies’ inadequacies. For example, having to divest items at the screening checkpoint
  • Different processes between each airport, and at times between each journey at the same airport. For example, despite using self-check-in you must still queue to drop your bag whereas at other airports there is self-service bag drop
  • Multiple queuing as you reach each process: check-in, bag-drop, border control, divestment, person screening, secondary bag check, redress and boarding and on arrival border control, customs, quarantine and baggage collection
  • The provision of similar or the same data multiple times, generating a sense of duplication: check-in, bag drop, border control and boarding and, on arrival, border control again
  • The space and journey between each processing point being counter-intuitive and filled with distraction

These individual processes result in significant space-take in the terminal, as well as time-take as each process occurs in a consecutive manner and requires time to and space to transition between them.

This space and time consumption takes away opportunities to provide those aspects of the terminal experience the passenger enjoys and where the airport realises revenue from: retail, entertainment and dining.


Individual Processing Pods

GVK’s timeframe of one to five years meant that the aspirational elimination of certain processes wasn’t feasible so we identified how, with existing technology, the disjointed and disruptive passenger experience could be addressed. It resulted in the idea for individual Processing Pods.

The advantages of the Processing Pod are multiple. By using human-centred design, the process can be more intuitive and provide for concurrent processing, thus saving time.

While carry-on luggage is being screened, the passenger themselves is being screened. While they undertake check-in and bag drop, the border control process happens passively because the same information is collected once and used for multiple purposes – government’s border control and airline’s check-in requirements.

Arup and GVK hypothesise the processing time for the individual passenger can be reduced by up to 65% by concurrent processing and eliminating multiple queuing and transition times.

The advantages aren’t only realised for the passenger. The Processing Pod should drive what has been elusive to the industry for so long – the sharing of data.

Knowing the passenger will only provide the data once when at the pod, the information must be shared or at least accessible to all parties. Once this particular challenge of sharing data is unlocked, the benefits can be realised elsewhere in the airport, including customised retail experiences,
for instance.


Furthermore, the space-take required by the pod compared to that needed for dispersed processing could be up to 50% less, in turn releasing valuable footprint for non-aeronautical revenue opportunities.

The entities responsible for the individual processes realise operating benefits too as they will only need to provide staff by exception, much like we experience at self-serve supermarket tills.

The Processing Pod reduces the number of stress points for the passenger, the duration in which they are interfacing with and transitioning between processes, and the number of times they are providing information.

This in turn leads to increasing dwell time and likely desire to partake in the enhanced retail, entertainment and dining that is now more available due to the increased space available within the terminal.

Of course, the proposed model is not without its challenges, with some of the more obvious ones including:

  • The sharing of data between entities, something that is challenging the industry today
  • Separation of passengers once screened, which will have a strong influence on the location and layout of the pods in the terminal
  • The need for technology to be increasingly passive, such as biometrics and personnel screening, so that passengers don’t have to behave in a certain way – standing with arms above your head, for instance – in order to compensate for the technology’s limitations.

The FOAT methodology allowed us to draw out these challenges and identify where a pilot can be most effective in challenging today’s technology and infrastructure. This, in turn, provides direction on what needs to be changed in order to become future ready and ultimately realising the airport of the future.

The GVK-Arup FOAT event resulted in an innovative yet practical co-created idea – an idea that met GVK’s intent to be future ready in the next five years and delivered on their priorities of delivering a zero-queue terminal, reimagining retail, entertainment and dining, designing the future terminal – one space, multiple uses and cost efficiency.

This shows that when ambition is supported with a structured and tailored methodology like Arup’s FOAT, the industry can start becoming future ready, today.


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