Emerging Technologies and the Connected Airport

This is the first article in a three-part series on the Future of Airports. To view the main page, click here

A growing number of travelers are being greeted by airport robots that can answer questions in multiple languages, display airport maps and even escort passengers to their gates. Some service robots also entertain travelers by playing music, snapping photos and dancing with people they interact with.

Airport robots are not only being rolled out to better assist travelers – they are also providing an additional layer of security. In China, the country’s first “robocop” patrols the Shenzhen Bae International Airport and can be remotely controlled by human officers to disable or disarm a suspect, China Daily reports.

Although robots can only be found at select airports today, programs around the globe are gaining momentum and bringing to light the opportunities that lie ahead for those who leverage technology. Eventually, fully autonomous robots will become just one component of a connected airport in the future.

Future airports will be fully connected with systems that communicate and interact with each other – providing real-time information about airport operations, security checkpoints, passenger flow and more. A connected system means a seamless passenger experience from parking to boarding. From personalized flight details to automated check-in points, continuous connectivity will allow security officials to monitor all passengers throughout their entire journey, compiling information and assessing individual security risks.

Today’s emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and beacon technology are going to shape what the airport of tomorrow will look like. The information below provides a glimpse into the future.

Artificial Intelligence & Automation

The implementation of artificial intelligence and automation doesn’t begin and end with the development of airport robots. AI and automation are being used in many ways before passengers even step foot in an airport.

In 2017, United Airlines launched a new collaboration with Amazon Alexa called the “United Skill,” allowing customers to ask Alexa questions about their flight, as well as check in with simple voice commands, according to a United press release.

On a broader scale, AI is being leveraged to help customers book travel accommodations online and on mobile apps, with chatbots assisting to help with common questions, engage with potential customers, and upsell people in real time with seat upgrades and loyalty programs.

In the future, AI could be used “to decide in real time what prices it should place on flights, by observing what external market forces are impacting costs and prices,” Jeremy Miller, vice president of marketing of Sentient Technologies stated in an interview with the Airline Passenger Experience Association. “It can orient itself by reviewing jet fuel prices, news feeds and passenger demand and, in real time, make a decision as to what price to assign to a particular seat.” 

Sensors & Beacons

Today, sensor technology is capturing detailed insights into airport operations and providing real-time information about where passengers are walking and waiting.

As explained by The Airline Passenger Experience Association, hundreds of sensors placed throughout airports are used to track all movement of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices such as smartphones and tablets.

“The raw data from the sensors is transferred in real time to a secure data warehouse and analyzed and visualized. The data helps airport managers and travelers to put queue lines – such as at check-in, security, border control and taxi rank – in perspective, eliminating guesswork about how long the process will take, so travelers know exactly how long they have to wait,” said Christian Bugislaus Carstens, BLIP systems marketing manager, in an interview with APEX.

While sensors are being leveraged to provide better visibility, the growing use of beacon technology is enabling airports, airlines and airport vendors, such as restaurants and retailers, to provide relevant real-time location-based information directly to individual travelers.

For example, all travelers who download airport mobile apps and allow notifications can receive information tailored to their journey and preferences – including indoor mapping and turn by turn directions to their gate, with real-time information about your favorite coffee shop in the same terminal. Overall, mobile apps and beacons allow for a personalized experience.

Sensors and beacons have created a new age of connected travelers who are becoming more comfortable with receiving push notifications and instant information on mobile devices. As smartphone adoption continues to increase along with increased traveler predictions, the opportunities for sharing real-time information should rise as well.


Cybersecurity risks could potentially increase as the aviation industry becomes more connected. While a breach could result in compromising customer data, it could also result in causing physical harm and creating a global ripple effect.

“A cyber attack has the potential to wreak large-scale havoc on major transport hubs worldwide and lead to huge numbers of delays, flight cancellations and heightened security alerts, said Michael Schellenberg, director of integration and services, in an interview with SITA.

Today, industry leaders agree cybersecurity is a top priority. According to PwC’s 2015 Global Airline CEO Survey,  85% of airline CEOs named cybersecurity within the top three risks in the industry, up from 82% just one year before. However, results also revealed only 35% of airlines and 30% of airports believe they are prepared for the cyber threats of today.

Airports, airlines and industry partners will need to strengthen cyber defenses and work together to create a comprehensive plan that is proactive, not reactive.

According to the SITA 2017 Air Transport IT Trends Insights report, airlines and airports are projected to spend nearly $33 billion on information technology in 2017. Of those surveyed 95% of airlines and 96% of airports said they “plan to invest in major programs or R & D on cybersecurity initiatives over the next three years.”

In the future, the fight against cyber crime will become more unified, with industry standards, guidelines and best practices being developed and shared amongst all organizations in the industry.

To read the next part of the series, The Future Passenger Experience: Seamless, Less Stressful and Satisfying:

Click here

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