Held under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Chairman of Dubai Airports, Chairman and Chief Executive of Emirates Airline and Group

Rebooting Aviation – 3 Key tech areas for helping airports get back on their feet

The sheer scale, swiftness and lengthening duration of the COVID-19 pandemic is already causing a fundamental rethink of airport design, development and operations.

How exactly will different forms of emerging technology continue to play an integral role in the recovery and revitalisation of the aviation industry?

Managing health crises is nothing new to aviation; from SARS to Ebola, airports and airlines operating around the world have continually aimed to find new and better ways of protecting the staff and customers in their care. However, the magnitude of the ongoing pandemic is so great and its impact so vast that response strategies are now necessarily moving from incremental improvement to more radical overhauls and restructuring of the way the industry works.

As such, the following three tech areas are of high interest for airports and airlines, as they proactively seek out the best ways to become operational again and avoid the vulnerabilities that could cause a repeat occurrence of a similar pandemic.

1: Frictionless, seamless passenger processing

Example providers in this space: Elenium Automation, emaratech, Alamis, BAGTAG

For an industry charged with efficiently transporting hundreds of millions of people around the world every year, many parts of aviation are still mired in highly outdated, ‘high-touch’ analogue processes. From handling paper-based tickets, to physical baggage tags, long, crowded check-in queues and other inefficiencies that remain a part of the current passenger processing system, there are plenty of areas of vulnerability when it comes to spreading viral germs unnecessarily.

Addressing these vulnerabilities will require a technological approach, because demand for air travel is inevitably going to return to normal post-COVID and will likely continue to rise. Therefore, so will demand for technologies that can limit or even eliminate opportunities for contamination and viral spread in airports and on planes.

From biometric-based check-ins and immigration checks, to e-tags for baggage, more advanced ‘no-touch’ self-service options and more, anything that speeds up passenger processing and cuts out needless physical contact will feature more heavily in the industry’s future. Lessons are already being learned and applied in airports like Miami International, which is rolling out a mobile passport control solution that allows passengers to submit their customs declaration forms in advance of arrival to the US.

2: Direct viral detection and prevention

Example providers in this space: Xovis, Honeywell, Smartworld, Dassault, Amorph Systems

Removing or minimising chances for viruses to spread remains essential, but so are solutions designed to actively discover viral carriers so they can be isolated and treated as quickly as possible. This category contains solutions such as thermal cameras and sensor-based equipment designed to find and track individuals exhibiting viral symptoms. There are also new technologies involved in social distancing, such as solutions for mapping passenger flow, ‘contagion heat maps’ and other predictors of human behaviour relevant to the spreading of viruses. Furthermore, technology is playing an essential role in testing out airport responses, through AR/VR-based training simulations and testing of physical viral containment measures. 

3: Shared services platforms

Example providers in this space: Copenhagen Optimization, Vision-Box, LB Foster

Speed of response (or lack thereof) is a key factor when tackling any viral threat. The same can be said for the industry’s recovery; it’s not just about choosing the right technologies to make airports and airlines more resilient to future viruses, being able to roll out said solutions in a timely and seamless manner is just as vital. 

Operators across the aviation space need to be able to work with a common purpose and put up a united effort if they are to successfully contain a future event like COVID-19. As such, we can expect there to be greater investment in technological platforms and specific solutions that allow for further innovations to be quickly shared and rolled out across the whole operational setup and even between airlines and airports.

A specific word also needs to be said about the sharing and usage of data. Effective collaboration between aviation players and government authorities, emergency services, hospitals and healthcare workers, etc, will be predicated on the sharing of essential data that can be used to identify viral cases and stop potential outbreaks from happening. 

The response of Uruguay, one of the last South American countries to experience COVID-19 cases, is a prime example of this. Working with authorities, airports’ Advanced Passenger Information (API) and Passenger Named Record (PNR) data was successfully integrated into the border control system, which led them to identify passengers from countries classified as high risk by the WHO.

This article was created in association with Airport Show taking place in Dubai on 26-28 October 2020. 

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