Many airports across the US are seeing passenger numbers increase, with North American carriers’ traffic up 67.4% in February 2023 compared to the previous year. 

The rise in passenger numbers is readily welcomed by the aviation industry, which is still recovering from the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, it was previously estimated that US airports would see a $40bn impact as a result of the steep decline in passenger traffic in that period.

But the increased volume of passengers also risks exacerbating the operational challenges that many airports succumbed to in the summer of 2022, from delayed flights to lost luggage. 

Ian Forde-Smith, CTO and co-founder of AeroCloud

There’s no question that the pandemic also had a hand in this disruption. The airport sector didn’t match the rapid digitisation seen in other industries as their working patterns shifted. Instead, as air travel came to a standstill, many airports had to slash budgets which, in turn, stalled transformation in the sector.

This continued reliance on legacy technology exacerbates the challenge of responding to the increased demand. It’s not possible to optimally manage an airport using software that can only be accessible from certain desktops when a stopwatch and a clipboard record wait times at security, or when operational data is periodically analysed in Excel reports. 

To deliver a positive passenger experience as traffic increases, operational leaders must democratise data across the organisation to optimise its management and reduce friction throughout the airport.  

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Taking action in the moment 

There are many events that are outside of an airport’s control; the most common being the weather. And readily accessible data makes all the difference in minimising disruption and limiting the negative impact on the passenger experience in that moment.

Sarasota Bradenton International Airport in Florida, US, found this during the summer of 2021, when Tropical Storm Elsa unleashed rain and flooding, and cut off power to thousands in Florida.

As air carriers began cancelling their flights, the team were in an advantageous position thanks to its cloud-based airport operations platform to be able to answer passenger inquiries about flight status, work quickly to complete storm preparations for common Use equipment at Ticket Counters and Gates as they were taken out of service, and monitor for changes and updates throughout the day. 

But real-time data isn’t just important to respond to natural events. Without it, operations leaders will only find out after an issue occurs and after passengers are negatively impacted. This could be as simple as a new wave of passengers entering security, which if not monitored in real-time could result in bottlenecks, and reduces the time and money spent in concessions. 

Tracking how long it takes passengers to move through the airport in real-time, as enabled by computer vision technology which anonymously tracks the passenger journey through the airport from kerb to gate, can offer proactive alerts in the airport management platform that help leaders identify and resolve issues as they arise. 

Putting data in more hands 

Communication is critical to the smooth running of an airport. However, operational data is often only accessible via specific desktop computers and key stakeholders only receive operational reports periodically, after the fact.

Traditional licensing models which limit the number of individuals that can access the software are a further bind on collaboration and add friction to an airport’s operations and the experience of those travelling through it. 

Airports must catch up with one of the greatest digital transformation trends of the past decade; the cloud. With software as a service (SaaS) applications, diverse stakeholders can access accurate, real-time information from anywhere.  

Looking forward 

The ability to access real-time insights is critical for responding to issues impacting the passenger experience as the situation unfolds.

But there is also massive potential in using advanced analytics, powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning, to identify patterns that can inform longer-term operational improvements.

Spotting trends, drawing learnings and predicting future scenarios help operational leaders go one step further than immediately addressing issues, by taking pre-emptive steps to reduce the chance of them occurring.  

It’s time for transformation 

While the rise in passenger volumes is welcome, it will also keep some operations leaders awake at night as they worry about how to deliver a smooth experience in the airport.

That’s why it’s time for airport leaders to think about how they can seize the digital advantage and democratise data across their organisations to help their teams make better decisions for an immediate and lasting impact on the passenger experience.