With more than three billion passengers currently travelling by air - and with that number predicted to double again by 2030 - efficient passenger flow and customer relationship management is becoming vital to airports.
By integrating cutting-edge biometric security systems with passenger measurement programmes, HRS (human recognition systems) uniquely offers airports a way to both meet high security targets and improve passengers' experiences. The company is also trialling an "art of the possible" app, which could transform travellers' journeys altogether by providing a fast and personalised airport experience.
Company founder and head of innovation at HRS, Neil Norman, believes that travel has become "painful" and that the industry has "forgotten about the airport experience", likening HRS to a "family-run Italian restaurant that's got the secret sauce."
Frances Cook: What is wrong with the average airport experience for travellers?
Neil Norman: The whole experience has changed and become quite painful. When I was a kid I would get excited as soon as I got in the car to go to the airport, whereas now I don't get excited until the plane has taken off.
With all of the new security checks, the process has slowed down and become more like an interrogation. What we've forgotten is that most people are actually going on holiday - we've forgotten about the user experience.
When you look at the eco-system of an airport: the facilities, the airlines and the customers, they operate in silos, independent of each other. It is an exception to the rule if airports know who is coming, and, as a result, they don't create a relationship with their customers.
Frances Cook: Customer engagement for airports would require investment and a change of approach, so why should relating to their passengers be important to airports?
NN: The whole airport commercial model has changed and been turned on its head, predominantly by the budget airlines. Where an airport used to make most of its money from landing fees, it is now through retail and car parking. The only way they are going to improve on that is by being innovative and creating a relationship with the customer.
FC: How can HRS help airports to work differently and focus more on passengers' needs?
NN: Because most airports' systems are aircraft-centric, we're trying to make them passenger-centric. We do that by arguably the best form of technology: biometrics.
We come at this issue with a Facebook-like approach, because we are focused 100% on what the customer wants to see, rather than what the airport wants to see.
We believe that if you get it right from that perspective then the airline will naturally inherit the success - so, we're trying to turn the whole thing on its head.
FC: How can biometric systems be utilised to improve the customer experience?
NN: We realised it would be very powerful if we could capture facial information at various touch points through the airport, so airports can understand what their passenger flow is - from the minute someone gets out of the car to when they board - we call it 'from kerb to gate'.
It's really powerful data because it shows the true capacity of the airport - allowing airports to refocus resources in the right areas. The true value of biometrics is about the automation, the convenience and the personalisation.
FC: How can airports use this information to improve their facility and bottom line?
NN: We started using a retail technique called 'demand forecasting' and applied it to airports - where a true data analysis of the capacity of the airport is carried out through a series of identity points.
We then make the infrastructure smart by linking them all together. We can tell the airline at what stage a passenger is through the process because we've connected the dots.
If airports know their customers are coming, they can plan for them and, for example, put special offers in place.
FC: What airports already use your systems?
NN: Our MFlow systems are in 14 airports, including London City, Manchester Airport, Liverpool, BAA, obviously Gatwick - which is a bit of a jewel in the crown as it is a very forward-thinking airport.
FC: You are very passionate about transforming the airport industry to a more passenger-centric model - should people be concerned about the use of their data if airports and airlines are working together more?
NN: I've been in the biometrics space for a dozen years now. I stepped down as chief exec about nine months ago so that I could actually indulge in my passion, which is the vision of this technology. It's why I started this business 12 years ago - and in all this time we have never delivered a system that has failed.
Our business is based on trust, we recognise that there's a big responsibility that comes with managing this data.
This isn't going to be a case of 'right, the airline is going to share their information with the airport and the airport is then going to share it back', that's not going to happen.
FC: Your 'art of the possible' app unlocks 'a personalised experience' to the traveller - can you tell me more about it?
NN: I liken it to the Google Search app - when I get up in the morning I start up Google Search and it makes predictions - so think of that principle, but in our world.
It will include things like deals for parking, fast track, daily deals and connections to rail networks. It will provide a richness of information that will help the customer plan their trip.
As we provide the airport and the airline the means to connect with their customer, we are able to offer a dynamic package. If you are part of this scheme, it means you can, for example, roll together a premium package, like, for example, Living Social does.
FC: Is this an opt-in service?
NN: If passengers see there is any benefit to you of joining this community then they are free to join it.
FC: What is the lead time for this 'app' coming into travellers' lives?
NN: We would expect to have our first run in the next six months. It's at a very advanced stage and will hit people's lives during the next season.
FC: What do you see happening in the future in terms of identity and identification?
NN: We will see some massive legislative changes that are probably going to be driven by events rather than by design, because policy is way behind the curve, as seen recently with the Bercow libel case with Twitter. There will be massive powers of opt-in and opt-out and that will be a part of the identity of the future.
FC: Why do you think HRS is seeing so much growth and success?
NN: In our industry there's two types of business - there's the first type of business that likes to get involved in law enforcement and border control - and there's the other side, and this is the new era, which is focused on the commercial space, like airports.
We are all about personalisation, improved experience, interaction and doing what the technology is there to do, which is making our lives better in a much more convenient manner.
HRS is like that family-run Italian restaurant that's got the secret sauce, we really care about what we do - and we want people to leave the restaurant going 'wow'.
That's so much more important than any amount of money - in fact, I'd probably do this for free, as long as I could pay the bills.
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