New technologies could help airports rise like a phoenix next year

Aviation may have screeched to halt in 2020, but the drive for creating a more seamless airport experience must continue. I’m excited about going back to airports, not just for the prospect of domestic and foreign travel, but also to glimpse where new technologies are making the passenger journey faster, safer and more enjoyable.

Biometric and facial recognition tech will surely be major beneficiaries of the Covid-19 pandemic. This October, Emirates launched its integrated biometric path at Dubai International Airport. From check-in to boarding gates at the airport, a mixture of facial and iris recognition technologies allow passengers for the airline to drop their bags, complete immigration procedures, and board flights simply by walking through the terminal. The airport is following in the footsteps of Singapore Changi in the pursuit of paperless transit, and it won’t be the last.

The pressing issue of the day is curbing the transmission of coronavirus in busy airport spaces, but facial recognition technologies have lasting appeal. Removing the faff from passing through airports could not only free up staff to deal with more pressing issues but also allows passengers to move more swiftly into retail and food and beverage areas, which have been hard hit by the Covid-19 travel restrictions.

Technology is set to further enhance all aspects of the customer experience, from measuring passenger throughput to receiving customer feedback. However, I think the real balance-tipper will be improved connectivity. In our November issue, we discussed how the rollout of 5G mobile connectivity will have consequences for the entire airport chain, across baggage handling, passenger processing and even aircraft communications.

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Better connectivity will form the cornerstone of better airport operations – for example, allowing more effective monitoring of vehicles at airports to speed up turnarounds. What’s more, faster, more stable Wi-Fi will have a dramatic impact on passengers in terminals, particularly for those who need to stay online. With 2020 seeing an expected – but still remarkable – dent in business travel, airports need to make themselves more appealing to workaholics glued to their tablet screens.

Its no secret some projects are still largely being undertaken at an experimental level. It’s unlikely the humanoid robots seen at Tokyo Haneda Airport will become the norm for the industry in 2021, but we’ve observed their potential for remedial tasks from their performance as disinfectant distributors – see San Antonio International Airport, which recently deployed a robot that trundles around terminals targeting viruses and bacteria with bursts of ultraviolet light.

Will new technologies help airports rise out of the ashes in 2021? Passenger footfall remains low at many aviation hubs, with some even putting ongoing construction and development projects on hold until a comeback is on the cards. But make no mistake: as they get back on their feet, airports will continue to seek out smart technologies that improve their operations and make terminals a much more pleasant place to be.