INFORM’s Alexander Wendorff explains how advanced technologies can help airports better manage and optimise their resources.
Today’s challenging market conditions continue to heap pressure on airports to make the optimum use of their resources.
Indeed, growing traffic demands, labour shortages, increased pressure to meet sustainability goals and heightened regulations are just some of the reasons why airports have to maximum use of their workforce, ground support equipment, hub and turnaround processes, as well as gates and stands.
These requirements are driving the so-called smart airport market, which the Fortune Business Insights Smart Airport Market, 2023-2030 report projected would grow from $4.05 billion in 2023 to $11.56 billion by 2030 reflecting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.1%.
Going forward, the smart airport will embrace the application of new technologies that both improve business processes and maximise resources, while also enhancing the passenger experience. Gaining greater insights into the technologies that are facilitating airports’ better resource management and process optimisation is important for airports and the industry at large.
Industry trends and market conditions
The global pandemic arguably fast tracked the introduction of touchless technology at airports and made airports even more open to new approaches and technologies as reflected in the latest trends and market conditions.
There are several trends currently affecting airports many of which relate to the application of advanced technologies. For example, over a third of airports already deploy biometric data instead of the manual document check-in process of passengers presenting passports and boarding passes, and many others are considering applying this technology.
Robots are also taking off at airports. Mordor Intelligence estimated that the airport robot market will achieve a CAGR of 15% by 2025. Robots are taking the place of human-manned desks, addressing passengers’ inquiries and supporting security screening and baggage handling.
Also being deployed at airports are autonomous vehicle which leverage advanced light detection and ranging (LiDAR), AI-powered object detection, telematics, and computer vision to support various ground handling processes (container loading/unloading, for example).
Through smart technologies like IoT, more data is available to use handling equipment of all kinds more efficiently, reducing emissions and helping airports meet their sustainability goals.
ChatGPT is another technology trend that airports are beginning to apply to improve the passenger experience and support better data capture and management for enhanced market insight and decision making.
Another form of technology which is helping airports further mitigate their most pressing challenges are advanced software solutions designed for improved resource management and process optimisation.
Technologies promoting airport optimisation
Airports have been stepping up their game by seeking solutions that will increase operational efficiency and an improved passenger experience. They are applying intelligent solutions that optimise specific areas of operation. These include solutions for:
• Workforce management
• Ground support equipment
• Hub and turnaround management
• Gates and stand management
– Workforce management solutions
These Artificial Intelligence (AI) based solutions support intelligent planning, flexible shifts, and working time models which accommodate workload demand fluctuations and unpredictable flight changes.
They optimise all scheduling processes (i.e., flight schedule-driven staffing requirements, capacity planning and roster modifications), helping airports strike a balance between cost-effective staffing, employee requests and passenger satisfaction.
Deployed across ground services, engineering, maintenance and cargo handling operations, the software automates staff scheduling and roster planning processes, taking into account rules and regulations, customer service level agreements (SLAs), collective bargaining agreements, and an airport’s business and financial objectives.
Employees are engaged digitally, able to access their schedules online and swap shifts, enter their preferred shifts, and make vacation or personal time-off requests. To address demand fluctuations and unexpected disruptions, the software makes recommendations to meet additional flight needs, and short-notice staff changes with consideration to required qualifications. All workforce-related processes (for instance, demand planning, scheduling, time recording and management, payroll) are integrated for seamless operations.
– Ground support equipment solutions
Designed as smart planning tools, they provide airports with scenario-based workload and resource demand forecasting of requirements for both personnel and ground support equipment ahead of upcoming scheduling needs.
Leveraging technologies such as Hybrid AI, Operations Research, and advanced optimisation, they help ensure a successful day of operations even under the most challenging circumstances. Providing tactical resource management and decision support, they optimise resource management.
– Hub and turnaround management solutions
By delivering full visibility of hub and turnaround processes, these solutions bring complete transparency and real-time monitoring of clearance activities, milestones, passenger connections, baggage and crew transfers, and related interdependencies. This enables bottlenecks to be identified early and responsible parties forewarned of these potential disruptions.
Using flight and handling details, imminent flight delays can be calculated and those processes which may prompt flight delays quickly addressed to prevent operational disruptions. The solutions’ load-based, dynamic process model facilitates precise calculation of target time off-block calculations.
Cost-based decision support – which considers delays, rebooking and crew costs – is another valuable feature of the software. In short, these solutions facilitate proactive, revenue-based decision making, early interceptions of potential disruptions for reduced delays and related costs, and increased reliability.
– Gates and stand management solutions
The most advanced solutions offer a full range of strategic and tactical planning for controlling gates, apron positions and terminal resources. They automatically provide relevant data to users and third-party systems, supporting optimised resource management
and cost reductions.
The solutions deliver “what-if” scenarios that enable the development and then assessment of alternative plans. On the day of operations, aircraft stands, gates, counters and baggage belts are continuously optimised and adjusted based on current flight plan information.
All assignments are automatically forwarded to the airport’s Flight Information System (FIS) and Airport Operational Database (AODB). Rule-based requirements and preferences (e.g., size restrictions, minimum ground times, minimum time intervals, temporary closures, crossing gates/stands area passenger flows, airline priority allocation of advanced positions) are considered.
Through the solutions’ powerful optimisation methods, resources are maximised, while aircraft tows and passenger bus transports are minimized. By following specific rule sets relating to different terminal resources, the software enables precise demand determinations for passenger gates, belts, common and dedicated check-in areas, as well as optimised resource allocations and accommodation of specific airline requests.
The software’s automatic capture and accumulation of relevant flight data analysis and visualisation, reporting, user-friendly dashboard and data warehousing further supports efficient operations and scenarios. Planners and dispatchers experience increased productivity, while airlines and passengers experience greater satisfaction.
Airports are facing increasing pressure from airlines related to an airport’s aeronautical fees and the airlines’ greater use of their “preferred airports” which accommodate their financial requests.
They must also contend with heightened security controls and standards relating to aircraft movements, passenger safety, and baggage handling.
Knowing the important role airports play as economic engines in their communities, many governments are lending their financial support to help address the airlines’ greatest challenge – labour shortages.
In the US, for example, the Department of Commerce awarded approximately $20 million in aviation workforce development grants through its Aviation Learning Opportunities & Funded Training (ALOFT) Program.
The funds, which were distributed to airports, Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) operators, and aviation products and aircraft manufacturers, were to be used to build on-site training facilities and service expansions, and for third-party and vendor training costs on machinery and equipment, training curriculum materials and salaries.
Financial support from governments, in combination with the deployment of advanced technologies to optimise resource management and operations, will ultimately pave the way for airports to achieve a strong balance between business and financial goals and better meeting the needs of the airlines and passengers.
About the author
Alexander Wendorff is a solutions manager for INFORM Aviation Division, a leading global provider of AI-based optimisation software that facilitates improved decision making, processes and resource management.
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