Enter an airport and you find yourself in a hive of activity, buzzing with excitement and urgency as people rush to get away to faraway places. Behind this scene full of families, business people and world explorers, complex data ecosystems that mirror the hub-like nature of the airport itself are being generated, rich with data dependencies.
This increasing level of connectivity among systems processing passenger, security, customs, retail, freight, hotel and other service data demands an overhaul of the technological infrastructure that supports our airports and airlines.
Modernization is all the more urgent given how customers’ expectations of their air travel experiences are changing. Where once flight delays, long waiting times and security checks in airports felt like the unavoidable cost of getting to our favorite far flung places, a worldwide survey by The International Air Transport Association (IATA) showed that more than half of travellers now think an acceptable queuing time at immigration is no more than five to 10 minutes.
The survey also showed that 64% of passengers would prefer to board aircraft using electronic boarding passes on their mobile phones, 39% prefer electronic bag tags, and 61% expect to track their baggage throughout their journey. Improved customer experience has altered expectations in so many areas of our lives and it is doing the same for air travel.
Some airports are getting out in front, using digital transformation to adapt to how airlines and airports serve customers. They are becoming smarter and more interconnected, using digital technology and data to smooth the customer experience and improve safety.
This year, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection at Australia’s Sydney Airport will trial the use of biometric tech that will enable customers to be processed by biometric recognition of the face, iris and/or fingerprints, matched to existing data. Passengers will have the potential to pass through the six steps of check in, bag drop, border processing, security screening, airport lounge and boarding gate after only showing their passport once for initial verification.
Already, the use of facial-recognition technology at electronic gates has been able to reduce the average amount of time people spend passing through Customs from four minutes to 23 seconds.
When it opens, Western Sydney Airport will have technology that enhances the passenger experience and customer flow in previously unimaginable ways.
This data-driven optimization of traditional processes not only works to improve safety and security, it also delivers economic efficiencies for business. And more is on the way.
This is overdue and represents a huge business opportunity. Not only are customers’ expectations changing, but passenger numbers are set to double within the next 20 years across the Asia-Pacific region. In the first quarter of this year alone, passenger traffic at Europe’s airports grew by an average 7.6%. New technology entering the market means that meeting travellers’ demands for smoother, less stressful and less time-consuming journeys is becoming possible.
Preventing digital disaster
Getting it right is not just about being able to handle the quantity of data involved but the speed at which it needs to be processed. In an always-on airport, huge volumes of data are generated and require real-time information exchange between an increasing number of systems to ensure the smooth functioning of the facility and those within it. If biometric matching is to verify identity for security purposes, the system must be equipped to analyze and cross-check biometric, ticket, criminal records and travel history information to detect and raise red flags without undue lag.
Dubai airport is meeting the challenge of real-time data processing by opening an enormous on-site modular data center for the airport and its aviation partners. The world’s busiest airport for international passengers, Dubai knew it would need the highest levels of availability, maintainability, resiliency and business continuity to continually improve its customer experience. It also knows that when data must be analyzed as it is captured, it is best done locally.
Preparing for the next generation of travellers
At Equinix, we are seeing increased demand for airlines, airports and many other companies that form part of that ecosystem looking to tap into the power of keeping data closer. They are keen to ensure that the promise of digital doesn’t become a disaster. By processing data at the edge of the network, near its source, edge computing is reducing pressure on the network core and helping to optimise cloud computing. It is powering more reliable, real-time gathering, analysis and sharing of data and insights and creating opportunities for earlier threat detection.
Our research with IDC revealed edge computing will help organizations achieve $2 trillion in extra benefits over the next five years. It has the potential to be hugely valuable in an aviation sector with ever-growing data dependencies.
As more people dream of going further than they have ever been, ambitious aviation industry players are looking to travel to the digital edge to deliver on the type of customer experience, convenience and safety that a new generation of passengers deserve.