Technical Solutions for Economic Challenges

Technical advancements are creating opportunities to reduce operational expenditures and improve passenger experiences.


By Nathan Sims, Project Manager, Special Systems, Burns & McDonnell, and Art Masri, Business Development Manager, Vanderlande

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Demand for air travel continues to increase exponentially, while relative costs are decreasing per passenger, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Annual Report 2019. Aviation practitioners historically develop master plans for implementing future infrastructure based on forecasted demand using past outcomes from operations, enplanements and throughputs. A recent Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) study noted U.S. airports are “terminally challenged” to make inadequate airport infrastructure meet rising demands. Because of this reality, the air transport industry is working at a fast pace to improve facilities.

Aviation planners, designers, constructors and operators are learning innovative ways to more efficiently and sustainably plan, design, construct, operate and maintain vital airport infrastructure. At the same time, airport owners are stretching their capital budgets as far as possible, while new trends like transportation network companies (TNCs) erode a large portion of nonaeronautical revenue. Technology is key to alleviating this stress by reducing operating costs and improving the passenger experience.

A few significant technologies provide an antidote to airports facing this issue. These solutions offer new, cost-effective ways to meet increasing passenger demand.


The “internet of things” is an important technology for closing the gaps between the built environment, airport occupants and airport operators. The internet of things is, at its simplest, sensors and actuators embedded in the built environment. These sensors can be placed anywhere, from buildings to roads and bridges or even subsurface utilities.

Internet of things sensors have a few common characteristics: local controller and/or agents, an ability to produce telemetry data, and some form of connectivity to the cloud or an on-premise network. Much like the connected home provides more control to homeowners in terms of comfort, security and energy use, airports can apply the same principles to optimize facility use by reducing energy and maintenance costs. The use cases for cost reduction are abundant and can significantly offset rising capital costs.

Significant internet of things benefits can be realized when disparate systems are integrated into an enterprise platform, giving airports an opportunity to meet all stakeholders’ requirements. Several airports have deployed a few different types of solutions, addressing a specific function like queue wait time systems, smart glass or biometric authentication. Often, the result is a purpose-built system serving to solve a specific business need, but falling short of serving the needs of the whole enterprise.

Using an enterprise internet of things platform with an enterprise service bus integrates future technology deployments. This can yield higher situational awareness, allowing airport operators to see the common operating picture.


Another cost-saving opportunity is applying augmented reality (AR) within the airport environment. There are many practical applications, and AR is seeing use in operation and maintenance for facilities, baggage handling and passenger boarding bridges, as well as condition assessments, field inspections and peer-to-peer communication. By bringing situational awareness to the field, AR enables remote workers to access data when and where they need it. This means workers are more productive, data is collected more consistently, and assets are returned to service more quickly.


Baggage is one of the most important metrics related to the passenger journey and passengers expect real-time tracking.

The aviation industry continues collaborating to improve baggage service. IATA collectively decided to champion the global deployment of radio frequency identification (RFID) for baggage tracking. The industry has recognized the value of RFID tracking and individual carrier systems are also becoming more prevalent.

Why does this initiative matter? Regardless of your role within the baggage ecosystem, the proposed RFID change will impact some aspect of how bags are tracked throughout the journey. While the collective undertaking to roll out RFID at this scale is massive, so are the anticipated benefits of reducing baggage mishandlings and increasing tracking visibility operationally through passenger-facing mobile apps.


Making the business case for investing in new technology may seem impossible when capital budgets are already stretched thin. Justification for advancements should focus on how these technologies affect the bottom line. When calculating ROI, consider how quickly the investment will become net positive, how much time is required in terms of internal resources and time to market, and whether the risks are manageable.

In an era of unprecedented growth, airports need precise operational processes to provide passengers the experience they expect. Technologies like the internet of things, AR and RFID tagging make it possible today to design for the demands of tomorrow. Aviation leaders who adopt and implement these technologies across their enterprise will thrive in hypercompetitive markets.

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