More than 19 billion passengers will use the world’s aerodromes each year in 2040, according to forecasts from the Airports Council International (ACI). This is equivalent to handling the traffic of 2.5 times the world’s population. Only in Spain were the 2019 records broken this summer (1.2% more flights) and they will be broken again this winter (12.8% more), according to the Association of Airlines companies. Spanish Airports and Air Navigation (AENA) hopes to reach 280 million travelers this year. This enormous migration is subject to a tedious process of urban transportation, waiting, registration, internal movement and checks that repeats itself over and over again until the experience becomes a hellish ritual. “Technology is the only key to improvement,” says Ricardo Fernández, general manager of digital travel agency Destinia. A report from international consultancy firm Oliver Wyman in collaboration with ACI shows how biometrics, artificial intelligence and automation will shape air transport. This is what the flight will look like:
Home billing. Rana Nawas, an Oxford-trained engineer specializing in transportation services and co-author of Oliver Wyman’s latest report, argues forcefully that “just because something hasn’t been done yet doesn’t mean it isn’t done yet.” cannot be done.” In his vision of the airports of the future, he does not hear the incessant clicking of suitcase wheels across the city to the connection to the airport. “Definitely, the trend is for luggage to be collected at home or left in a warehouse,” he says. “The barrier to overcome is really security,” he admits. Ricardo Fernández sees them the same way: “In the short term, it’s a bit complicated because, in invoicing, the weight or size has important implications on the volumes that can be authorized in the hold of aircraft. But in reality, it will not take long to happen, as are the digital ticket or other technologies.
Connection of the city with the airport. “We are seeing a reduction in the number of people traveling by car and taxi, so this is something that airports need to think about,” warns Nawas. Geneva Airport decided in 2022 not to further expand parking spaces, to encourage the use of public transport and to use the space occupied by cars for other services. More than half of travelers now do without their own vehicle and taxi to get there.
Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airport goes further: “Imagine a train whose carriages are programmed to uncouple and stay in a specific terminal. This car will take you to where your flight is waiting for you. Instead of having a road and rail system that drops passengers off at the main terminal, you could go directly to the gates. Griffiths believes the design of the future airport “needs to be completely reconsidered”.
Access control. “It’s going to be much more pleasant, fluid and efficient. And it’s not just an illusion. This already exists,” says Nawas. “What will happen,” he explains, “is that you will receive your boarding pass on your phone and it will share the information with the airport systems, which will direct you to the gate. boarding and how to get there. It will be a walk on a path in which you will not stop (concept defined as Moving). You will walk and the phone and the airport will share your data, read your biometric settings and know exactly who you are and your immigration status.
Ricardo Fernández agrees. “Facial recognition technology is very popular. We already see it in many European and international airports (Aena uses it). The advantages are obvious: it facilitates the work of security agents and the comfort of travelers. But as long as this information is not used for commercial purposes.
Screening of personal effects and hand luggage. This is one of the most infuriating steps because it requires you to wait in line, unpack your suitcase, remove your shoes, belt and metal objects, empty your pockets and separate your devices. In Spain, Aena will widely deploy 3D scanners in the coming years. This system takes measurements from different angles to create a final three-dimensional image with great detail. “It will very soon be compulsory in Europe and it will be a big step for tourism,” believes the director of Destinia.
The latest Gitex Dubai technology fair presented the Gscan, a model capable of identifying the shape and composition of any content thanks to the movement of subatomic particles, which provide a precise image and information of the interior of any content. no matter what environment. It is designed to analyze everything from large structures to port cargo to smaller objects.
A US laboratory and the Science and Technology Directorate of the US Department of Homeland Security developed a high definition scanner able to identify small threats and reduce false positives, as well as a device to check shoes in two seconds without having to take them off. “These elements could speed up the review process by 15 to 20% and optimize security processes, while detecting threats,” explains Bill Frain, director of the company that develops them.
Jesús Hernández, lawyer, adds an element to consider: respect for privacy. “Implementing this type of technology requires ensuring that there is no interference in people’s privacy by having access to details of their assets and even body shapes. This is not an absolute right, so it may be limited for security reasons. But you have to find a happy medium,” he says.
Waiting to board. “The airport will not only provide shopping, but also entertainment. Passengers are increasingly sophisticated and demanding. The key to success will be to allow the customer to personalize their experience. A business traveler who wants to go fast is not the same as a family passenger,” explains the transport services expert. Nawas sees a commercial offer more linked to screens through which the customer can buy anything and receive it at their door or reserve a table in restaurants. And the immense space now occupied by shops could be replaced by other services, such as swimming pools, gyms, massage rooms or cinemas.
“Time is more important than ever. If I want to spend it in airports, that should be my choice, not because of queues and checkpoints. We need to use biometrics and artificial intelligence to predict the time we spend in terminals,” says Diego Arrosa, director of Uruguay’s airports, in Oliver Wyman’s report.
The flight. Here, technology has not yet found the answers. The limited available space is faced with several conditions, in addition to the pressure of low-cost offers: increasing demand, which requires maximizing the number of passengers per flight; rising costs, leading airlines to offer smaller, more efficient aircraft to save on fuel and operating expenses; and technical safety requirements, which require having the necessary free spaces in the event of an emergency. “We don’t have a vision of how this will play out, how we can scale it up, how we can make it commercially viable,” Nawas admits.
One of the keys will be the supply of cheaper sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), which are also key to meeting pollution reduction requirements. “We don’t yet have the technology to do this, but there are many smart people and several billion euros are being invested to answer this question,” admits the engineer. According to Oliver Wyman’s calculations, up to 20.5 billion liters of SAF will be available by 2030, but the aviation sector will need three times more not to reach zero emissions, but to maintain them at levels of 2019.
Connections and arrival. For Ricardo Fernández, these circumstances are also a battle to be won. “Aspects such as connectivity on board the flight, baggage collection or security screening at destination can be improved.” “Technology is the only key to achieving this,” he concludes.
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