Building Smart Airport Capabilities with Data

Building Smart Airport Capabilities with Data

There is much hype these days around big data and analytics. As data becomes more pervasive and is generated at a higher speed, we need to figure out how to make decisions quickly using the information collected. We now have the opportunity to move away from decision-making based on intuition and experience, and towards decisions made based on insights gathered from analysing data.

For us at Changi Airport Group (CAG), we view data as a capability that can be used to overcome constraints like manpower and space, and to deliver a superior experience to our customers. In particular, there are three data-driven capabilities that CAG is working on to achieve its vision of becoming a smart airport.

Reacting quickly when and before something happens

We strive to ensure that each and every one of the 160,000 passengers passing through Changi Airport each day has a stress-free experience. In the rare event that there is a gap in service, the ability to recover quickly is critical.

We use data proactively to anticipate our customers’ needs and intentions. This helps us to react almost instantaneously to any issues that may arise. Doing this successfully results in service that is positively surprising to our customers.

We have instant feedback systems located all throughout our terminals. For example, if there is a service disruption (e.g. faulty flush) in one of our restrooms, this information can be sent via a customer touch point to the supervisor, who can then respond quickly to the situation.

Planning for the long haul

Accumulating data over time allows us to plan for changes and improvements to our infrastructure and create new capabilities. In the past, we thought that service failures in our restrooms were due to poor rostering of our cleaners/contractors. With data, we uncovered patterns over a longer term that pointed to a different cause.

We noted that the standard of a particular restroom was still not up to scratch even with different cleaners working at different times of the day. We discovered that the fault was due to the fans in the toilet failing faster than usual. Without data analytics, we would not have been able to discern the problem until the fan was due for a replacement.

IT takes a village

The third area we are working on is to create platforms where different parties within the airport community can share data for better outcomes. The airport is a complex system of systems, with over 50,000 staff from 200 organisations working together in one place.

Often, the key performance indicators (KPIs) of organisations working together are not aligned. One organisation’s KPIs may compromise the performance of others. The ground handlers would want to turn around the aircraft as quickly as possible, but this could result in planes lining up on the runway, making it difficult for air traffic control to regulate traffic.

To ensure that everyone is aligned, we have developed a platform that gives all stakeholders the same view of the operational data, and allows information sharing among stakeholders, so that they can collaborate and optimise operations on the apron.

Enabling through Technology

The three capabilities described above are underpinned by three technology enablers: sensors, data fusion and artificial intelligence (AI).

Getting a good sense of things

Sensors are being used across airports to measure everything from queues and customer feedback to airplane arrivals.

In the past, one CCTV might be used to track queues, but in an Internet of Things world, the LED light in the camera can also act as a beacon that can collect other types of information. By having a masterplan, we can optimise the use of devices.

Data Fusion

We are also focused on fusing separate pieces of data collected from our sensors to form a bigger picture that can give us useful insights. For instance, we can predict the number of people arriving at a certain period of time at a certain immigration counter. That piece of information by itself is not very useful, but when we merge it with other data, such as the length of queues at immigration, flight arrival timings, we can then form a picture that can be used to improve operations.

Predictive Artificial Intelligence

The third enabler is using artificial intelligence (AI) to help us manage and analyse the data we collect. For complex situations, the AI engine can amalgamate a host of different data – from departure and arrival times to which city a plane is coming from and the weather – and recognise underlying patterns much faster than a human can.

One of our projects is to use AI to predict landing times. The end goal is to provide accurate landing times for customers and to have staff ready at the right time and place for each arrival flight.

Protecting our data

As we build up our data capability, sharing information and insights across different systems, while using machines to supplement decision making, cyber security remains a key priority. We continue to invest in information assurance and cyber security to ensure that we operate effectively and safely.

People are the glue

A smart airport will help to improve the deployment of scarce resources like manpower and equipment and allow us to better serve our passengers, which is the mission at the heart of all we do.

Technology is one part of the equation, but the most important resource is our people. Collaboration among the airport community is the mental glue that will hold the smart airport vision together. That means we have to take good care of our people and keep them motivated for the journey ahead.

written by Steve Lee

Chief Information Officer & Group SVP (Technology) at Changi Airport

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