Data and AI – Piloting Airports into the Future

Artificial Intelligence offers a new way to build an efficient and enjoyable airport operation

Sahadev Singh

Sahadev Singh Wipro

Airports are evolving from being a transport hub to becoming an experience hub, and the future is all about a seamless and personalized passenger experience. Airports are investing billions of dollars into large scale infrastructure projects, modernization of facilities and particularly in cutting edge technologies to deliver a personalized, seamless, secure and new age airport experience. The entire passenger journey from parking to check-in, security, immigration, retail, wayfinding, and boarding can be transformed with the help of technology. In addition, technology will be a key enabler in addressing capacity challenges and increased complexity of operations evident from the fact that more than 1.5 billion passengers passed through the 20 busiest airports in the world in 2017.

Airports are evolving from being a transport hub to becoming an experience hub, and the future is all about a seamless and personalized passenger experience. Airports are investing billions of dollars into large scale infrastructure projects, modernization of facilities and particularly in cutting edge technologies to deliver a personalized, seamless, secure and new age airport experience. The entire passenger journey from parking to check-in, security, immigration, retail, wayfinding, and boarding can be transformed with the help of technology. In addition, technology will be a key enabler in addressing capacity challenges and increased complexity of operations evident from the fact that more than 1.5 billion passengers passed through the 20 busiest airports in the world in 2017.

Getting smarter – the intelligent airport

Among the several new age technologies that have, potential to significantly transform the passenger experience and airport operations, Artificial Intelligence (AI) looks most promising. AI systems could be the invisible threads that connect multiple interaction points – delivering required assistance, insights, or functionalities where and when needed. AI systems could interact with passengers and staff, manage connected devices, and control intelligent machines. For instance, imagine an AI-powered robot equipped with biometric scanning helping you check into your flight in a language of your choice, collect your bags, conduct a security scan and hand you a smart boarding card that will guide you to your gate.

Needless to say, the potential gains from AI applications in airports are immense. Airports are already investing in AI for the following:

Personalized Passenger Communication

Personalized customer service is a major focus across industries, and airports are no exception. Airports are increasingly making themselves available to interact with passengers through multiple channels to ensure passengers have access to information anytime-anywhere. Also, airports are leveraging insights into the passenger’s journey and behavior coupled with AI to automate these interactions through chatbot, AI enabled website, mobile app and contact center, wayfinding, smart robots, Click and Collect and personalized retail promotions. This is evident from the fact that 42% of airports plan to adopt AI-driven chatbot services[ii].

Seamless Curb to Gate Experience

AI systems connected to smart devices can also enable a far superior user experience. The check-in to boarding process could be made more user-friendly, seamless and requiring minimal input from passengers. Some airports have already taken the next step with biometrics / facial recognition enabled check-in, security as well as boarding process like Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport which recently announced the first fully biometric US airport terminal for Delta airlines[iii]. Many airports have adopted self-bag drop kiosks that automatically checks-in the bags and eGates / automated border control systems for passport checks, boarding, and immigration. Accuracy and efficiency of these smart systems can greatly be enhanced by leveraging AI and Machine Learning thus reducing the manual intervention required.

Resilient and Efficient Airport Operations

The complexity of airport operations increases greatly due to the ripple effects that each unplanned event can have. For example, when Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast of the United States in 2012, more than 15,000 flights arriving in New York and other east coast airports were canceled[iv]. AI-based prediction and planning system can enable airport readiness to handle such events proactively.

While harsh weather can surely grind flight operations to halt, more than 90% of flight delays actually happen due to inefficiencies in the turnaround time (i.e. fueling, catering, cleaning etc.) in making an aircraft ready for flight[v]. AI, which is embedded in airport operations via connected devices and connected systems, can analyze real-time data and help with real-time decision making for operational incidents.

Also, several airports are piloting the use of AI and predictive analytics to improve airport resource management and assets maintenance. The benefits include improved allocation check-in, security, immigration support staff to optimize the passenger processing times and reduce delays and queues; effective and efficient utilization of airport resources like gates and check-in resources to maximize the capacity; and preventing impact to airport operations by reducing the breakdown of physical assets through predictive maintenance.

Boosting Airport Security

Security checkpoints are major pain points in a travelers’ journey – yet, they are essential to ensuring, safety of all personnel and passengers. The process of separately scanning every bag, removing articles of clothing such as shoes and belts, taking out items such as laptops for scanning, is a time consuming and inconvenient process. Introducing AI in security systems can help identify potential threats faster than a human operator could. If a significant number of people, bags, and cargo are automatically cleared, human intervention will be needed only for a few exceptional cases, reducing the overall time and effort involved. Some projects in this area are already underway. In 2018, the UK government invested in trialing of new AI-based security systems to boost security and alleviate wait times across some of the country’s busiest airports.

Unfortunately, even with the promise of significant benefits, today’s airports are nowhere near AI ready. One key reason why the uptake is slow is inertia – no one wants to disrupt operations and take on new costs with no precedent of ROI. Still, nascent steps have been taken, and we will only continue to witness a rise in AI adoption. The question is – are you ready to move to the next orbit?


Sahadev Singh is the Global head of Wipro’s Engineering and Construction services business. With over 25 years of experience in helping customers unlock value from their IT investments and drive business transformation strategies, Sahadev is a highly respected advisor to Wipro’s E&C industry customers and partners. Under Sahadev’s leadership, Wipro has built long terms strategic partnerships with leading global enterprises and established a proven track record for delivering predictable business value across a range of industry sectors. He has cultivated an extensive network within Wipro and its partners, and is able to leverage this network to meet client’s challenging needs. 

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