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Airport 4.0

Airport 4.0: Digitalization at the airport

Traveling is digital. But somehow, it seems as if the digitalization ends at the airport. Central data management, efficient real-time communication between all actors and a “smart airport” are still dreams of the future. Often, not even sub-processes of airport operations are digitalized.

While some airports show good approaches towards digitalization of operation processes, the majority seems to lose out on taking advantage of existing opportunities. Does it need to be rocket science when it comes to process digitalization at the airport or can even minor changes have a big impact?

Traveling nowadays has turned digital. Flight search is done via Google Flights, hotels easily booked on or Trivago, and Google Maps informs to the minute about the travel time to the airport.

Once the passenger has checked-in his luggage at the airport, it can be tracked using a Bluetooth or GPS tracker. Having arrived at the final destination, the traveler searches for the best restaurants on foursquare, tripadvisor or yelp.

Many actors in the travel chain already make use of the opportunities digitalization is offering. But that does not apply to all involved. At airports, many examples can be found where the advantages of digitalization are not fully leveraged. Let’s have a look for example at the passenger information services:

Typically, at the beginning of the shift, the service employees receive a briefing regarding the daily planning, including arrival/departure times of the scheduled aircraft, gate and apron positions, information regarding passenger care needs etc.

They are equipped with printed, static lists presenting all information given at the beginning of their shift.

These static lists are the source of information for passengers asking about their flight. Any changes in flight operations are communicated with considerable delays.

A second example of a non-digitized process is the registration of wheelchairs.

The registration process is handled differently throughout the airports, at some via phone, at others system based. But they all have one thing in common: The data transmission happens manually, highly error-prone and breaking the communication chain.

Let’s have a look at the area of facility management at the airport: Cleaning personnel inspects the airport premises in fixed intervals regarding cleanliness. The planning is rigid, allowing only a low degree of flexibility and leading to long walking distances for the cleaning personnel.

But how would these airport operation processes look like, if existing digital technologies were used?

First approaches of digitalizing the work of service employees already exist. At Edinburgh airport, airport employees use Google glasses to provide passengers with real-time information about flight data and gate changes as well as translations. The service employees can access the airport database via the glasses, share texts and pictures and handle phone calls. And as a well-accepted plus, they have their hands free to actively assist passengers, e.g. at check-in.

Munich Airport, known for its constant quest for innovation and customer excellence leadership has a different, but also digital approach: An IBM Watson robot with artificial intelligence named Josie Pepper is hovering around in Terminal 2 since February 2018 to answer passenger questions regarding shops, gastronomy and flight data.

But even simpler technologies offer opportunities for a big step towards digital work by ensuring that all service employees receive up to date information.

For instance, the use of smartphones or tablets to provide the service employees with push messages in case of changes in the process. The information flow between all employees participating in the process could be improved and at the same time, passengers could be provided with real-time information. By switching from paper and pen to real-time digital solutions, UNEX projects show that team efficiency can increase by 15-20%.

What about location-based planning tools for a more flexible and efficient approach to planning passenger assistance?

The tool or an app could be fed with the information needed, such as the number of wheelchairs on board and arrival gate. Via location-based targeting (LBS) the medical meet and assist employee closest to the arrival gate could be identified and assigned via a push message. LBS offers opportunities to shorten the process, make it more efficient by eliminating the breakage in the communication chain and ensure the transmission of correct information.

In case of airport cleaning, digitalization could be based on existing technologies. Most of the restrooms at the airport are nowadays equipped with a feedback button system inviting passengers to easily express their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the hygiene conditions presented.

What if the information provided by the passengers via the feedback button would be evaluated in real-time and the results used to shift the cleaning roster from a rigid to an “event-based” plan?

As soon as a negative feedback is given by a passenger, the cleaning teams closest to the location receive push messages via an app, a technology comparable to the one used by companies like Uber or Through digitalization, the passenger feedback could be used as a base for shift and service planning to increase customer satisfaction and operational efficiency. And it might even open up new opportunities: The cleaners accepting more jobs than the average could be incentivized to improve their base salary.

Airports should not be left behind by the strong digitalization progress in other travel-related areas. Some airports already show good approaches, but a holistic digitalization concept is not recognizable.

UNEX is a digitalization expert and has profound experience in business model optimization.

We identify potentials for digitalization across your process landscape to increase your flexibility, optimize communication processes and improve your profitability.

  • We analyze the current state of your digitalization strategy. The analysis will uncover optimization potential.

  • In an innovation process alternatives to the current setup are identified and evaluated.

  • Business and implementation plans are developed for the most promising options.

UNEX has the know-how to raise the full potential of your digitalization strategy in order to generate long-term value and enhance your competitiveness.


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