Airline industry has seen catastrophe from time to time and has been able to come out each time to attain a new high. In late 2001, 9/11 attack on New York’s World Trade Center had given a shock to the airline industry. There was a ‘fear of flying’ and industry came to a jolting halt. It took several operational and technological changes in airport security across the world to gain passenger confidence and industry bounced back.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic has given another shock to the aviation industry. There is a ‘fear’ again, this time for health and safety reasons and it is worldwide at a larger scale. It is not only related to flying passengers, rather it affects frontline and ground staff, security and immigration personnel and anyone who is at the airports.
This is why experts believe that the coronavirus induced crisis to the aviation sector may last longer than earlier thought, and it may require a fundamental shift in overall airport user experience and security screening technologies to regain the industry’s confidence back.
At the moment we are in the ‘responding’ mode to coronavirus pandemic. Some of the measures taken during this time will become basic daily practices in the industry once we reach a more stable phase post COVID-19.
Here is the look at how technology might catalyse the next flying experience:
Redefining the passenger journey
As the passenger arrives at the airport, instead of using paper ID and boarding pass, use of biometrics, especially facial recognition may be in practice to enroll the passenger at the entry points.
Advanced AI and Machine Learning analytics could be used to match the credentials of passengers with their ID and face for security verifications. The focus will increase on web check-ins, self check-ins, printing self baggage tags and baggage drops to avoid passenger contacts with surfaces and airline ground staff.
The checkpoint security gates and enrollment pointes may be linked. The same biometric data which was collected at the enrollment could be fetched at the time of security screening. Sophisticated AI & Machine Learning algorithms are already available to generate a risk profile of passengers and that could allow enhanced screening for those who represent a higher risk and a more seamless journey for those passengers that represent low risk.
To avoid close contacts between passengers, surfaces and security personnel ‘Remote screening’ technologies could also be practiced. Security staff located in a central location away from the checkpoint performing AI/ML assisted remote image analysis and diverting the suspected bags to recheck points for secondary examinations could make the process safer for both staff and passengers.
Regulators need to push for using rotating CT technology in addition to X-Ray to screen the passenger bags at the checkpoint. This will eliminate the need of passengers removing electronics and liquids from their bags, thereby limiting the surface contacts, moving the queue faster and providing overall enhanced security, improved operational efficiency, increased passenger satisfaction and many more.
UV light is well proven as a disinfectant in various industries with high hygiene requirements and has now been leveraged to automatically sanitize checkpoint trays. ‘Ultraviolet light tray disinfection for checkpoint trays’ does help curb the spread of virus while we are in ‘responding’ mode.
Acceleration of IATA OneID implementation may be used to link this to other airports thereby providing end-to-end contactless and paperless journey. These technology advancement and transformations may influence some physical changes at the airport such as redesigning the lanes or passenger movement zones etc. and will become the new norm in future airport design.
Use of IoT sensors, Mobile Apps, AI Algorithms
Beside the technological advancement in overall passenger journey, use of mobile applications, IoT sensors such as LIDAR sensor, 3D stereoscopic sensors, proximity sensors, video cameras at the airport to analyse physical distancing, crowd planning & management will increase.
Airports could adopt several AI techniques to infer the amount of data collected each day and this could also help generate meaningful insights to enhance security and passenger experience. Beside this, there are various possibilities of monetizing the large volume of data collected by several sensors at various points.
Airports/airlines would find a new revenue generation potential in this.The right use of mobile application, online shopping could also be promoted to enhance experience and avoid unnecessary congregations at shopping areas, duty free shops etc.
Technological advancements in Health and Hygiene
A real-time temperature screening, infection detection and containment system could be the part of passenger journey. The right sensors and equipment are already available or being designed to implement to keep the passenger flow seamless while necessary health screening.
Passenger health profiles could also be generated with the help of travel history, current location and destination and AI assisted recommendation systems could well be put in practice for those passengers who would require an additional level of health check.
Airports could invest in additional infrastructure such as contact free faucets and soap dispensers in the restroom, enhanced robotic cleaners etc. Airports may consider creating designated areas where sick passengers and employees can be quarantined quickly and evaluated by trained medical professionals. Additional engineering controls such as sneeze guards to protect frontline employees may also be considered.
Now, airports no longer need to just manage the volume of passengers, they rather need to plan for volumes, identify the pattern and handle those for better customer experience. If only a fragmented section of airports across the world implements these changes, it may not be very effective.
The key here is collaboration with major airports across the world and critical data sharing throughout the passenger journey for the success of technology to work and to provide the right expected outcome.
It may not be easy to implement these changes given the current economical situation and state of industry, however, the passenger volumes and airline traffic still being low can add to the advantage of utilizing this time to implement the technological advancements.
The airports that are willing to take this challenge and use the technology will achieve most success coming out of the COVID-19.
As the new systems and processes may be in place, there is an element of education here as well for staff and passengers both; and a level of cooperation is expected from both staff and passengers to make the overall transformation successful. It’s not only technology play.
Authorities and Regulators must take leap of faith assumptions and must come forward to lead the transformation so that the passenger’s confidence in travel can be restored and the industry can bounce back.
- Vivek Mehrotra, Expert Volunteer, IET India