Smart Airports: IoT is Taking off

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Smart Airports: IoT is Taking off

Airports are a massive part of the economy and key players in regional growth and development. They bring many different operators and interest groups together – from airlines, ground handlers, and air traffc management to consumers, retailers and regulators. Among these groups are lots of stakeholders with different perspectives, functions, and goals. Airports must not just get bigger, they must also get smarter and examine the infrastructure needed to support a whole new breed of smart airports.

by Kelly Allen

Civil aviation is booming and airports are under constant pressure to maintain or improve their safety levels as passenger numbers continue to grow and the number of routes and flights increase. In order to improve profitability, and because of increased market pressures, airports are being driven towards operational efficiency and cost reductions. But capacity constraints due to lack of space mean it is new technologies that are starting to provide new efficiencies. The Internet of Things, automation, Big Data, robots, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality are becoming part of the civil aviation ecosystem, along with integrated data collection and better real-time communications channels. To make the most of these technologies, airports need to put in place processes that simplify and speed up collaboration within the aviation communities.

Managing a complex ecosystem

In customer-facing and operational roles, the potential for IoT-enabled assets to streamline processes cannot be understated. There’s real-time visibility into the condition of assets or location-based services, and beacons for wayfinding and asset tracking. Add to those digital marketing and signage, live information sharing, remote sensors for monitoring runway or environmental conditions, and IP cameras linking to facial recognition software, or enabling whole digital control towers. Plus customer services like baggage handling, passenger tracking, and self-check-in – IoT is appearing everywhere.

IoT will enable better connectivity between people, processes, and smart “things” – and simplify IT management into the bargain

It’s a near impossible task to manage all these types of technology if they are rooted to individual subsystems which all need their own management and maintenance. No matter which digital tools, platforms, or systems airports choose to adopt, they will never reach their full potential without the right network or communication building blocks. Further to this, ineffective implementation will increase the potential for these new devices to place a strain on network resources, introduce vulnerabilities, and affect traveler experience. Yes, aviation industry players need to align but airports in particular need to evolve towards cost-efficient IP-based solutions. This will immediately enable better connectivity between people, processes, and smart “things” – and simplify IT management into the bargain. This is where the connected airport comes in.

Digital security is a top priority across the board

Whether it’s IP security cameras; heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems; or information boards, running all processes on a single network infrastructure is more cost-effective to manage and maintain and offers much greater visibility on an enterprise-wide scale. But there are dangers to poorly secured deployments and any compromised device can be a possible backdoor into the network. As more fixed and mobile devices connect to the network edge, it becomes increasingly important that these IoT devices are properly contained. Using network virtualization techniques, it is possible to create virtual isolated environments on a single infrastructure and make the Internet of Things more manageable. This empowers different departments or teams to maintain their own, dedicated IoT network deployments.

Virtual segmentation on the network can create “IoT containers” to group together, manage, and secure devices and users, and in the event of a breach, they can also stop threats moving across the network.

IoT containment also makes it possible for the different departments to enforce their own customized quality of service (QoS) policies on the general network to optimize specific operational processes. In each virtual container it is possible to see and manage all the traffic and users, prioritize applications and devices, reserve or limit bandwidth, blacklist devices, or monitor for suspicious traffic patterns. QoS policy enforcement can ensure that critical operational processes or network assets can always be given access to the resources they need to function properly.

Stakeholder cooperation and collaboration

Enterprises are now shifting towards connected platforms where people, processes, and things can connect and collaborate, airports included. The complex community of stakeholders – airport operators, airlines, ground handlers, passengers, authorities, and regulators – can all benefit by removing the barriers to information flow.

Airports can optimize operations, manage passenger movement, and implement better emergency communications. Airlines can provide a hassle-free customer experience by relying on infrastructure elements, such as beacons for automated notifications. Passengers can get real-time updates about estimated waiting time at security lines or locations of specific airline check-in counters, gates, or baggage belts.

Retail concessions and restaurants can use location-based services to promote offers, leading to increased interaction with passengers and a subsequent increase in revenue. Critical passenger or situational information can be shared directly between relevant parties in real time – getting the right information to the right people, exactly when it is needed. For all this to happen, systems need to be “de-siloed” and communication tools, such as instant messaging, voice, document sharing, video, and alerts, need to be integrated directly into applications and systems. This is possible with open application programming interfaces (APIs) beginning to come from some of the world’s leading communications vendors – giving technology partners and third-party providers the opportunity to make comms and collaboration tools a central feature of digital airport services, not a disconnected afterthought.

Intelligent airports – not just a vision, but a must

To meet these challenges, airports need innovative solutions. Above all, existing infrastructures must be used more intelligently. Airport operators need to use IoT technology to make the most of their budget and resources, to manage rising volumes of travelers, meet the increasing demands of tech-savvy passengers and the needs of their commercial tenants.

Smart Airports: Services

Making the right connections: Enabling better connectivity between people, processes, and “things” will make airports smarter and more efficient

The need for real-time information exchange will see airports around the world adopt new technologies to support the desired free-flow of communications. This requires innovations that integrate smart devices and share information at every point of a passenger’s journey. The focus should be on enabling more and better communication between civil aviation stakeholders.

Rolling out the right infrastructure calls for careful planning, an eye on future developments, and a security first approach – from customer-facing services right down to providing the necessary hardware.

The intelligent airport of tomorrow is more than a vision, it’s a must. With the right infrastructure, it has the potential to become a global reality.

 

Kelly Allen is director of transportation in Europe North at ALE

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