How long will it take for the commercial airline and airport industry to recover from the impact of the global pandemic? What technologies will be required to ensure passenger health and safety and boost confidence in airline travel? Industry experts from ACI World, Heathrow Airport, Istanbul Airport, and Collins Aerospace came together during a virtual webinar with Flight Global to discuss the timeline of recovery and to discuss what the post-coronavirus airport may evolve.
A recent report from ACI World noted that airports are expected to “lose 4.6 billion passengers and nearly $100 billion in revenue” this year alone. The economic prediction highlights the struggle that the airport industry is facing and why it is critical to develop a recovery plan where passengers feel safe and confident to travel.
Ersin Inankul, Chief Digital and Commercial Officer of the Istanbul Airport, spoke of the high hopes his newly built airport had after opening in April 2018. The state-of-the-art airport facility had its sights set on reaching a milestone of 20 million passengers by 2020, before COVID-19 brought the industry to a halt.
Although Heathrow Airport remained opened throughout the pandemic, Chris Garton, Chief Solutions Officer of the airport, said that despite being the largest port in the UK, passenger numbers are down. “The last time we saw passenger numbers at this level it was 1971.”
To boost passenger confidence and bring travelers back into airports, panelists agreed that major changes need to occur. The first was coordination with government agencies to implement COVID-19 testing and monitoring. The second was to implement technology solutions to create a touch-free experience for passengers.
Tony Chapman, Senior Director, Product Management and Strategy, Global Airports at Collins Aerospace, said that, “The future journey to and through the airport requires that the industry make the processes as touchless as possible.” This contactless journey can be enabled by biometrics and similar to other technologies throughout the airport, biometrics is being repurposed to prepare airports for recovery.
“The technology that we are accelerating because of COVID will soon be required by passengers in a post-pandemic airport,” Chapman predicted.
Inankul agreed that technology will play a vital role to recovery. The process starts before the passenger leaves their home. Reaching them through mobile apps before they ever enter the facility. When the passenger arrives at the airport, “We meet them with thermal cameras, a hygiene team of 97 people who are [enforcing] regulations and wearing smart helmets and can monitor the temperature of people 10-20 at one time,” Inankul explained. In addition, crowd management systems are in place with heat maps to enable more social distancing. Inankul also said that the labs within the airport allows for passengers to get COVID-19 testing results in two to three hours. The airport has 50 booths where passengers can elect to be tested as they arrive or depart from the airport with hourly testing capacity reported at 2,000 tests.
At Heathrow, technology enables a “Click and Collect” program throughout the facility and the traveler moves throughout the terminal to purchase goods and services. Garton noted that passengers can browse from a mobile phone or smart device, which allows for a more touchless environment. Garton mentioned that for airport staff, this method helps to keep them safe.
“Often technology is not the challenge,” said Antoine Rostworowski, Deputy Director General, Programs and Services of ACI World. He said that it’s more about the regulations and understanding where the responsibility of screening and testing lies. According to Rostworowski, ACI World believes it firmly lies with the government. “When it comes to funding, technology investment needs to be considered by segment. If it is a technology that addresses a health measure, it should be funded with guidance from the government.” Similarly, he noted that many airport technologies designed to improve efficiencies have already been funded by airports and he expects that investment to continue.
“Airports can’t get into medical testing. It’s not our area of expertise, but we are here to facilitate and help as we can working with states,” Garton added.
Together, it will take collaboration between government and aviation industry stakeholders to enable the innovation required to help airports recover across the global.