Trends in Airport technology

The latest in customer service, operational efficiency, and terminal design

As the airport progresses through its capital project, Mathieu’s team will be putting what they call ‘vignettes’ on the website that will provide information, photography, and video of each construction project that takes place during the airport’s development program.

Regarding additional tech projects, “We want to incorporate the AODB (airport operating database) concept where you have all ERP (enterprise resource planning) elements such as finance, purchasing, project control, inventory control, property systems, etc., all tied together with one main interface,” says Mathieu.

After receiving some $6 million from TSA to upgrade and implement a facility-wide CCTV system, comments Mathieu, “TSA is paying for the system and we will be sharing that video with the agency; it will be a server-based IP system, making it much easier to identify and review video content based on a hierarchy of access levels.”

Lifecycle Consideration
Remarks Mathieu, “The first goal in targeting something for technology investment is, does it allow me to improve operational efficiency? ... and does it allow me deliver on my mission to the public? Then we look at the overall operations and maintenance costs, and the lifecycle costs.”

Overall technology lifecycle costs can be fairly significant, says Varwig, especially from a capital cost, or a replacement cost standpoint.

“Many airports spread out the upgrade and replacement of computer hardware — sometimes replacing an eighth or a quarter of its computer inventory each year, each system lasting some five to seven years.

“Because of that, technology is being refreshed constantly; every system added, whether it’s hardware or a software application, has a refreshing implication to it.

“The kicker with technology is, the more you invest in it, the more you are bound to it.”

Terminal Design
Ron Steinert, a principal of global architecture, design, and planning firm Gensler, has been designing terminal buildings for 37 years, and has been involved with Gensler in the design of more than 50 terminal buildings in the last 25 years.

“I came to the conclusion a couple years ago that technology was changing things so fast, terminal buildings weren’t addressing the fact that technology has a major impact on how they are designed,” says Steinert.

For example, comments Steinert, “We really don’t need to go to a ticket counter anymore, except to perhaps change a ticket or check a bag. It’s basically a bag-check now … you can get a boarding pass anywhere that has a computer and a printer. Soon we will be able to check bags anywhere.”

Steinert’s latest vision in terminal design involves swapping the locations of an airport’s ticket hall and baggage claim locations.

“What we currently call a ticket hall is sometimes the most amazing space in the whole terminal, with high ceilings and lots of natural lighting, and we are spending less and less time in that space,” remarks Steinert. “Ticketing continues to be put in a prevalent space when less people are using it. In Europe there are several places where you can tag your bag yourself; there is no need for the airline to touch it because it goes to security before going back to the airline anyway. All you need is a tag on the bag, and you’re off to security.”

Naturally, Steinert is concerned with where travelers spend most of their time while at the airport. “Beyond security,” he says. “We are seeing an increase in airside concessions; the variety has gone up considerably, and certainly revenue potential has gone up with that.”

Then there is baggage claim ... “In most terminals, you can get to baggage claim faster than the bag gets there,” comments Steinert. “Baggage claims are typically located in the darkest place in the terminal, usually in a lower level with low ceilings; most have departure roads above the windows so you don’t really get any direct light.

“My premise is, technology is changing the way we use airports, and so the design of the terminal should change as well.”

The suggestion Steinert offers is to flip the areas — put baggage claim on top and ticketing below.

“Upstairs in the baggage claim, you put high ceilings, lots of natural light, and in many cases, a good glimpse of the geographical environment the airport is located in,” says Steinert.

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