I’m always fascinated by how aviation and airports will change for the better in the distant future. In the past it seemed like real significant enhancements would be light years away, especially when existing airports in major metropolitan areas have no place to expand and often get a Band-Aid fix, rather than a full redesign to address the current and future needs of travelers. However, with such rapid advancement in global technologies today, that distant perfect future may be just around the corner.
In researching what the future may hold for travelers, I came across some amazing innovations and promising futuristic technologies that will be transforming airports in the future and the experiences of travelers during our journeys.
Bigger and (Hopefully) Better Airport Design Trends
Prominent global airport architects have already been developing airports that are virtual cities within the cities they serve. But when is it just too big to be functional for the average traveler? International design firm Kohn Pederson Fox has identified the “X” factor in their latest design for Abu Dhabi International Airport’s Midfield Terminal Complex. Shaped like an X, it boasts over seven million square feet upon completion in 2017, has an entire city planned with a civic center that has an open feel with high ceilings, a hotel, office building, art gallery, and world class shopping mall. As the largest scale project in the world today, which they believe are architecturally pleasing, but most importantly, functional and efficient.
Another renowned global design firm, Fentress Architects, is also creating what they have dubbed ‘Sky Cities,’ which have the ability to bring local flavor to the passenger experience. These enormous airport developments offer more than the usual retail shop chains that are found in nearly every airport. These new facilities will still offer high-end shopping, but also include vaulted ceilings, open spaces, local entertainment, artwork, and unusual eateries to provide a more enjoyable and relaxing atmosphere indicative of the host city. Currently underway is the massive challenge of redesigning Los Angeles International Airport to handle the growing numbers of supersized aircraft like the A380, and the increase in passenger traffic in a way that makes spending time at an airport relaxing and comfortable. Can that really be accomplished?
Artificial Intelligence for Airport Crowd Control
A U.K. company, VenueSim, has made significant advances in artificial intelligence (AI) using sophisticated data analysis and complex algorithms that can be effectively employed anywhere large masses of people congregate or pass through, like airports, shopping malls, or bus terminals. Being able to evaluate minute-by-minute passenger flow to enable predicting passenger movements in the future would allow airports to plan for how to handle large volumes of travelers more efficiently, thus improving the passenger experience overall.
This predictive AI system, Q-Alert, uses data that is already available to the airport to accurately forecast passenger demand weeks and months in advance. By modeling and correlating available data sets, airport operational resources (staffing at the ticket counters, security, gates, etc.) can be allocated appropriately at peak times for more efficiency and a reduction in long lines and extended wait times.
Virtual Technologies: Augmented Reality
Augmented reality (AR) has the ability to blend virtual information with real-life environments and continues to be a hot mobile app trend. Copenhagen Airport is reportedly the first airport to employ augmented reality with its free iPhone app, “CHP Airport,” to assist passengers to find their way around the airport.