How Cloud Computing Can Help Airports Respond to COVID-19

Nov. 23, 2020
Airports are working hard to respond to an unprecedented external environment

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ensuing lockdowns, and the need to adhere to new safety processes and regulations have rocked the travel industry. Airports have faced fluctuating passenger demand, significant uncertainty, and financial pressures, all of which must be managed while also introducing new measures that keep travelers safe.

We know from discussions with our airport customers that flexibility, agility, and adaptability are the watchwords of 2020. Airports are working hard to respond to an unprecedented external environment.

Yet, responding to this volatility isn’t easy, especially when conventional technology and business models were not designed to handle such unprecedented changes in passenger demand and requirements.

When considering if current IT infrastructure is fit-for-purpose we recommend airport operators consider two questions:

1.     How quickly could your airport make self-serve kiosks and bag-drop units contactless so passengers no longer need to touch them? (Given it first requires significant software changes on servers at the airport).

2.      EUROCONTROL states that 50% more space is now needed for check-in due to social distancing requirements. Could your airport respond by moving check-in and baggage services outside the terminal, or are your agent desks and kiosks fixed to legacy fixed network connections in the terminal?

For the majority of airports delivering a) contactless self-service, or b) off-terminal check-in, services are difficult challenges due to the constraints of legacy IT infrastructure. Both are good examples of the additional flexibility a cloud-based approach to IT can deliver for airports.

Cloud technology offers a far more flexible alternative that can help airports adapt more quickly. For example, moving a check-in kiosk or agent-desk to the airport car park, rail station or city centre location is straightforward because the technology can be accessed with a 3G or 4G mobile connection. Check-in is no longer tied to the legacy network in the check-in facility.

With an onsite model for IT, it is more difficult to update the software and systems that define an airport’s passenger services. That is because changes need to be made to the local servers, kiosks, agent PC’s, and bag drop units by local IT teams at each airport.

With cloud infrastructure a software change can be made once at the data center and then rolled out at scale across different passenger touchpoints.

Amadeus recently worked with our customer Avinor, the operator of 40 airports in Norway, to help it deliver a contactless airport experience. This was an important change that Avinor wanted to begin in May and have ready in time for Norway’s summer holiday season.

Avinor was one of the first airport operators to move its IT infrastructure to the cloud back in 2015, so all of its airports connect to Amadeus for check-in technology over the internet, rather than having local onsite servers at each terminal.

When Avinor asked us to rollout a contactless bag tag printing upgrade our teams worked on the change just once and rolled it out in a two-month period. Had we needed to travel to each airport and make individual upgrades we estimate this type of project could have taken 12 to 18 months and wouldn’t have been ready before the summer season.   

The flexibility to deliver safer passenger journeys

Another example of how cloud technology can enable airports respond to COVID-19 is mobile and off-terminal passenger services. Airports can easily position fixed or portable check-in and bag drop stations at multiple locations inside or outside the terminal and continue to move or store them as required.

From curbside to train or bus stations close to terminals, transit areas, near the entrance to the airport, or in car parks, many more options become available when you can access check-in technology from any device with a WiFi, 3G, or 4G connection. In doing so, airports can enhance the passenger experience, reduce crowding in the check in facility, and serve passengers in areas convenient to them.

These advanced systems not only provide greater passenger experiences but also allow airports to manage passengers in a safer manner. Consider one airline that needed to repatriate many thousands of passengers from small cruise destinations in the Caribbean, due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Cruise ships were evacuating thousands of passengers consecutively at islands with very limited check-in and airport capacity as there wasn’t time to add more fixed check-in infrastructure, which would have taken many months and then become redundant. Instead, the airline was able to equip its ground team with mobile check-in units that connect to the Amadeus cloud for airports anywhere a mobile internet connection is available. This meant the airline could quickly ramp-up capacity, checking in passengers from portable devices at the cruise terminals as well as adding more check-in capacity at the small airport terminals.

As mentioned, EUROCONTROL estimates that airports will need 50% more space for check-in, 50% more for baggage handling and 100% more at security in order to deliver social distancing requirements. As demand for air travel begins to return, it’s possible this additional space will be needed in the first half of next year, with many airports simply not having the necessary real estate.

Cloud computing provides an opportunity for airports to rapidly adjust how they serve passengers, providing the flexibility to adapt airport services to new requirements for a safer, more contactless and socially distanced airport experience.

About the Author

Betros Wakim | President, Airport IT Americas