The Key to Airport Efficiency Starts with a Better Communications System

June 28, 2021

The slowdown in global air traffic has given airport officials time to reassess, realign, and reset their business models and strategies to handle the current hardships and eventual recovery. While terminals are relatively quiet and empty, many airports have seized the opportunity to resurrect and accelerate projects that may have long been sitting on the backburner. For example, during the pandemic, the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) completed a multi-million-dollar addition of a much-needed 450,000-square-foot International Arrivals Facility (IAF), complete with an advanced mass communications system. On the other side of the country, Terminals B, C, and D at LaGuardia Airport underwent a major overhaul of its communications infrastructure to modernize and gear up for a rebound in air travel.

An Ideal Time to Upgrade

Propelling these two projects was the need for improved operational efficiency. The ability to streamline foot traffic, simplify check-in procedures, direct passengers effectively to their destinations, and automate the delivery of critical life-safety information are objectives to which every transportation facility aspires. And now, with sections of facilities closed due to the pandemic-induced decline, conditions are ripe for deployments of advanced mass communications systems engineered for the ultimate in air travel efficiency.

Communicating Changes in Airport Procedures

There’s no doubt that the process of traveling is more involved and complicated now more than ever. Newly mandated policies, practices, and procedures have necessitated the dissemination of a nearly constant stream of communications to maintain a semblance of order and ensure the safety of guests and employees. In this day in age, old-style paging systems struggle to handle the myriad communications demands of modern air travel.

The adoption of an advanced mass communications system is a solid step in the right direction. Research shows a well-designed airport communication system can automatically assist passengers to navigate around the airport 20% faster without human intervention. Comprising a variety of components, these systems offer the flexibility, modularity, and scalability to suit the specific size, scope, and needs of any airport renovation project. The system can be deployed in phases, focusing on updates in one portion of the facility while other areas continue to operate normally.  Moreover, a mass communication system can integrate with the facility’s current communications infrastructure and supplement current life safety systems, creating a unified network with features to maximize efficiency throughout every sector—old and new—of the airport.

Communications Features that Leverage Efficiency

Intelligibility. Airports comprise a wide variety of distinctive acoustical environments—small seating areas, segmented retail shops and restaurants, large open concourses, and baggage claim areas, to name a few. Hard surfaces, such as glass, metal, and concrete, predominate these interiors. This combination of environmental variables can make it extremely difficult for passengers to hear announcements and paging regarding gate changes, courtesy calls, screening procedures, life safety information, and more. And when messages go unheard, inefficiencies ensue. A mass communications system, through its ability to feed carefully calibrated digital audio signals to a wide variety of loudspeakers at the ideal amplification and volume levels, combats these acoustical barriers to optimize intelligibility throughout the facility.

Also contributing to higher levels of audible intelligibility is the ability to integrate ambient noise sensors. Through advanced analysis, logic, and calculations, these sensors signal the processor of the communications system to adjust the volume of outgoing messages automatically based on the current noise level; for example, raising the volume in the baggage claim area whenever noise exceeds a certain level. Guests can retrieve their bags and leave the facility faster when they can hear instructions—no matter how crowded and noisy the area becomes.

Zoning. Intelligible audio lends greater efficiency only if it is sent to the right places at the right time. For example, travelers at a recheck area do not need to hear announcements about baggage claim changes because they have already completed the claim process and have left the area. This only creates confusion and inefficiencies. A “zoned” mass communications system uses its built-in intelligence and parameters to distribute only messages of relevance to specified zones of the airport. These zones can comprise an area with a single speaker up to a combination of speakers in many areas. Information can be delivered from the system head-end to speakers, as well as visually to displays.

Automation. The simpler a communications system is for airport personnel to use, the more efficient the delivery of messages becomes. Announcements can be pre-recorded and dispatched at the tap of a button on a microphone station, for example, streamlining operation and reducing the risk of human error. Each airline can customize its own messaging scripts and delivery schedules, while universal announcements, such as safety instructions, can be distributed facility-wide when signaled by the airport’s security system. Bottom line: Through its ability to react to predefined conditions, an advanced mass communications system affords airports convenience of control and assurance of delivery.

Multi Modes of Communication. In a busy environment, the most reliable, effective mode of communications involves a blend of audible and visual components. When properly designed, advanced communications systems can deliver information to both speakers and displays. Additionally, announcements can be dispatched from a variety of user interfaces, such as legacy and new microphone stations, VoIP phone systems, as well as authorized mobile devices, from which text can be converted to speech.

A combination of control and delivery endpoints helps everyone, including passengers who may be hard of hearing or who are unable to read English, quickly comprehend announcements and meets ADA requirements. No matter where guests are—just entering the airport, walking through a concourse, buying snacks--they have instant access to the information they need to get to the places they need to be, quickly and efficiently. If they happen to miss an audible message, they can always refer to a display. The same signage that presents routine information can be used for wayfinding applications, like directing people to the nearest exit during an emergency.

Redundancy. Never in a transportation hub should the distribution of a message fail. Therefore, an advanced communications system can be engineered with numerous safeguards to prevent communications mishaps. Tied to lifeline servers that automatically take over audio delivery, the network and the airport maintain maximum operational efficiency.

Customization. Airport employees, passengers, and visitors must be able to react quickly to all types of situations, from delayed flights, misplaced baggage, and governmental mandates to active shooters and hijackings. Through its expeditious multi-layered delivery of information, an advanced mass communications system is the foundation of safe, efficient air travel and business operations. The system interoperates with legacy equipment and can be quickly customized to meet new demands and new components can be gradually phased in to keep pace with whatever the future holds.