Simplifying and Modernizing AV in Airports: Enhancing the Passenger Experience

June 11, 2024
Airports that invest in streamlined and modern AV solutions are not only meeting the current needs of travelers but are also preparing for the exciting technological advancements that the future holds.
Airports that invest in streamlined and modern AV solutions are not only meeting the current needs of travelers but are also preparing for the exciting technological advancements that the future holds.

Airports serve as gateways to the world, connecting people across continents and cultures. However, they are also self-contained worlds of controlled chaos. Travelers are inundated with a wide range of sights and sounds as they pass through any busy transportation hub: boarding and departure announcements, safety and security information, marketing and services messaging and the droning murmur of fellow travelers moving from point A to point B — it’s a flood of input for the senses at every step. Transportation managers are challenged to cut through the clutter, capture attention and deliver actionable and perhaps critical safety information to a widespread, quickly-moving public.

As technology advances at an unprecedented pace, the aviation industry must keep pace with innovations to improve efficiency, communication and safety. Simplifying and modernizing AV in airports is directly linked to improving the passenger experience. Travelers often face stress and uncertainty, and providing clear and relevant information through AV systems can significantly alleviate these challenges.

What Airports Need From Their AV Systems

In many airports, systems are still siloed, operating independently of each other with limited or no integration. This siloed approach can lead to inefficiencies, communication gaps, and missed opportunities for enhancing the passenger experience. Flight information systems (FIDS) typically manage the display of arrival and departure information, gate assignments, delays, and cancellations but often may not communicate effectively with other airport systems, such as security, ground transportation, or retail, resulting in disjointed passenger experiences. Similarly, security systems, including surveillance cameras, access control systems, and passenger screening equipment, often operate independently from other airport systems. While these systems are critical for ensuring safety and security, they may not integrate well with other airport functions, such as mass notification, leading to inefficiencies in managing security operations and responding to incidents.

Customer expectations for AV systems in airports have evolved significantly in recent years due to technological advancements and changes in traveler behavior, revolving around providing clear, timely, and personalized information, enhancing the passenger experience and improving navigation and accessibility. For example, travelers rely heavily on clear and concise audio announcements regarding flight information, boarding procedures, gate changes, security updates, and other important announcements. Passengers also depend on visual displays such as digital signage, flight information boards, and departure/arrival screens to obtain real-time information about their flights, gate assignments, boarding times, baggage claim areas, and other relevant details. Interactive maps and wayfinding solutions are also gaining popularity to help passengers navigate airport terminals, locate amenities, services, and points of interest, and find the shortest routes to their destinations. 

Competing AV priorities in airports are commonplace, often arising from various stakeholders' diverse needs, budget constraints and technological advancements. Airports aim to balance the need for efficient operations with providing passengers with a seamless and enjoyable experience. This can lead to competing priorities in AV investments, where airport operators may prioritize systems that streamline processes, such as automated check-in kiosks or baggage handling systems, versus investing in AV technologies that enhance passenger comfort and convenience, like interactive wayfinding displays or entertainment systems. Budget considerations often heavily influence AV priorities in airports. There may be competing demands between investing in innovative AV solutions that improve efficiency or passenger experience and implementing more cost-effective, traditional systems. Airports must carefully weigh the upfront investment costs against the potential long-term benefits and return on investment (ROI) of implementing new AV technologies. Airport operators may face competing priorities in choosing AV systems that promote interoperability and compatibility with existing infrastructure versus selecting proprietary solutions from specific vendors. While interoperable systems offer flexibility and scalability, they may require additional integration efforts and upfront costs. Conversely, proprietary solutions may provide seamless integration but could lead to vendor lock-in and limited flexibility in the long run.

Network security — and, by extension, AV security — is paramount to airports due to the critical nature of their operations and the potential implications of breaches or disruptions. Airports face a diverse range of cyber threats, including malware, ransomware, phishing attacks, and insider threats. These threats can target various parts of airport infrastructure, such as flight operations systems, baggage handling systems, passenger information systems, and airport communication networks. Disruptions to airport operations can have significant economic and security implications. Segregating AV devices on to separate network segments or VLANs (virtual local area networks) can help contain security breaches and limit the impact of compromised devices on other parts of the network. AV manufacturers have made significant progress in implementing security features to harden access to their devices and the greater network beyond. When selecting AV devices, choosing vendors with a demonstrated commitment to security can reduce the risk of purchasing potentially vulnerable endpoints.

The Importance of System Interoperability

As the global aviation landscape evolves, airports must embrace technological advancements to remain competitive. The integration of cutting-edge AV solutions meets current needs and positions airports for future expansion and upgrades. Airports increasingly invest in technology solutions promoting interoperability, data sharing, and collaboration among systems. By breaking down silos and integrating systems more effectively, airports can improve operational efficiency, enhance the passenger experience, and ensure the safety and security of airport operations. 

For example, if a last-minute gate change is made in FIDS, the update may not register with people already at the gate. While gate personnel may make a local page announcing the change, having interconnected systems can make the gate page automatically when the FIDS database update is complete, eliminating the chance of human error. The easiest way to enable interoperability between disparate systems is through a standard network-based transmission platform like Dante. A standard platform ensures valid “handshakes” between systems, ensuring signals and data are shared properly between endpoints.

Centralized AV control in airports is crucial to ensuring efficient operations and enhancing passenger experiences. A centralized control system allows operators to monitor and manage multiple AV components, such as digital signage, flight information displays, security cameras and public address systems, all from a single interface. This reduces the need for manual intervention and minimizes the risk of errors or inconsistencies in AV operations. 

Centralized AV control gives airports greater flexibility and scalability to adapt to changing requirements and scale their AV infrastructure as needed. Whether adding new display screens, integrating additional security cameras or updating software configurations, a centralized control system allows for seamless expansion and modification of AV components without disrupting ongoing operations. Centralized AV control enables airports to respond quickly and effectively in emergencies or critical situations. Operators can use the centralized interface to broadcast emergency alerts, evacuation instructions or other important announcements across all AV channels simultaneously, ensuring that passengers receive timely information and instructions to ensure their safety and well-being.

LaGuardia Case Study

After six years of construction, LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York, finalized its new 1.3 million-square-foot Terminal B as part of a comprehensive upgrade plan. The terminal opened in phases and offers a world-class experience that includes spacious interiors, floor-to-ceiling windows, a 3,000-car parking garage, new covered and convenient pickup facilities for both taxis and ride-sharing vehicles, and dual sky bridges above active taxiways. Managed by the Port Authority of New York, New Jersey Port Authority and LaGuardia Gateway Partners, Terminal B has received multiple awards for excellence, including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) highly competitive and prestigious Prix Versailles award for the world’s best new airport and the National Academy of Construction’s Special Achievement Award, among others.

The terminal required an audio and mass communications system to match its world-class aspirations as part of the upgrade. With passenger safety a priority, the updated terminal presented an opportunity to reimagine its communications, and the airport’s team of engineers, architects and audiovisual consultants turned to a company and technology it had extensive experience with, AtlasIED and its GLOBALCOM communications platform. 

The AV implementation team chose the Dante-enabled AtlasIED TitanONE T112 smart mainframe power amplifiers to provide signal automation, processing and amplification in a single modular solution. When fully populated with amplifier cards, it offers 12 main channels of amplification and two backup channels for redundancy. If an amplifier card fails, the digital signal processing is automatically switched to the backup amplifier card. 

In addition, the terminal includes numerous Dante-enabled GLOBALCOM.IP Digital Microphone stations at gates and ticket counters, while AtlasIED loudspeakers, including the FAP43T and FAP63T in-ceiling and SM82T surface mount loudspeakers, provide sound throughout the concourse. 

The LaGuardia Terminal B upgrades were intended to modernize the aesthetics and amenities and offered the opportunity to reimagine the operational processes and systems in place. The airport wanted to reduce the number of communication systems and requested the project team find creative ways to consolidate them, so AtlasIED partnered with the AV team to integrate the GLOBALCOM system with the airport fire evacuation and alarm system. In previous installations, these were discrete systems managed by different vendors and user groups. By integrating these systems, they were able to streamline the installation process and better coordinate communication activities with passengers.

As the doors opened to the new LaGuardia Terminal B, it was evident that the teams paid particular attention to creating a clean appearance and maintaining the desired architectural aesthetics, aided by the unobtrusive AtlasIED in-ceiling loudspeakers. In addition, acoustic modeling helped airport managers create a safer building due to increased speech intelligibility in the overhead paging. Passengers visiting this world-class terminal can now hear audio and receive instructions from airport personnel with greater clarity, directing them to the correct gates and areas, connecting passengers with airport staff when needed, and creating an overall more comfortable and enjoyable experience. 

Integrating advanced AV technologies is not merely about keeping up with trends; it’s a strategic imperative to enhance operational efficiency, improve the passenger experience, ensure security, and stay competitive in the dynamic aviation landscape. Airports that invest in streamlined and modern AV solutions are not only meeting the current needs of travelers but are also preparing for the exciting technological advancements that the future holds. As aviation continues to be a symbol of global connectivity, the role of advanced AV systems becomes increasingly critical in shaping the airports of tomorrow.


About the Author

Greg Kopchinski | Product Marketing Manager, Audio

Greg Kopchinski is Product Marketing Manager - Audio at Audinate where his responsibilities include leading marketing campaigns and promotions for Dante audio technologies. Prior to working with Audinate, Greg worked for over 15 years in product management and marketing for several pro AV companies as well as a freelance live sound engineer around the western US. 

Alejandro A. Alvarez/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS