IoT and the OPEX model: optimising airport operations

By Gert Taeymans, Growth Sales Leader Airports, Honeywell

Growing commercial pressures have created a business challenge for airport operators. How can airports continue to improve passenger experience, while simultaneously increasing overall traffic? Attempting to do so is a risk – any mismanagement of additional traffic will inevitably lead to delays and customer dissatisfaction.

Gert Taeymans, Growth Sales Leader Airports, Honeywell: “Developing a holistic view of the operations is essential, and requires an audit of all existing processes and systems. This makes it easier to identify inefficiency and, crucially, where optimisation initiatives can have the greatest impact.”

With many airports already at capacity, and major infrastructural upgrades not always an option, often the only solution is finding new ways to improve operational efficiency.

Creating more capacity

Every day, Heathrow Airport operates at close to 99%, leaving limited opportunities for traffic growth. It also means there’s no room for error. Like many major airports in this situation, unexpected events like adverse weather conditions or mechanical breakdowns can have a catastrophic impact, leading to delays and cancellations.

Building new terminals or runways is one solution to the capacity crunch, but can be out of the question due to difficulties in securing investment or issues obtaining planning permissions. To address the issue within existing physical constraints, airports need to conduct a complete reappraisal of the operational models they already have in place.

Developing a holistic view of the operations is essential, and requires an audit of all existing processes and systems. This makes it easier to identify inefficiency and, crucially, where optimisation initiatives can have the greatest impact.

Finding opportunities for optimisation

Typically, the biggest inefficiencies exist at the intersections between different processes and systems. Many airports, for example, could do a lot more to improve integration of airside and terminal operations. By breaking down those silos, and enhancing integration, it is possible to create the kind of seamless operation that promotes operational efficiency. Specifically, any change that improves key elements like planning, collaborative decision-making and general situational awareness across the airport operations has the potential to increase overall capacity.

While optimising structure and processes should be the priority, emerging technologies are increasingly at the heart of efforts to drive performance. Greater use of Internet of Things (IoT) enabled tracking has provided visibility of the overall passenger journey. The insights generated by this visibility are helping to improve flow and the overall experience, so much so that queues are shortened despite introduction of more stringent security requirements. Automated technologies are also having an impact, with automated passport control now common in larger sites. Similarly, numerous airlines have begun trials of automated boarding gates in the last couple of years. Crucially, organisations are finding that when automation technology is utilised, customer satisfaction tends to be higher.

The OPEX model evolution

With sophisticated digital technologies becoming more prevalent, airports are increasingly looking to external experts for help overseeing their modernisation initiatives, partnering with external managed service providers to both assess existing processes and stay in front of the latest innovations. Traditionally, it’s been the norm for organisations to manage this in-house, but faster technology lifecycles are driving up capital expense (CAPEX), making this approach unsustainable.

Shifting to the operations expense (OPEX) model that managed service providers offer helps ensure airports are at the optimal point of the evolution cycle, while also drawing on the expertise of technology specialists. Moreover, this support helps ensure effective integration with legacy infrastructure. This is important – new technologies are central to driving greater capacity, but optimal return on investment depends on an implementation strategy that maximises the value of systems already in place.

While a root and branch review of processes and systems might not be required for every airport today, doing so makes good business sense. Most smaller airports, for instance, will not be operating anywhere near maximum capacity, but would still derive significant benefits, including greater profit margins, by increasing the integration of their operations. Technology is central to achieving this, and by adopting a service agreement approach, airports of all sizes can stay at the forefront of innovation.

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