In a contributed article to Internet of Business, Kelly Allen, director of transportation for Europe North at Alcatel Lucent Enterprise, argues that intelligent airports don’t let lack of space hold them back.
Civil aviation is booming and airports are under constant scrutiny to maintain or improve safety levels as passenger numbers continue to grow and the number of routes and flights increase. In order to improve profitability and because of increased market pressures, airports are being driven towards operational efficiency and cost reductions. But capacity constraints, due to lack of space, mean that it is new technologies that are starting to introduce new efficiencies.
IoT, automation, big data, robots, artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality are becoming part of the civil aviation ecosystem, along with integrated data collection and better real-time communications channels. To make the most of these technologies, airports need to put in place processes that simplify and speed up collaboration within aviation communities. And these of course are diverse, bringing together many different operators and interest groups together, from airlines, ground handlers and air traffic management to consumers, retailers and regulators.
Read more: IoT set to transform the airport experience
Managing a complex ecosystem
In both operational and customer-facing roles, the potential for IoT-enabled connected assets to streamline processes cannot be understated. There’s real-time visibility into the condition of assets, for example, or location-based services and beacons for wayfinding and asset tracking. There’s digital marketing and signage, live information sharing, remote sensors for monitoring runway or environmental conditions and IP cameras linking to facial recognition software or enabling whole digital control towers. There’s baggage handling, passenger tracking and self check-in – it’s everywhere.
It’s a near-impossible task to manage all these types of technology if they are rooted to individual subsystems which all need their own management and maintenance. No matter what digital tools, platforms or systems airports choose to adopt, they will never reach their full potential without the right network or communication building blocks. Further to this, ineffective implementation will increase the potential for these new devices to place a strain on network resources, introduce new vulnerabilities and negatively impact traveller experience.
Yes, aviation industry players need to align, but airports in particular need to evolve towards cost-efficient, IP-based solutions for most systems. This will immediately enable better connectivity between people, processes and smart ‘things’ – and also simplify IT management. This is where the connected airport comes in.
Whether it’s IP security cameras or heating, ventilation and air condition (HVAC) systems, or information boards, running all processes on a single network infrastructure is more cost-effective to manage and maintain and offers much greater visibility on an enterprise-wide scale. But there are dangers to poorly secured deployments and any compromized device can be a possible backdoor into the network. As more fixed and mobile devices connect to the network edge, it becomes increasingly important that these IoT devices are properly contained.
With network virtualization techniques, it is possible to create virtual isolated environments on a single infrastructure and make IoT more manageable. This enables different teams or departments to maintain their own IoT network deployments. Virtual segmentation on the network can create ‘IoT containers’ to group together, manage and secure devices and users, and in the event of a breach, can stop threats moving east-to-west across the network.
IoT containment also makes it possible for the different departments to enforce their own quality of service (QoS) policies on the network to optimise their own operational processes. In each virtual IoT container, it is possible to see and manage all the traffic and users, prioritize devices and applications, reserve or limit bandwidth, blacklist devices or monitor for suspicious traffic patterns. Quality of service policy enforcement can ensure that critical operational processes or network assets can always get the network resources they need to function properly.
Airports can manage passenger movement, optimize operations and implement better emergency communications. Airlines can provide a hassle-free customer experience by relying on infrastructure such as beacons for automated notifications. Passengers can get real-time updates about estimated waiting time at security lines, locations of specific airline check-in counters, gates or baggage belts.
Retail concessions and restaurants can use location-based services to promote offers which will lead to increased interaction with passengers and a subsequent increase in revenue. Critical passenger or situational information can be shared directly between relevant parties in real-time – getting the right information to the right people, exactly when it is needed.
The need for real-time information exchange will see airports adopt new technologies for a free-flow of communication. Innovations that integrate smart devices and share information at every point of a passenger’s journey, and enable greater communication between civil aviation stakeholders, will play a vital role.
But rolling out the right infrastructure needs careful planning, an eye on future developments and a security-first approach – from customer-facing services, right down to the hardware. The ‘intelligent airport’ is more than a vision, it’s a must. With the right infrastructure, it has the potential to become a global reality.