Saturday, October 21, 2017, 8:49 am

Future Airports: No check-ins, laser scanners that penetrate clothing to detect explosives, drugs


DUBAI: Travellers will glide through the airports of 2020, 2030 and 2050, say the IoT guys, the technology now being planned for their core providing ‘seamless’ experiences.

Smart luggage, picked up at local partners such as Starbucks, will find its way, app-tracked, on to planes. (‘Self’ tagging and ‘self’ boarding are already in place in well over 100 airports says the International Air Transport Association – IATA.) Mobiles will be used to arrange where to be re-united with it – hotel, Airbnb flat, Amazon locker or local bar.

Check-ins and security will be redundant. At the same time passengers will be cleared with reference to their biological and biometric data (digitalised by Thales into a secure QR code), suggests border control identity management and security consultants Vision Box.  Versions of this are already being trialled at Heathrow and Schiphol, among others.

A laser molecular scanner invented by Genia Photonics can penetrate clothing and organic material to detect explosives and drugs. Avatars will smooth problems. “..travellers will not spend as much time at the airport as they do today,” expands aviation website FlightGlobal.

“The present-day airport is all about waiting…” agrees US-based international architects Gensler. “The future will be all about moving.”

Of course, all travellers want to move through airports as quickly as possible. Airlines, who must meet tight slot schedules, are of the same mind. A near doubling in world traveller numbers to well over 6 billion a year is forecast by IATA for 2030. That threatens to congest airports as run currently.

There is just one problem! At a time of rising costs and heavy capital spending, airport business models require that passengers regard travel as a shopping opportunity. The Centre for Aviation (CAPA) reported last year (2015) that 69% of airports were making losses.

Destination airport

“Airports are now deriving on average 62% of revenues from passengers, through retailing and other activities, and only 38% from the airlines they serve,” it said, adding: “The world may face a shortage of vital airport infrastructure in the next 15 years unless regulatory change sees airlines paying a fairer share of airport costs.”

Thus, “airports want to become a destination,” says TJ (stet, he uses this as his Christian name) Shultz, president of international trade association, the Airports Consultants Council. Airports were “trying to build a revenue base”, he commented, much of this coming “in the form of retail therapy for all flyers.”

And not just retail therapy – cinemas and spas are also in the plan as revenue sources. Passengers using Dubai International Terminal 3 already have access to a fitness club and health spa. US shopping centre and airport retailer Westfield is “rethinking the entire digital experience”. It wants to make all the travel (and leisure and shopping) information, door-to-door, available ahead of time.

In future airport apps will guide passengers to the latest new outlet, says FlightGlobal, helping them “manage their time”. As far as airports are concerned, doing away with check-ins and carousels frees up more retail space, acknowledges the International Air Transport Association.

Easier, and more likely at most airports will be a bombardment of ads – Copenhagen, Shanghai Hongqiao and Miami are already experimenting with beacon transmitters that send Bluetooth signals to smartphones alerting travellers to special offers. Gatwick, Delhi and Frankfurt already use interactive software that allows shoppers to scan QR codes on their smartphones to buy luxury goods.

The airport designers concede that to change the experience at airports, the terminal building must itself change. However, the designer solution all too often needs huge spaces. Thus the newest, green field site airports can be the most radical.

As airports jostle to capture ‘hub’ status, says aviation communications group SITA, they strive to look unique. So, Singapore’s new Changi airport Jewel Complex will offer an indoor forest with native flora, walking trails and 40-metre waterfall. The ‘rain Vortex’ with its own night-time sound and light displays. The newly renovated Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles Airport features the largest immersive multimedia system of any US airport, with seven huge screens showing southern California scenes and quirky video.

Passenger control

For some reason, Greg Fordham, MD of consultants Airbiz, believes the changes, as he told Skyscanner, are all about “the passenger taking complete control”. Or all about going without services in the interests of costs? As TJ Shultz commented “a more self-reliant airport can drop prices for airlines and keep more flights coming in and out”.

Airports must constantly compute the trade-offs – lower costs to airlines to attract more of them and faster movement for travellers need funding. The bills for state-of-art airports are government-sized. (Expansion of the Al Maktoum International airport will cost $40 billion, Heathrow Terminal 2 cost a total of around $14 billion).  Someone has to pay and it cannot always be the shopper. Replace travel stress with retail stress and passengers will switch routes. There are already forecasts of squabbles over ‘ownership’ of the smart-phoned traveller. Anyway, shopping is going online.

A clue to the conundrum for passengers could come from a look at the top five in the 2016 World Airport Awards – Singapore Changi Airport, Incheon International Airport, Munich Airport, Tokyo International Airport (Haneda) and Hong Kong International Airport. All of these are state-owned! But so are some of the world’s worst – so check with care before picking your route!

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