How IoT Will Change Air Travel

Even prior to the advent of Covid-19, IoT was already poised to impact air travel in any number of ways, with the potential for new IoT-enabled technology to improve the overall efficiency of existing solutions. While the post-Covid world of travel remains something of a question mark, there is no doubt that when we do once again take to the skies, IoT will impact our experiences, both on the ground and in the air.

The airline industry faces unprecedented challenges in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, with close to 90% of the world’s population living in countries with some sort of travel restriction. The recovery time of airport operations is expected to differ significantly based on region and country, due to governmental response and support levels, with most industry experts predicting a 12-18-month recovery period.

Airports are under tremendous pressure to reduce operating costs, which make up around 65% percent of total airport costs. There aren’t a lot of silver linings in this situation and the industry rightfully concerned, but if there is one thing the airline industry can do is use this massive slowdown as an opportunity to improve cost efficiencies and productivity while streamlining operations – in other words, increase implementation of automation and digitization.

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Renewed digital investment will bolster recovery and boost long term resilience while also ensuring that as borders re-open, travelers feel safe and that their health is protected.

The shift to touchless travel and new health safety regimes will be heavily reliant on IoT-enabled technologies. At the same time, data must be protected, with privacy, consent, and transparent data governance at the heart of any solution. IoT presents a unique and substantial opportunity to improve almost all aspects of the airline industry in the wake of Covid, from ground maintenance and operations to crew and passenger safety. Here’s how:

Contactless travel

If one thing is clear it is that the future of airports is contactless travel. Even prior to the pandemic, expanded security measures and other factors meant time spent in airports had increased exponentially and airports had already begun introducing new technology and processes to mitigate waiting times.

In the post-Covid world of air travel the implementation of contactless travel measures will accelerate. In practice this will mean reducing the number of human interaction touchpoints in conjunction with the implementation of social distancing norms.  Proximity sensing, contactless, agent-free and automated check-in and boarding will be critical, with things like off-site check-in at, for example,  hotels and shopping malls decentralizing processes for passengers.  Autonomous, handsfree cargo processing and other airport operations will also reduce human contact.

Additionally, mobile applications already in use can be further enhanced to provide wait-time tracking, boarding calls, and zones to optimize queues and ensure social distancing around areas such as boarding gates, restrooms, and security. And the increased use of biometric corridors at airports will allow passengers to seamlessly pass-through security for verification without ever having to touch anything.

Health requirements

Health screening at airports is now being encouraged or even mandated by governments in order to prevent unwell passengers from traveling or staff from working. Health screening, immunity passports, health certificates – these measures are all on track to become the new norm. Manual thermal and temperature screenings are already being used, while trials are underway for self-service, touch-free technology that can detect a person’s temperature and heart rate, while asking a series of questions from a 1.5-meter distance at airport touchpoints such as bag drop, immigration, security counters, etc. Additionally, wearables will enable travelers to practice safe social distancing, while maintaining other health and safety compliance parameters.

Managed sanitation

Maintaining high standards of sanitation is of paramount importance in the post-Covid world, and this is never truer than when it comes to the closed environment of an airport, where people from all over the world come together for a brief moment in time. Myriad smart cleaning schemes are already being implemented, such as real-time monitoring of supplies like soap and sanitizer dispensers and paper supplies, which not only reduces waste, but also improves labor efficiency.

Some airports are even trialing UV-C lighting, which has been used to disinfect medical equipment for decades, to sanitize notoriously grubby security trays, while others are keeping passengers informed about rigorous cleaning checks, such as when surfaces in any particular zone were last sanitized.

Crowd reduction

Even before Covid, IoT-enabled devices and cameras were being used to determine traffic patterns and crowd movements throughout airports. In the post-Covid world it will be even more important to not just monitor over-crowding but to react quickly to it.

IoT- enabled sensors and cameras ensure real-time communication of crowd status, queue status, and wait times, along with occupancy, passenger density, and capacity volumes in various areas. Not only can passengers be advised when it comes to navigating the airport, facility management can quickly implement measures to reduce crowded areas.

Asset management

Delayed departures cost airports millions each year and leave untold numbers of passengers stuck in the closed environment of the airport. By tracking the huge amount of physical assets in the airport, IoT can significantly improve efficiency while also reducing costs, which in turn will help everyone keep on schedule. Tracking can include anything from ground service vehicles and baggage tugs to water trucks and de-icing vehicles, ensuring everything arrives at the right gate at the right time – and if they don’t, quick action can be taken.

Smart boarding

Optimizing boarding processes reduces queues and avoids the traditional rush towards the gate when boarding begins.  A digital sign displays the boarding sequence and passengers are only allowed to board when their seat number/s come up on the display.  The result is no queue build-up at the gate, jet bridge, or in the aircraft aisle, with social distancing ensured.

These are just some of the ways IoT will take airports into the post-Covid future – and as airports adjust to the new normal many more innovations will surely come to the fore. The end result will be a smart airport that keeps travelers safe by responding to their needs quickly and effectively, while also streamline processes and operations.

If you would like to learn more about how IoT can help your business, please get in touch.

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