Much as 9/11 triggered increased security in the wake of terrorist attacks, the aviation industry responded rapidly to the global COVID-19 pandemic, with priorities changing to ensure the health and safety of passengers, employees and service providers. Airports explored ways to offer a contactless environment. New technologies arrived, such as the Collins Aerospace Kiosk Connect, offering touch-free access via mobile phone. Autonomous cleaning robots equipped with UV light began to roam terminals. Hong Kong International Airport was the first in the world and Pittsburgh International the first in the United States to deploy these robots. And at Doha’s Hamad International Airport, staff donned Smart Helmets with infrared thermal imaging, artificial intelligence and an augmented reality display to check the temperatures of travelers.
Many changes will likely remain in place in the near term but will evolve to permanently transform the airport experience to a more passenger-centric process. Industry stakeholders long anticipated a digital transformation in an effort to create a faster, safer and more secure airport process — and allow aviation the flexibility and resilience to meet future demands without relying on ever-bigger airports. In this moment, the future is upon us.
In 2013 The Future of Travel Experience Global Think Tank’s “Vision 2025” report envisioned an airport walk-through experience with automated check-in, permanent bag tags and passenger identification tokens to be used at every checkpoint. The report predicted, “Historically, the industry has had an engineering focus all about flying aircraft— the future is about flying customers and providing customer-oriented service.”
Similarly, “The Future of Airports: a Vision of 2040 and 2070” — presented earlier this year by the Airport Think Tank of ENAC Alumni (the French National University of Civil Aviation) — foresees the transformation of airports from facility providers to mobility providers and hosts. In accommodating world population growth to about 9 billion in 2040 and 10.5 billion in 2070, future airport concepts will need to “go beyond grand architectural designs and get back to the roots of terminal design: providing a straightforward, seamless, and pleasant access to the aircraft from the curbside.”
IDEMIA, the technology company behind TSA PreCheck, believes biometrics — using a traveler’s face, iris or fingerprints as a travel document — will forever change the travel experience. Sooner rather than later, by tying their biometric identity to their ticket, travelers will enjoy contactless bag drop, streamlined security and health screens, and faster boarding times. And by pre-enrolling using biometrics, travelers can anticipate individualized experiences once they arrive at the airport.
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