Smarter from the Ground Up – How are Ground Handling operations adopting new tech trends?

Global aviation demand continues to soar in line with the industry’s accelerating recovery, forcing airports to constantly consider how to optimise their ground handling operations to accommodate greater volumes of flights, passengers, luggage and freight. Meeting this challenge head on, leading airports are turning to new technologies that streamline outdated processes and improve efficiency overall.

Core Tech Trends and their Exemplars
Robotic Assistance: Automation remains an area of avid interest to all airports capable of implementing intelligent solutions. Robots are a growing presence in leading airports as they boost efficiency while eliminating points of contact with passengers, improving health and safety levels overall. Robots will be a crucial pillar of ground handling in the near future, as dedicated units can assist with baggage sorting and transport, cleaning, security and even elements of customer service.

Exemplar Airport: Abu Dhabi International Airport
Since early 2021, Abu Dhabi International Airport has been deploying and upgrading its growing fleet of autonomous security robots. Developed by the security company G4S, these robots are equipped with cameras, sensors, and artificial intelligence that allow them to patrol the airport (terminals and ground handling areas) and identify any potential security threats.

Automated Baggage Handling Systems: One of the most time-consuming processes at airports is still the baggage handling. The latest automated baggage handling systems are eliminating manual handling (where most mistakes and accidents occur) to ensure that luggage gets where it needs to go safely, accurately and quickly. Solutions providers like Saudi Airport Exhibitor LundHalsey are at the forefront of designing new systems that will make lost baggage a thing of the past.

Exemplar Airport: Changi International (Singapore)
One of the most technologically advanced airports in the world, Changi’s automated baggage handling system can process up to 19,000 bags in under an hour. The system uses a network of 25km of conveyors and 2,600 scanners to sort and transport bags to their intended flights.

Augmented Reality: While automated solutions are integral to next-generation ground handling operations, skilled human oversight will always be needed. Augmented reality is a growth area that can provide airport staff with real-time information about aircraft and baggage in a user-friendly manner. The use of smart glasses or mobile devices present staff with a constant flow of real-time information, allowing them identify issues more efficiently, or even predict problems before they can manifest.

Exemplar Airport: Gatwick Airport (UK)
Gatwick already has a fully operational augmented reality system that displays real-time baggage information to its baggage handler team, letting them work in concert with the automated elements of the system. Gatwick has continued to invest heavily in AR, extending it to passengers who can even navigate the airport through an AR app on their phones.

Internet of Things: IoT is another long-term growth tech with an assured place in the future of airport ground handling. With leading airports wanting to integrate their platforms to create holistic, end-to-end operational setups, IoT will be the glue that holds it all together.

Exemplar Airport: Frankfurt Airport (Germany)
Frankfurt’s IoT system can monitor the real-time status of the entire airport’s fleet of baggage carts, fuel trucks, and other ground support equipment. This includes data on any unit’s location, status, and maintenance needs – data that is fed to ground staff and automated support units to optimise maintenance scheduling and overall performance. During the height of the pandemic, Frankfurt’s IoT approach was vital for accurately verifying the COVID-19 results of passengers, minimising disruption while improving passenger safety.

In for the long haul – Tech implementation considerations for ground handling
While time is always a factor in aviation, airports will need to be careful when considering their long-term strategy for integrating new technologies into their existing ground handling operations. Any new implementations must be sympathetic to the existing operational setup since few major international airports can afford to close long enough to completely overhaul their entire infrastructure. Therefore, seamless integration needs to be a priority to minimise disruption while paving the way towards a wholly flexible ground handling setup that can easily accommodate further innovations.

Crucially, staff must be at the centre of all new tech adoption. Airports with a mind for greater automation need to plan their training and support approach carefully, ensuring that staff whose manual tasks are replaced can switch comfortably to more nuanced roles, such as overseeing the new systems, observing, and recommending improvements.