The “End-to-End Airport” – Will systems integration be the next priority for world-leading airports?

Getting back on their feet after the pandemic has been the main priority for aviation industry players, large and small alike, for the past few years. However, as the spectre of COVID recedes, leading airports have been looking to the future. While the operational concerns of today can’t be ignored, the truly progressive airports are thinking of how best to lay the foundations for a more resilient, efficient and effective operational setup tomorrow.

For many, the integration and standardisation of key systems is the answer. Creating end-to-end setups that provide operators with a full, holistic oversight and control of both airside and ground operations will be the hallmark of a truly “next-generation” airport.

Focal points for Systems Integration
ATC operations: The Air Control Tower is the first and most obvious place to consider for integration and standardisation works. If operators are being fed the most accurate and up-to-date data from all collection points in the air and on the ground, with all of said data available in a highly responsive and easily navigable UI, networked with appropriate automation and/or AI tools, they will have the best chance of overseeing flights optimally, reducing risks and operational costs into the bargain.

Exemplar: Dubai International Airport (DXB)
DXB has been experiencing exponential growth in recent years as the Middle East becomes more of a popular hub for both tourist and business aviation. To keep up with demand, DXB continues to deploy cutting-edge ATC systems that provide operators with a more unified and responsive setup. Last month, Dubai Air Navigation Services (dans) signed a contract with Germany’s DFS Aviation Services (DAS) to receive DAS’s Electronic Flight Strip System (EFS) and a web-based Information Management System (IMS) to the approach centre. This integrated system gives operators quicker access to all the necessary information, ranging from weather data to or an aerial and ground position display of radar targets, while providing the tools for a faster, more seamless response.

Airport security: For years, passengers have complained that security processing takes too long, is too invasive and is generally the most dreaded part of their flying experience. Airports can massively alleviate the drudgery of this leg of the journey, without sacrificing the safety of staff and passengers, by creating an integrated security system that puts users through as few processes as possible. Using biometrics, advanced scanners and touchless technology, next-gen airports will provide a security setup that is barely an inconvenience as passengers move from the terminal to their on-board seat.

Exemplar: Geneva Airport
Pre-covid, Geneva processed more than 17 million passengers annually. During the winter season, millions of skiers pass through the airport, frequently with heavy or oversized luggage. In collaboration with Saudi Airport Exhibition exhibitor SITA, Geneva Airport undertook a full security systems integration project to offer a faster, smoother, secure, and more seamless passenger experience. SITA implemented its digital passenger processing technology to give passengers self-service touchpoints at every step of their airport journey – check-in, bag drop, security, and boarding. Biometrically enabled self-bag drop stations and pre-security e-gates mean that passengers can go through each process with a simple face scan. SITA smart kiosks are also fully integrated with Geneva’s operations management system, giving all operators a more unified view of the airport.

Cybersecurity: One of the top emerging threats needing to be tackled by airports of all sizes is that of cybercrime. From ransomware to brute-force attacks designed to cripple digital infrastructure, cybercriminals can deploy all manner of damaging (and potentially lethal) techniques to achieve their aims. This is without mentioning the threat to passenger privacy and personal data. Accordingly, airports need to optimise their digital defences alongside their physical ones.

Exemplar: Manchester Airport Group (MAG)
MAG recently teamed up with cyber security services company, Bridewell to increase security event visibility by 1500%. Bridewell’s integrated security solutions mean that Manchester airports can now monitor 80,000 events per second in real time, up from the previous rate of 5,000 per second. Their approach utilises AI, machine learning and cloud computing to massively expand the visibility of security events and parameters, providing a much wider view of any and all potential threats to the airports’ operational systems and stored data.

Zooming out means focusing in
If next-generation airports are to successfully leverage emerging technologies in everything from ATC operations to security processes, they must start with an integration mindset. While impressive on their own, many of these technologies can act as a “force multiplier”, with one advancement leading to optimisations in other areas. For example, end-to-end biometric-based security processing of passengers won’t just speed up their clearing of any security hurdles, it can also optimise the onboarding and luggage handling processes too.

However, the cascading benefits of technological upgrades will only occur if they are working in concert with each other. Piecemeal implementations done separately from each other will minimise this effect. This is something that the world’s leading airports know already, hence their heavy investment in integration efforts that bring all stakeholders a more unified view of the airport and a more collaborative approach to daily operations.