Taking off: airport tech

Maeve Hosea
Maeve Hosea
With advanced design and technology applied to everything from baggage handling to immigration control, global airports are gliding smoothly into the future

Two-thirds of a mile long and more than one million square metres in size, the elegant leviathan of Madrid Barajas Terminal 4 won the coveted Stirling Prize for architecture when it opened its doors in 2006. Futuristic from the start, the latest innovation to the efficiently designed terminal building is a collaboration between leading airline Iberia and technology provider Panasonic.

A first in using mobile technology for most ramp services, the advancement ensures maximum efficiency for essential procedures including aircraft maintenance; refuelling; inspection of ground support equipment and baggage handling. By investing in this new software-based innovation, Iberia significantly improves the punctuality of more than 600 daily flights out of the terminal.

Technology doesn’t just dramatically improve hold ups behind the scenes either. As it challenges for the title of ‘world’s busiest airport’, Dubai International is poised to roll out ‘smart gate’ technology that will allow travellers from 33 approved countries to clear immigration at the airport in 20 seconds flat.

A dynamic modern alternative to face-to-face border control, the Smart Gate developed by Dubai Aviation Engineering Projects and technology specialist Emaratech breaks new ground. The gates use eye and facial recognition technology to identify pre-registered passengers and wave them through.

“The smart gate is recognized as the most efficient and most advanced around the world from technical, operational and security integration aspects, ensuring the highest standards of safety and security to all passengers,” comments Suzanne Al-Anani, CEO of Dubai Aviation Engineering Projects.

There are other innovators in the region too. As part of its Smart Airports strategy, Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah airport is leveraging mobile technology to both improve operational efficiencies and enhance the consumer experience. One recent example is a range of personalized real-time information; travel-related, value-added services; and retail promotions, available to passengers via mobile devices. This kind of implementation allows passengers to feel independent during their journey but also gives them the awareness of where to turn to for help if they need it.

Meanwhile in Europe, a recent addition to Athens International’s enhanced passenger facilities is a ‘Holographic Announcer’. This eye-catching technology uses human look-alike videos projections to communicate pre-recorded travel information. These hologram images of uniformed young men and women are increasingly used in airports across the globe to manage queues and impart useful information to passengers, such as security procedures or wayfinding. The InfoGates technology, first pioneered at Munich airport, takes this concept a step further. A series of InfoGates are positioned strategically throughout the terminal building. A simple touch of a button starts a videoconference with a real-life, multi-lingual service agent.

The airport is an exciting frontier for all things logistical. In this era of super-sized terminals, growing security concerns and swelling passenger numbers, dynamically employing cutting edge technology on the ground is the passport to the future of air travel.