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The seamless airport: Stitching together the pieces or tailoring a bespoke solution?

In 2007, IATA released the Fast Travel initiative, a six point programme giving the passenger more control over his or her journey, which encompasses: self check-in, bags ready-to-go, document check, self boarding, flight rebooking and bag recovery.

All these elements are supporting IATA’s vision for a seamless curb-to-airside experience and IATA is hoping for 80% of passengers to have access to all six elements by 2020.

As a result, ‘seamless travel’ is the phrase everyone wants to use; a scenario where passengers can book a single door-to-door service, where they check-in at home, arrive at the airport at leisure, attach a pre-printed bag tag and drop off their bags at an automated point before a painless transition through security with minimal hassle and maximum efficiency. Once airside, they are free to enjoy retail offerings and lounge access at their leisure whilst confident of being updated on their flight via Wi-Fi and push notifications before boarding their plane in an unrushed manner.

It’s fair to say we are not quite there yet, but the utopian vision is closer than ever before. Seamless travel is dependent on two important areas – infrastructure and technology. Infrastructure provides the modalities within the airport and technology connects them. Globally, airports and airlines are working with Rockwell Collins to move them towards the streamlined, connected airport and seamless travel. We have asked Paul Hickox, Rockwell Collins’ head of Airport Global Sales and Account Management, to tell us more.


Is the seamless airport an achievable, realistic goal?

Paul Hickox:  Yes it is. Airports are all investing heavily in technology around the seamless airport but, more importantly, the seamless airport boundary now extends further – no longer solely within the physical perimeter of the airport. With the new generation of Airbus A350 and Boeing 787, we see the seamless travel experience extended to the aircraft. These new aircraft are setting the standard and are now able to transmit ten times more data, keeping passengers, airlines, ground handlers and airports not just connected, but more importantly, up-to-date, all the time. It’s fair to say though, with a more holistic approach to these technologies the term ‘seamless airport’ is rapidly becoming a ‘seamless passenger experience’.


With that said, what can the passenger expect to see from a ‘seamless passenger experience’?

Paul Hickox: There will be many touch points where the passenger will see benefits. One simple example is – from the data now available – we can see where your bag has been, where your bag is now even when you are flying, and even forecast where it will be, so half an hour, or an hour out, you know your bag is going to be on the reclaim belt because the airport technology is transmitting and sending that to the aircraft. Passengers now are able to, in their seat, as a direct result of services such as high speed connectivity, receive intelligent information, and this can only evolve in the future. 

You could start to look at being able to make real-time changes in bookings, be informed of any delays, make intelligent decisions on connections, hotels, local transportation, in fact all sorts of technologies and services will be available in the air in real-time.  So, when looking at the passenger experience, it is actually going much further than the boundaries of the airport; I think in the next five years, you’re going to see an even more interactive experience in the seamless airport - aircraft experience.


Would it be fair to say a true seamless airport is not possible without an investment in both the infrastructure AND the technology connecting it?

Paul Hickox:  To truly take advantage of a fully immersive, seamless passenger experience we will see a continued shift towards automating much of the passenger process, which requires an investment and fundamental change to the way the passengers are being managed through the airport today.  This may require moving away from a more traditional expanse of fixed check-in desks or check-in kiosks in the airport environment, to more of a “moving the boundaries” approach – and starting to look at airport collaborative decision making (or A-CDM) blurs the boundaries between airport and airline when you’re managing the way, passengers are more efficiently moving in and through the airport.  Yes, without a doubt, there is an investment in new technologies but that will bring about efficiencies for the airport, in terms of its flexibility, manpower and customer experience.

With a legacy airport infrastructure, how close to the seamless ideal can we get?

Paul Hickox:   Most airports today have the basic fundamentals of a platform to move to a seamless airport.  You can look to the first elements being an Airport Operation Database (AODB) or even something as simple as wireless Internet connectivity infrastructure within the airport.  Wireless infrastructure at the gates gives you the opportunity to connect the latest generation aircraft to your systems and servers.  Most airports today have that type technology in place, so even ‘legacy’ airports have the basics of the platform to launch from.  It’s really a case of investment as to where it can be taken next, working with a trusted supplier to provide the very best technologies and the platforms to support a seamless passenger experience.


We seem to be talking about a lot more data being handled, transmitted, analysed and relied upon by airports, airlines, ground handlers and passengers – does this mean most of the investment would be in data centres, servers and IT infrastructure?

Paul Hickox:  It’s true  that airports have had to traditionally invest heavily in large scale data centres to house all of the different technologies in dedicated server rooms for a multitude of different technologies that run every aspect of the airport.  This does mean there is a physical and financial commitment required in providing the capacity needed, as well as forecasting what might be required in the future. However since the inception of cloud technology, we can provide a secure, flexible, scalable solution for airports offering an alternative to costly IT provisioning. Our cloud solutions simplify technology requirements, which we anticipate saving the airport both money and investment in the long term and reducing that demand on their dataset. Our technologies in the cloud have existed for some time, but this year are expanding to include a dedicated cloud-based MUSE passenger processing solution and will evolve into a full suite of cloud products in the coming years, allowing passengers and airports to take advantage of lower infrastructure cost, faster, simplified deployment and flexible scalability.


With more and more systems collecting more and more data with every passenger movement through an airport, how can airlines, airports and ground handlers take advantage of this vast amount of data?

Paul Hickox:   In theory, we can already provision for future growth, infrastructure needs and data handling but the entire industry still has a hurdle to overcome: data ownership and sharing. The technology, processes and procedures combine to deliver the solution if you like, and the processes and procedures are, let’s say, at the working level with the airport and airline.  It really falls to the airport and the airline to share data with each other and that has always been the biggest hurdle.  Both the airport and the airlines need the data and both need it for different reasons, but the sharing of that data is constrained by the laws and regulations of the country in which they are legally registered and where they operate. An airline from Qatar may have no data restrictions but Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam may have extremely high data restrictions, and so you have to consider the regulations and laws, in order to share that data.

Once we start sharing data, what efficiencies become available? How do these efficiencies help airports, airlines, ground handlers, passengers and the environment? Will we start to see a seamless passenger experience?

Paul Hickox: Once data can be shared, we will start to see a seamless airport emerge. The sharing of data and the improved systems that are implemented will then lead to that seamless passenger experience; we will see benefits from a more efficient travel experience both in terms of cost to the airport and time to the customer. 

As well as a better passenger experience, there is the additional benefit through passengers receiving data and real-time information earlier in the passenger experience, allowing them to make better-informed decisions about their journey.

With all parties better informed in real-time, we would see an environment that can flex to the changing requirements, better utilising its facilities to the immediate needs of the passengers, becoming more efficient and simplifying growth and flexibility of the airport. At the same time, we will see better informed passengers moving seamlessly through an environment tailored for their needs, facilitating a passenger experience that offers them more choice and control while helping to reduce the costs for the industry.

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Welcome to Talking Airports: Connectivity

Welcome to the Connectivity section of Rockwell Collins Talking Airports.

Here you will find articles and links to more information from Rockwell Collins related to any aspect of connectivity, however some articles may appear under more than one category depending on the content.

This section will cover topics on;

  • Airport Connectivity
  • Airfield Connectivity

You can be automatically notified of any new articles by subscribing to this section at any time using the link in the tool bar near the top of the page or by clicking the category in the menu on the right and choosing the relevant subscribe option at the top of the page.

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