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Seeking security – How biometrics fit into airports of today and tomorrow

In a world that is being forced to up the ante when it comes to security measures, one of the best solutions might be right under our noses: biometrics. As they relate to travel, biometrics offer the capability to create an experience that is both safe and seamless, kicking off everyone’s adventure on the right foot.

Just imagine how that airport experience might work: You enter the airport and walk up to the self-service baggage kiosk where your passport is scanned, followed by scan from a facial recognition camera that compares it to the biometric data on your passport and your travel documents, confirming your identity.

You deposit your bag and head to security where, once again, your face is used to confirm you are who you say you are and you’re waved through. At the gate and even at the destination airport, you move through the airport quickly and easily, while the airport maintains the utmost security.

This exemplifies the massive potential of biometrics in a travel setting. Your face (it could just as easily be your fingerprint, iris, earlobe, etc.) has become your biometric token, eliminating the documents – think passport and driver’s license – traditionally used to verify your identity.

While this experience has not yet arrived for all travelers, the use of biometrics to improve security, as well as the passenger experience, is gaining ground at airports around the world – and for good reason.

The Benefits of Biometrics
Globally, there are a number of airports/airlines, including well-known trials at Heathrow T5, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways and more, that are conducting biometric trials, and security is one of the key reasons.

Thanks to our smartphones (which commonly use fingerprints – and now facial scans – to unlock our device) as well as other applications, biometrics has become ubiquitous. As consumers have become increasingly familiar and comfortable with the general concept, the potential for biometric identification is easily applied to other uses and areas.

Using biometrics today as part of the airport screening process provides the opportunity to, at the very least, be as effective as (but more likely more effective than) current manual screening processes. Why? Biometrics provides more consistent results; after 8 or 80 hours, the technology does not suffer from fatigue (the way a person might) and will screen exactly the same way.

Additionally, new technological innovations and standards are becoming more commonplace at airports – and are providing increasingly accurate results. The accuracy of the cameras used, the processing power of the equipment, as well as the methodology and algorithms are all improving.

Technologies that measure the distances between facial features, for example, can capture data that is verified by cameras located at strategic points within the airport and linked to airport computer systems that hold travel documentation.

The use of infrared cameras, which are less prone to variable lighting conditions, is increasing. With these cameras, the ambient lighting does not distort the image captured, which, with windows everywhere, is a common problem at airports. And those infrared cameras now have a much higher flash rate so they can take many more frames per second – meaning they have the chance to get a much better quality image of the face.

But wait, there’s more. Companies like Rockwell Collins are already working to incorporate Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies to improve the process even further. For example, rather than trying to map a face into a series of geometric points, Rockwell Collins is using artificial intelligence to recognize a face and say it’s the same face based on a self-learning AI algorithm.

Applying the Technology
Regardless of the technology, the move towards biometrics can enhance security in other ways. Retraining security personnel to deal with the “exception” versus the “standard” could make the entire process faster and more secure. Security officers could be focused on looking for cues that may indicate a concern (e.g. someone sweating profusely or acting anxious) that a person would be able to notice but that a computer taking an iris scan wouldn’t. The result: additional screening measures could be applied when warranted, not necessarily “at random.”

Beyond security, biometrics has the opportunity to remake the passenger experience. As passengers embrace self-service technologies, biometrics enables a much faster and more pleasant trip through the airport. Rockwell Collins is creating self-service solutions that integrate biometric authentication into each phase of passenger processing, so everything from check-in through boarding the airplane can be securely automated while making the experience more care-free and smooth for the traveler.

Currently Challenges Exist
Despite its numerous advantages, implementing biometric programs at the airports globally has its challenges. As you might imagine, standardization among identity documents around the world is a large one. One example: European passports contain a digital file for each person’s image while U.S. driver’s licenses do not.

Another difficulty to consider is that the actual biometric used can vary. Facial recognition is quite common but cannot be used in some cultures, for example, if a woman is wearing a burka. It also requires passengers to look at the camera, which may not be feasible in some instances (a disabled person, a small child). And even though other modalities, like fingerprints or iris scans can be used, they also have limitations.

Privacy laws are also a main concern, specifically regarding biometrics data sharing, which differ from country to country. And while passengers currently have a choice and can opt out, in the future such programs could become mandatory.

Lights, Camera…Biometrics
Even with the existing challenges, using biometrics at airports looks promising. The benefits already being realized from current trials all but guarantee a continued expansion of the technology. Ultimately, biometrics are giving airports a way to maintain rigorous security levels and improve the passenger flow/experience. So while the nirvana-like travel experience initially described is not here yet, it may be very soon.

[This article originally appeared in Asia Pacific Airports Magazine and was penned by Tony Chapman, the author cited here.]

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All about data

New technology continues to change the way we travel and provide airports with new sources of data about passenger behaviours than can be used to improve operational efficiency and boost revenues.

You’re rushing to the airport to catch a flight when the service you’ve subscribed to sends a text message. It’s letting you know there’s an accident ahead and provides an alternate route.

It also lets you know that the parking garage you typically use is just about full and offers some other options. Because of the updates, you make it to the airport in time, jump on your flight and off you go.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? While it may not be available today at your local airport, this type of solution, and others like it, are generating a lot of interest in the aviation community.

These technologies are part of a new set of solutions that focus on traffic, queue and flow management to enhance the passenger experience, optimise operations and improve revenue by using data to better understanding passenger behaviour before getting to – and once at – the airport.

Unlike passenger facilitation solutions that enable travellers to go through security, check-in, drop bags, etc, as quickly and as efficiently as possible, passenger behaviour technologies focus on what passengers do in between those events.

Ultimately, the goal is to get a better understanding of passenger behaviour from the time they leave their home to how a passenger transits through the airport by using analytics.

Airports want to know specifically where passengers go, where they queue, where they dwell, and what more about their dining and shopping preferences.

New technologies provide new capabilities
Tracking and flow management solutions have existed for some time, but technological limitations have slowed adoption. However, that’s changing. The per cent of devices that can be tracked using Bluetooth, for example, is actually very low so previous solutions did not provide as much value. But new capabilities, like indoor satellite and advanced sensor networks, are removing limitations and making these solutions more useful for airports, and passengers, alike.

And the value does not need to come from tracking an individual but rather from understanding the general behaviour a person exhibits. For example, airports want to know that Person A was in security for 10 minutes, then stopped at a certain shop and then headed to the gate 45 minutes before departure.

At some point in the future, airports maybe able to identify an individual, but that’s likely to be subject to personal approval to opt in to a service, which will provide the passenger with a personalised service and other unique benefits, similar to the way a person may give up some of his or her privacy when using Google.

Optimising operations
Technologies that measure traffic in real time, reporting volume, speed, lane occupancy, queue length and other information are very useful to an airport as well as to arriving and/or departing passengers.

Systems that are continuously updated with the actual behaviour of passengers enable airports to proactively address issues.

Inside the terminal, effective people flow management is critical to an airport’s core business. Extensive video systems, neural networks coupled with artificial intelligence and deep learning techniques and other technologies, enable airports to get real-time measurements and analytics of passenger behaviour, predicted wait times, ongoing throughput levels and lane opening data, for example.

If predicted queue times at security are increasing, the head of security might receive a message to open a new line – eliminating issues before they become problems and increasing passenger satisfaction.

Understanding passenger analytics
Understanding where passengers dwell can provide unique insight for infrastructure decisions and also help maximise revenue. Understanding why people tend to congregate in this area versus that can impact how an airport designs, redesigns or builds new infrastructure.

How can it impact revenue? If an airport knows where its passengers dwell, it could, for example, charge different retail rates for different areas based on passenger behaviour.

Likewise, an airport could control the content on its digital signage to determine the best placement for product advertising. It could mix and match advertising and track it so it can bill based on the demographics and the number of people who see it.

Combining data creates powerful insights for airports
While airports globally are looking at implementing a number of these solutions, the biggest value will come from integrating passenger analytical data with the operational data captured from existing airport systems, like Rockwell Collins’ ARINC airport operations, passenger processing and self-service systems.

This integration would provide a much more comprehensive data set and enable airports to understand every aspect of its passengers’ behaviour. Most importantly, the data could be used to optimise operations and provide the services and facilities that it believes its customer wants.

And what if systems outside and inside the airport could be integrated? Take the example of an airport that bases its number of security screeners on expected passenger arrival rates and suddenly it’s not seeing those people? Real time data feeds to an integrated system, could identify the issue as a traffic accident that’s delayed travellers, and just knowing and when things were likely to clear up would enable the airport to adjust its staffing and/or add more self service systems in real time to handle the peak passenger load when it arrives.

And this integration could provide airports with even more insight. What if we could tell an airport if Airline A’s passengers behave differently from Airline B’s? Or if passengers behave differently in the evening than they do in the morning?

Using this data could impact the design and planning of airport infrastructure to best accommodate actual passenger behaviour.

In the future, airports will be well served by looking at IT solutions that provide a fully automated way to understand what an airport’s passengers are doing from when they start their journey, through the airport itself and all the way onto boarding the plane.

Ultimately, understanding and using passenger behaviour data and integrating it with operational data will be the key to unlocking the airport of the future.

This is a reproduction of an article first published in Asia-Airports Magazine, June 2017, the original article can be found on pages 40-42, here:

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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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On board with Rockwell Collins in Latin America

Latin America has a diverse, fascinating aviation market with unique challenges and opportunities.  Rockwell Collins has had a long presence in the region, providing avionics systems to airlines and aircraft manufacturers but the company is less well known as an airport systems provider. However, this is changing—and for good reason.

Augusto de Macedo Santos, regional head of Airport Systems for Rockwell Collins, is passionate about offering the best service and solutions to airports in Latin America. By listening to clients and building trust, the Airport Systems team has made real headway.

“We are focused and dedicated to implementing cutting-edge solutions at airports and winning new customers throughout the region,” Santos commented. 


Demonstrating Success: Helping Regional Airports  

Until just a few years ago, Rockwell Collins was relatively unknown in Latin America, but some high profile opportunities changed all that. First, the need to improve airport security systems for the 2014 World Cup gave Rockwell Collins the opportunity to show the region what it could do.

From a security perspective, it was extremely important to keep track of passengers as they traveled through different parts of the airport terminal. Rockwell Collins tailored its systems to suit this particular project and, by automating the airport’s screening process, was able to improve passenger flow by 15-20 percent. Needless to say, the client was impressed.


Time was a critical imperative

Two years later, Brazil was preparing once again to host a major sporting event. This time, the 2016 Summer Games were coming to Rio de Janeiro and an experienced, trustworthy supplier was needed to upgrade the airport systems and operations at Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport (GIG)

Rockwell Collins was chosen for the prestigious project and Augusto explains the importance of this commission. “The Rio Games was our first large systems integration assignment in the Americas and it was a very large and complex airport operations project. Completing the project on time was a critical imperative and was a key focus for our team.”  


Better, safer airport experience

Rockwell Collins installed a range of hardware and software solutions that  supported the increased passenger flow during the Games, and also offered passengers a better, safer airport experience. The airport systems implementation included the company’s ARINC vMUSETM common use passenger processing system, ARINC SelfServTM check in kiosk, ARINC AirPlan resource management system, ARINC Enterprise messaging, ARINC AirVueTM flight information display system and much more.

The success of the project demonstrated Rockwell Collins’ ability to meet the toughest challenges of Latin America’s aviation industry.


From strength to strength by tailoring systems

Since the 2016 Rio Games, Rockwell Collins has become a highly regarded provider across the Latin American region. Augusto has noticed a real shift. Before, the company was an outsider but now, Rockwell Collins is a strong local player. “We are now working on opportunities in multiple countries throughout the region.  I don’t think we’d have been considered for these projects without our successful deployments for the World Cup and Rio Games.” 

He believes Rockwell Collins’ growing presence and success is due to a simple ethos of always listening to the customer. By understanding their unique needs, Rockwell Collins tailors systems to the specific requirements of the airport, country and region.


Growing Trust

This personal approach, alongside a commitment to hiring local people, has resulted in successful projects for airports big and small, and has won Rockwell Collins respect.

Evidence of growing trust in the company was recently shown in Mexico, where Rockwell Collins was awarded a major contract to provide passenger processing and validation systems for 13 airports.  This is just one of many new projects and contract extensions happening throughout the region. 


Looking Ahead

Rockwell Collins is definitely no longer unknown in Latin America, but the team is always looking to break new ground. 

With their presence firmly established, Augusto says the goal is to offer better and more innovative solutions. “Hard work from the whole team has paid dividends and I hope to continue that.”

The team’s client-focussed ethos drives outstanding results and the Latin American aviation industry is taking note. Rockwell Collins continues to grow in terms of revenue and people, expanding at a much faster rate than its competitors. This, however, is not the cause of their success, but the consequence of listening to clients and doing an outstanding job. Airports in Latin America are truly getting on board with Rockwell Collins. 

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Next Generation Self-Service Innovations to Improve Passenger Experience Using Biometrics and Identity Management

As air travel continues to increase on a global scale, airports from all over the world are seeking innovation in self-service passenger processing solutions to improve passenger experience and streamline airport operations through identity management and biometrics.

Although it is widely recognised that complete automation, and a paperless passenger processing experience from airport arrival to take-off is still some years away, Rockwell Collins is involved in testing and research of biometrics innovation to consolidate its already successful self-service airport solutions with that goal firmly in mind.

Tony Chapman, director of strategic programs for Rockwell Collins Global Airports talks to us about Biometrics and Identity Management in the next generation of Rockwell Collins' Self-Service innovations.

Facial recognition and biometrics data challenges in the airport environment

The latest innovation in passports typically includes Common Use Identity Management specific to travellers, such as measured distances between facial features, for example. This data can be captured and verified by cameras located at strategic points within the airport, and linked to airport computer systems that hold travel documentation.

Challenges arise around the world in this process of identity management, largely due to a lack of standardization for required information. Tony Chapman, notes that ‘Everyone is looking for something more unique than facial features and adds that while the system is good, ‘you have to look up at the camera’.

There are also concerns and challenges surrounding privacy laws regarding biometrics data-sharing, which differ from country to country. 

The CLEAR approach to identity management

CLEAR, currently operational in 14 airports in the U.S. allows passengers to use dedicated security lanes to expedite passenger processing using a biometric boarding pass. Subject to advance, pre-approval, CLEAR is privately-run and works to a similar process as that operated by the TSA.

Recent testing with Alaska Airlines, using fingerprint comparison with boarding records, proved successful, and can be used in the future to replace the paper boarding pass, or the electronic boarding passes typically stored on mobile phones.

How Rockwell Collins see the future of biometrics to improve passenger experience

Rockwell Collins’ vision for the future of passenger processing takes a holistic view of the planned airport experience, from the moment of arrival after following a booking process. From this point, passenger experience will take on a completely new focus, with a self-service progression throughout the airport to the point of boarding. 

The passenger is met with a facial recognition camera at a self-service bag drop kiosk, where the passport is scanned. A comparison is made of the traveller’s features with the biometrics data stored in the document and the passenger travel documentation, such as ticket and boarding pass stored within the airline DCS. This data is automatically passed to the relevant government department or agency for security screening.

Once baggage is handled using the self-service features of the kiosk, including electronic tagging and security scanning, the passenger heads to security, where he is met with another facial recognition camera to verify the biometrics data. This process of facial recognition continues at the gate, and upon arrival at the destination airport. 

According to Chapman, this final part of the process will prove to be the most challenging, requiring the biometrics agreements and standards to be in place across the world. 

Rockwell Collins has been approaching research and development of its vision for more than 18 months, with the core idea being in place for almost a decade, following issues in the U.K. with travellers from some countries in Africa arriving as economic immigrants at the border, having destroyed travel documentation after leaving their native country. Although the trials involved manual processing, Chapman says it ‘started our thinking on how to automate this whole process’.

Other visions for automation in the marketplace include the use of mobile phones and devices containing pre-programmed biometrics data, yet this vision is open to abuse if not carefully policed within the airport environment.

There is little doubt that at some point in the future, innovation will deliver complete automation to encompass every step of the passenger experience within a framework of self-service systems using biometrics identity management. Rockwell Collins continues to improve passenger experience with self-service airport systems, such as Common Use Identity Management, airport self-service check-in and bag drop kiosks and baggage systems, used in airports around the world.


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