Airport 3:0: How smart technologies are transforming air travel

A growing number of airports use self check-in desks like these. Image: Getty.

This post is brought to you by global IT business solutions provider Comarch.

The past: the small, local airport

Welcome to College Park, Maryland: population, 30,000.

In the mid 19th century, the University of Maryland had been established here – but it was Wilbur Wright, an inventor and the pioneer of aviation, who made the city famous. For it was in College Park that, on 7 October 1909, the Wright Type A biplane was assembled. For this reason, the College Park Airport (KCGS) is still known as the "Cradle of Aviation.”

While it still remains an active airport, after over 100 years, it’s mostly a historical curiosity today. Initially, the field was cleared of brush and a small temporary hangar was erected. But as airports began to offer standard infrastructure and services – check-in gates, boarding area, limited retail and food outlets – this temporary structure soon evolved into something we’d recognise as a traditional airport.

Typically, like the railway stations established at the same time, these smaller airports operate on the so-called landlord model, with an owner and a concession operator. But the problem with such a model is that it was unable to live up to passenger expectations. It’s like flying from Beauvais airport near Paris rather than Charles de Gaulle, or from any other low cost carrier terminal: it might be technically OK, but the experience is far from memorable.

The traditional airport means a small airport with limited facilities. While they were business effective, they didn’t pay much attention to passengers.

The present: the global hub

In January 2009, one hundred year after the establishment of the College Park Airport, the UK government announced that it supported the expansion of Heathrow Airport, to include a third runway and sixth terminal building.

Heathrow is UK’s only global hub airport, and the largest international airport in the country, serving 180 destinations in 90 countries. It’s one of those airports known for their services, great customer experience and enormous business opportunities.

Over 202 out of the UK’s top 300 company HQs are within a 25‑mile radius of Heathrow. This is also an important spot for many Comarch’s clients, including Thomas Cook and BP. New technologies and practical facilities make Heathrow one of the world’s top airports according to the airline customers, too.

So what makes Heathrow so special? Among the most important things are broadband wireless internet, IP telephony, modern video systems, a wide range of well-known shops and restaurants, special events like live music in the terminal buildings, and complimentary stylist-trained shopping assistance. This is why Heathrow adopted the slogan, “Making every journey better”.

One key to the success of Heathrow’s modernisation has been the smart use of new technologies. The “Heathrow Rewards” airport shopping loyalty programme, for example, is based largely on a stable and developing relationship with Comarch – and has enabled businesses at the airport to benefit from a 14 per cent increase in spend per visit. Now program members spend £49 more per visit than non-members.

Moreover, the programme’s operating expenditures have been reduced by 2.5 per cent – despite a 64 per cent growth in membership, and a 27 per cent increase in the number of transactions it covers. Heathrow understands that a reliable technology partner means competitive market prices, without the need to expensively maintain its own IT infrastructure and resources.


The future: the smart aerotropolis

Imagine you’re approaching the airport in a comfortable express train. You’ve already checked the bag at the railway station in the city centre: you don’t have to think about that anymore. You know that the train will arrive on time, and that boarding will start in 95 minutes. Your co-worker who is traveling by car has already previewed available parking spaces and used an exclusive “members only” offer.

As you are approaching the terminal, your mobile sends you a push notification with your flight details and average waiting time in the security area. Thanks to location-based services and beacon technology, local merchandisers can provide you with special dedicated offers – not to mention loyalty points, both from your carrier (e.g. Avios or air miles), and additional airport program.

Smart passengers are more satisfied with multi-partner loyalty programs such as Thanks Again. Oh, wait: did you forget your child’s favorite candy? Beacons and your smartphone will remind you about such basic things from your checklist, and help you to make someone happy.

The airports of the future will fully exploit the power of new technologies, including sensors, processors, mobile apps, gamification and behavioral analytics. The key is a broad integration process among airlines, retailers, restaurants, cafes and parking facilities. In this model, airports can cross-sell and up-sell to the passengers.

It is a common view in the aviation industry that non-aeronautical income – from parking, retail, real estate, advertising, restaurants, cafes and other concessionaires – will be more and more important in the years to come. Airports, as we all know them, are very likely to be replaced with airport cities (aerotropolis) of the future.

Smart Cities cannot exist without Smart Airports – but Smart Airports also needs Smart Cities. That is why the integration with surrounding urban area, and good relationships with transport authorities and local business is so important.

The entire region can benefit from a smart strategy. What will be the first example of such an airport? It will depend on you.

Vincenzo Sinibaldi is a business development manager at Comarch Italy.

Comarch has more than 20 years of experience in helping global companies to achieve higher profitability, and understands the importance of changes taking place in contemporary cities. Its state-of-the art technologies, geolocation with micro-navigation, multi-channel access to the Internet and the growing needs of users, have made it both possible and necessary for the firm to design a comprehensive solution that combines an individual approach to clients, strategic planning and advanced analytical capabilities.

The Smart City concept is based on the company’s past experiences: from loyalty systems, electronic data interchange and sales support, to IT and “Internet of Things” infrastructure and other advanced uses of technology in business. Designing tools for generic location-based services and developing smart strategies are the priorities for every implementation.

Thanks to this, Comarch Smart City can create an integrated space where the experiences and needs of users are linked with events from the participating institutions, including public transportation authorities, city councils and other private partners, regardless of their business profile.

You can find out more here.

 
 
 
 

Barnet council has decided a name for its new mainline station. Exciting!

Artist's impression of the new Brent Cross. Image: Hammerson.

I’ve ranted before about the horror of naming stations after the lines that they’re served by (screw you, City Thameslink). So, keeping things in perspective as ever, I’ve been quietly dreading the opening of the proposed new station in north London which has been going by the name of Brent Cross Thameslink.

I’ve been cheered, then, by the news that station wouldn’t be called that at all, but will instead go by the much better name Brent Cross West. It’s hardly the cancellation of Brexit, I’ll grant, but in 2017 I’ll take my relief wherever I can find it.

Some background on this. When the Brent Cross shopping centre opened besides the A406 North Circular Road in 1976, it was only the third large shopping mall to arrive in Britain, and the first in London. (The Elephant & Castle one was earlier, but smaller.) Four decades later, though, it’s decidedly titchy compared to newer, shinier malls such as those thrown up by Westfield – so for some years now, its owners, Hammerson, have wanted to extend the place.

That, through the vagaries of the planning process, got folded into a much bigger regeneration scheme, known as Brent Cross Cricklewood (because, basically, it extends that far). A new bigger shopping centre will be connected, via a green bridge over the A406, to another site to the south. There you’ll find a whole new town centre, 200 more shops, four parks, 4m square feet of offices space and 7,500 homes.

This is all obviously tremendously exciting, if you’re into shops and homes and offices and not into depressing, car-based industrial wastelands, which is what the area largely consists of at the moment.

The Brent Cross site. Image: Google.

One element of the new development is the new station, which’ll sit between Hendon and Cricklewood on the Thameslink route. New stations are almost as exciting as new shops/homes/offices, so on balance I'm pro.

What I’ve not been pro is the name. For a long time, the proposed station has been colloquially referred to as Brent Cross Thameslink, which annoys me for two reasons:

1) Route names make rubbish modifiers because what if the route name changes? And:

2) It’s confusing, because it’s nearly a mile from Brent Cross tube station. West Hampstead Thameslink (euch), by contrast, is right next to West Hampstead tube.

Various other names have been proposed for the station. In one newsletter, it was Brent Cross Parkway; on Wikipedia, it’s currently Brent Cross South, apparently through confusion about the name of the new town centre development.

This week, though, Barnet council quietly confirmed it’d be Brent Cross West:

Whilst the marketing and branding of BXS needs to be developed further, all parties agree that the station name should build upon the Brent Cross identity already established. Given the station is located to the west of Brent Cross, it is considered that the station should be named Brent Cross West. Network Rail have confirmed that this name is acceptable for operational purposes. Consequently, the Committee is asked to approve that the new station be named Brent Cross West.

Where the new station will appear on the map, marked by a silly red arrow. Image: TfL.

That will introduce another irritating anomaly to the map, giving the impression that the existing Brent Cross station is somehow more central than the new one, when in fact they’re either side of the development. And so:

Consideration has also been given as to whether to pursue a name change for the tube station from “Brent Cross” to “Brent Cross East”.

Which would sort of make sense, wouldn’t it? But alas:

However owing to the very high cost of changing maps and signage London-wide this is not currently being pursued.

This is probably for the best. Only a handful of tube stations have been renamed since 1950: the last was Shepherd’s Bush Market, which was until 2008 was simply Shepherd's Bush, despite being quite a long way from the Shepherd's Bush station on the Central line. That, to me, suggests that one of the two Bethnal Green stations might be a more plausible candidate for an early rename.


At any rate: it seems unlikely that TfL will be renaming its Brent Cross station to encourage more people to use the new national rail one any time soon. But at least it won’t be Brent Cross Thameslink.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook