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.

 
 
 
 

Here’s how Henry Ford and IKEA could provide the key to solving the housing crisis

A flatpack house designed by architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, on display at the Royal Academy, London, in 2013. Image: Getty.

For many people, the housing market is not a welcoming place. The rungs of the property ladder seem to get further and further out of reach. There are loud calls to build hundreds of thousands of new homes (and equally loud demands that they’re not built in anyone’s back yard).

If there was ever a time to introduce mass-produced affordable housing, surely that time is now.

The benefits of mass production have been well known since Henry Ford’s car factories made the Model T back in 1908. It was only made in one colour, black, for economic reasons. Not because it was the cheapest colour of paint, but because it was the colour that dried the quickest.

This allowed the production line to operate at faster, more cost effective, speeds. And ultimately, it meant the product could be sold at a more attractive cost to the customer.

This approach, where processes are tested to achieve increasingly efficient production costs, is yet to filter properly into the construction of houses. This makes sense in a way, as not everybody wants exactly the same type of house.

Historically, affordable mass-produced housing removed a large amount of customisations, to ensure final costs were controlled. But there is another way. Builders and architects have the ability to create housing that allows a level of flexibility and customisation, yet also achieves the goal of affordability.


Back in 2006, the “BoKlok” approach to affordable housing was launched to great acclaim in the UK. Literally translated from Swedish, the term means “live smart”. Originally created from a collaboration between flat-pack favourite IKEA and Swedish construction giant Skanska, the BoKlok housing approach was to allow for selected customisation to maximise individuality and choice for the customers. But at the same time, it ensured that larger house building components were duplicated or mass-produced, to bring down the overall costs.

Standard elements – wall panels, doors, windows – were made in large numbers to bring the elemental costs down. This approach ensured the costs were controlled from the initial sketch ideas through to the final design choices offered to the customers. The kitchens and bathrooms were designed to be flexible in terms of adding additional units. Draw and cupboard fronts interchangeable. Small options that provided flexibility, but did not impact on overall affordability.

It’s a simple approach that has worked very well. More than 10,000 BoKlok houses have now been built, mainly in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with a small number in the UK.

But it is only part of the architectural equation. The affordable housing market is vital, but the cost of making these homes more adaptable is rarely considered.

Flexibility is key. The needs of a house’s inhabitants change. Families can grow (and shrink) and require more room, so the costs of moving house reappear. One clever response to this, in BoKlok homes, has been to allow “built in” flexibility.

Loft living

This flexibility could include a loft space that already has flooring and a built in cupboard on a lower floor which can be simply dismantled and replaced with a “flat-pack style” staircase that can be purchased and installed with minimal disruption to the existing fabric.

Weeks of builders removing walls, plastering and upheaval are replaced by a trip to the IKEA store to purchase the staircase and the booking of a subcontractor to fit it. The original design accounted for this “future option” and is built into the core of the house.

The best approach to new affordable housing should consider combinations of factors that look at design, materials and processes that have yet to be widely used in the affordable housing market.

And the construction sector needs to look over its shoulder at other market places – especially the one that Henry Ford dominated over a century ago. Today’s car manufacturers offer customised options in everything from colour to wheel size, interior gadgets to different kinds of headlamp. These options have all been accounted for in the construction and costing of each model.

The ConversationThey share a similar design “platform”, and by doing so, considerably reduce the overall cost of the base model. The benefit is quicker production with the added benefit of a cost model that allows for customisation to be included. It is a method the construction sector should adopt to produce housing where quality and affordability live happily together.

David Morton, Associate Professor in Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.