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.

 
 
 
 

Green roofs improve cities – so why don’t all buildings have them?

The green roof at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. Image: Getty.

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17 per cent each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox. Image: Michael Hardman/author provided.

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.


The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.

Michael Hardman, Senior Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Salford and Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.