Data drives decisions. Integrated airport management systems (IAMS) are increasingly being used to bring together disparate data sources to improve the planning of processes and optimise passengers’ experience in airports.

“There are many data tools that can be used from airport-based sensor technology,” says Martin Augustin, head of processes at Munich Airport’s Terminal 2. “Anonymous knowledge about passengers can be obtained inside terminal areas, such as the number of passengers an hour, waiting times and when control points are open.

“Terminal 2 has a live view for terminal managers, as well as daily, weekly and monthly reports for process managers to look at strategy, and talk to authorities in charge of processes such as security. It is about measuring real data and matching it to simulations.”

Target-centred approach

Terminal 2 has a unique joint venture structure in that it is 60% owned by the airport and 40% owned by German airline Lufthansa.

Augustin is in charge of all processes within the terminal, including wayfinding and security checks, though he does not oversee baggage handling. The terminal’s integrated data system has been live for more than six months.

“If we do a good job, the passenger does not notice us,” he says. “There are many different challenges to be faced every day, but the most important processes are passport checks and security screening, though we can have little influence on them.

“We are responsible for the passenger, but we cannot directly influence these processes, which are unavoidable parts of a passenger journey that we want to be seamless. We need to have a detailed awareness of the key processes in the terminal and we have the tools to know what the passenger experience is at these key points.

Having the data visualised and analysed would yield maximum benefit, as it would allow us to isolate any problem very quickly. The question is what to visualise.

“Our approach is target-centred in order to get information to passengers where it is needed most urgently through our technical managers, to give staff tips about where they are needed, and maybe to talk to authorities to open more lanes at passport control. The data system is expensive and it can be difficult to make installations because we have huge halls in the terminal, but we are very confident in the system.”

This approach gives the operators a clearer view of how the many processes in Munich’s Terminal 2 fit together. It gives a live overview of the situation within the terminal building, and this can be matched to the systems in place to monitor and manage customer satisfaction.

“We can match the objective with the subjective experience of passengers,” continues Augustin. “Planned data can be combined with live data to get better predictions for things, such as opening times for process points. In the longer term, a system to enlarge security checkpoints may be necessary, but finding space is a challenge in an airport.

“The real key to unlocking value from the data we collect is to combine people and technology. We look at the data that is generated and the IT team makes automated simulations as a basis for talking to managers about staff allocation. Insight is very important if we are to make more predictable forecasts.”

Data systems underpin development

Any major airport infrastructure upgrade now has to factor in extensive investment in technology that helps to gather and integrate data. Helsinki Airport in Finland is just one example. The expansion programme that began in 2013 is intended to help the airport serve as many as 20 million passengers each year by 2020. The airport wants to maintain its reputation for short transit times and world-class service as passenger volumes increase.

The programme will extend the terminal by 103,000m2 and will double the number of bridge spots for wide-bodied aircraft to 16. It will also increase luggage handling capacity by 50% and introduce enhanced passenger facilities including a 3,000m2 seating area and 12 departure gates for passengers waiting for bus transfers to connect with non-Schengen-area flights. Among the first new features to be implemented, however, was a real-time passenger tracking system.

“Traveller numbers are growing every year,” says Finavia’s vice-president, Heikki Koski, who is responsible for passenger management at Helsinki Airport. “In a few years, we will be handling 20 million passengers, and you have to remember that only five million people live in Finland. Passenger data plays a fundamental part in the changes we are making.”

“The first basic building block is dealing with highly peaked traffic during the day. It is too expensive to staff at peak level all day and we cannot work on average staffing levels, either, so self-service technology and automated processes are required.

In 2014, the Helsinki Airport launched a system that tracks the movement of mobile phones logged into the terminal’s Wi-Fi network.

Initially misunderstood as a system for monitoring individual passengers within the airport, the system monitors movement through the terminal and, through opt-in, can provide additional services where necessary.

Passengers can, for instance, locate themselves on a map to orientate themselves. No personal data is stored, but the system provides important information to allow Finavia to manage potential bottlenecks.

“Customer privacy is very important, and we cannot violate that,” says Koski. “It is not a tracking system; we cannot identify a specific passenger, but we can get an overall picture of how many people are in a certain place and plan accordingly. It enables the airport to respond to circumstances. It is not a ‘Big Brother’ technology: it is about enabling services, understanding how people behave in the airport and planning to improve passenger journeys.

The second part is using that important data to plan resourcing. We are now working extensively on how to simulate near-future scenarios using the data from a live situation. We can see, for example, where there are likely to be crowds,” he adds.

There are so many possibilities in how to use data, but we need to understand what is really beneficial. We need to test extensively and have a phased approach to development.

“In general, the use of data is very important and because we have many sources of data we have to combine them intelligently. It is all about integrating data for planning and operational management and, as analytics develop, that will become much more valuable.

Our passenger process simulation system uses operational data on flights, the security access system, and many other sources to predict passenger flows and plan for the near future. Many solution providers are working on more sophisticated systems but, for now, they are in the development phase.”

Prepped for take-off

In many ways, the journey of data integration and IAMS deployment is just beginning. Many lessons have been learnt along the way and they hint at many more benefits to be unearthed in the future. In Munich, for example, Augustin is looking at integration beyond the airport terminal.

“It will be very interesting to combine our data with that from airlines and aviation authorities. For instance, we know the way-time to the gate and though our data is anonymous the airline can know where passengers are from when they are identified at passport control, so the airline can decide whether to wait for a passenger or close a flight. We could also add biometric elements, which would be tied to police checks, to our information. We could also combine our data with dynamic signage,” he remarks.

“Cooperation is perhaps the biggest challenge in the medium term, but the big airports in Europe – Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Paris and Heathrow – face similar problems and do share their knowledge about this. In order to make effective changes it is very important that we work together. All of these airports use similar technology and predictive systems.”

In Helsinki, Koski recognises the process of systems evolution and integration that is just starting to take shape.

“It takes time to learn how to use the data we collect but, in the future, we will see more personalised services for passengers using our app and other digital channels,” he says. “We will be able to suggest services based on their interests and there could be, for example, discount offers for shopping. That will be the next phase for us. There are so many possibilities in how to use data, but we need to understand what is really beneficial. We need to test extensively and have a phased approach to development based on the experience of the airport.

“Having the data visualised and analysed would yield maximum benefit, as it would allow us to isolate any problem very quickly. The question is what to visualise. There are so many stakeholders and so many inputs, and the many functions within the airport are all interested in getting different answers from the data.”

IAMS is, in many ways, still at an early stage of development, but it is a focus of investment for airport operators and could be the source of many more efficiencies that will translate directly into smoother journeys for passengers.