Written by: Mongi Djouba
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Closer than you think

Imagine an autonomous vehicle collecting you from home, dropping you right by the airport terminal and taking your baggage on to its destination, without you having to worry about it again until you arrive. When you head into the airport, you pass through live biometric and laser molecular security scanners without coming to a stop, let alone taking your shoes off or locating your plastic bag full of toiletries. Forget the security bottleneck, you won't even know you've been through it. You arrive at your pre-booked seat in the airport's garden space, where you settle and wait for your pre-ordered favourite drink to arrive from one of the customer service robots.

This was one scenario imagined during Egis' annual 'Airport Operators Club,' where the CEOs of its airport network come together to share best practice and consider the latest airport trends and innovations. Discussions ranged far and wide, spanning drones, Artificial Intelligence (AI), electric aircraft and more. But it was clear that big data and technology will, and already is, helping shape the airport of tomorrow.

Changi Airport, Singapore, is using AI to more accurately predict arrival times and for facial recognition and fingerprint scanners which enables passengers to progress through the terminal without speaking to anyone. Charles de Gaulle Airport uses drones to conduct runway pavement inspections and Hong Kong Airport has robots delivering refreshments to tired travellers.

Data and technology is also driving improvements in sustainable development too. The airport of tomorrow will be carbon neutral, energy and waste efficient. 100 European airports have committed to being carbon neutral by 2030, a handful have already succeeded. Autonomous electric ground vehicles (such as Heathrow's 'Pods') are well established and further growth will take place both airside and landside. Airport infrastructure will adapt to accommodate the next generation of environmentally friendly and quieter aircraft, including hybrid and fully electric aircraft and vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles.

The future is constantly evolving, and airports have a challenge on their hands. Technology is making the passenger journey through the airport quicker and more efficient, but this may reduce important revenue from retail and catering. Airports need to grow to meet projected demand, but their environmental and social impact must reduce. Automated and integrated processes are streamlining operations but heighten safety and cybersecurity risk. Airports need to innovate, innovation requires investment and success is not guaranteed. So how can airports break new ground, overcome the challenges and share the benefits?

Partnerships with start-ups from outside the industry could be an answer, enabling airports to cost-effectively trial new ideas and giving the start-ups a platform to commercialise their services. However, for airports the starting point must be a clear strategy focused on tangible and strategic goals, otherwise the benefits of the investment may be lost.

Whether the vision of tomorrow's airports expressed by the CEO's of Egis' airports materialises or not, we can be sure that, leadership encompassing strategic and innovative thinking, collaboration between aviation stakeholders and new commercial partnerships will be required.

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