Embracing technology provides a competitive edge for an airport
Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) is striving to develop into a smart airport; leveraging innovation and technology to shape the future travel experience to be streamlined, efficient and enjoyable.
Different technologies are being applied across airport operations to improve the passenger experience, personalise services and create cost efficiencies. But to do so, an airport must be flexible in the planning of a terminal and open to adapting current processes.
Developing information technology processes will provide a competitive edge for an airport, but which technologies are the most effective? More importantly, what needs to be in place to secure becoming a smart airport in the future? Chris Au Young, General Manager – Smart Airport, Hong Kong Airport Authority, provided an insight into the decisions made at Hong Kong International Airport, and their aspirations for the years to come.
Why should an airport use technology when trying to improve the passenger experience?
In recent years, the airport business model has evolved from infrastructure management to passenger experience creation. Technology provides ample opportunities for airport operators to create a passenger experience which was only a dream in the past, such as using facial recognition to enable one-single-token for a full self-service boarding journey, 24/7 chatbot enquiry service, home baggage check-in, personalised airport shopping and more. All these services enabled by technology aim to deliver a fast, easy and joyful experience.
For example, at HKIA, we revolutionised the check-in concept with a smart check-in kiosk. It is the world’s first hot-swappable battery-powered moveable check-in kiosk which can be easily deployed anytime, anywhere, even outside the airport. Passengers as well as airport operators can see a greater flexibility in processes such as tagging baggage, validating travel documents and checking in at the kiosk. The kiosk can also be manned by airport staff to provide full-service operations. At present, 120 such kiosks are now deployed at both airport and downtown, as well as HKIA counters at boundary-crossing facilities. This has expanded our handling capacity beyond our fixed counters and eliminated long queues at the check-in counters during peak hours. In the future, these kiosks will link up with our e-Security gates and e-boarding gates will be able to provide passengers with a one-single-token boarding journey.
By embracing technology, we also created MyTAG in 2017. This smart luggage tag notifies passengers through our mobile app ‘HKG My Flight’ when their bags are ready for pick-up at baggage reclaim belts, hence putting passengers at ease.
At Airport IT & Security 2019, Chris Au Young covered the single-token journey, baggage automation, use of robotics, transition to 5G and the introduction of autonomous vehicles in connection with customer service in his exclusive presentation.
When an airport is building/expanding a new terminal, which technologies would you recommend they deploy?
Basic technologies to deploy may include:
- Biometrics: Ease travel experience and enable future integration of digital identity across airports
- Robotics: Automate labour intensive operations such as baggage loading/unloading and relieve the management team from labour-related issues such as occupational health and safety
- Self-service technologies: Self service at check-in and boarding provides passengers with better control, shorter queues and higher satisfaction
- Chatbot: Provides 24/7 enquiry services for passengers, from trip planning to airport journey and can be supplied through social media, mobile apps, websites, telephone calls and virtual customer service assistants in terminals
- Video analytics: Manage queues, crowds, baggage-trolley movements, unattended bags and provide full control for terminal management in real-time
- Big data analytics: Aid predictive maintenance within baggage systems, operational data insights and passenger behaviour analysis.
On top of these, airport operators may add on further technologies to fit their desired mode of operations in the terminal, such as the Digital Twin Model and AI. In addition to the application of technology, it is of equal importance for us to keep in mind the business process and experience design which translates these technologies into passenger benefits.
How does the cost of implementation compare with the cost efficiency gained?
Technologies enhance not only airport efficiency and passenger experience, but also asset and space utilisation, for example, requiring less space for physical check-in counters. These provide a good base of business for technology implementation.
At HKIA, the self-service bag-drop facilities reduces the processing time of a passenger from two to three minutes at traditional check-in counters to now less than 60 seconds. It means the passenger processing capacity of the existing check-in counters increases by two to three times.
In the future how does Hong Kong International Airport plan to use robotics and automation?
Robotics and automation will be immersed into all aspects of our operations including upgrading existing infrastructure, as well as the design of our new runway, terminal and concourse, for the purpose of enhancing efficiency, safety and security. This includes the development of driverless tractors for baggage and cargo transportation, automation of baggage handling, indoor patrol robots and baggage tub recirculation robots.
In years to come, which technology do you think will most common across airports around the world?
As globalisation continues, airports are reaching their capacity limits which creates an imminent need for efficiency gain. The most common technologies across airports are likely those that will have direct improvements on efficiency and asset utilisation, namely automation, self-service technology, mobility and biometrics. Other technologies like VR/AR – which focus more on creating new passenger experience – will come in the next wave.
Airport IT & Security 2019 brought together CIOs, Directors and Heads of Operations and Security from the world’s major international airports and regional hubs. Make sure you join them next year!