At the forefront with new wireless technology

Posted: 30 September 2008 | Henrik Bjørner Søe, Director, Marketing and Operations, Copenhagen Airport | No comments yet

Passengers are ready to use a new wireless technology that will make their travels easier and more fun. Copenhagen Airport is leading the way by being the first airport in Europe to be currently testing this technology, which is developed in collaboration with the IT University of Copenhagen, the Technical University of Denmark, Lyngsoe Systems and Blip Systems.

Passengers are ready to use a new wireless technology that will make their travels easier and more fun. Copenhagen Airport is leading the way by being the first airport in Europe to be currently testing this technology, which is developed in collaboration with the IT University of Copenhagen, the Technical University of Denmark, Lyngsoe Systems and Blip Systems.

When should I go to the gate? Is it sunny where I am going? These are some of the questions passengers at Copenhagen Airport will be able to use their mobile phone to answer by signing up for a number of new and free services at, in the near future. A new survey shows that 74 per cent of the airport’s passengers will make use of the new technology once development of the system is finished. Copenhagen Airport will also be testing the technology with the help of volunteers flying with SAS.

The overall purpose for this project (SPOPOS) is to give the passenger a better travel experience. In order to do so, it is vital that all aspects of the passengers flow are taken into account. One situation that often occurs in most airports is passengers arriving late at the gate. This situation is stressful to the passengers and has a substantial economic impact on the airliners. Since the staff at the gate have no indication of where the passengers are in the terminals, an announcement is made on numerous intervals, throughout the entire airport. This is very stressful for the other passengers, plus the announcements end up being a ‘background noise’ and lose its value. Through the use of the wireless technology, airport staff can now focus their announcements directly at the passengers that are too far from the gate and are therefore in danger of missing their flight. Plus, if they are able to contact the passengers directly, this reduces the number of notices in the airport even more.

One of the goals of the SPOPOS project is to be able to focus on the right passengers, at the right time and in the right place. This is obtained by tracking the individual passengers in order to know their flight information and where they are in the airport. When you combine this with the gate number and data on walking distances, it is possible to see which passengers are potentially at risk of arriving too late at the gate.

The technology

Two different technologies are used in the project: RFID (from Lyngsoe Systems) and Bluetooth (from Blip Systems). One of the purposes of this project is to clarify the advantages and disadvantages of these technologies. For this reason, 60 antennas have been installed in the terminals and the entrances to pick up the Bluetooth and RFID signals.

RFID tracking

By RFID tracking, a RFID tag is given to the passenger when he or she checks in. The tag is scanned and identified as belonging to this particular passenger. If the passenger has a mobile phone, the telephone number is also registered. The antennas register the whereabouts of the specific passenger, so that the staff at the gate can see which passengers to contact, if they are at risk of arriving late to the gate.

Bluetooth tracking

By Bluetooth tracking, the passengers’ mobile phones are used as transmitters. Through the use of this technology, passengers are offered additional services such as gate information, destination facts, weather forecasts, etc. This way the passengers experience has added value, which encourages them to sign up for the tracking service.

Regardless of which technology is used, our main priority is to inform the passengers of our intentions through the use of the trials and we naturally guarantee that all personal data will be erased immediately after the test. If an adequate number of passengers use the above-mentioned services, it will be possible to reduce the costs for airliners as they will know which passengers to focus on. This would bring us closer to creating a better service for the passengers, as well as the airlines.

Advantages for passengers and airlines

The new system is based on a wireless technology that logs data each time a mobile phone or RFID tag enters a new zone. This gives us the exact information on how passengers move about in the terminals. Copenhagen Airport is the first airport in Europe to test this combination of wireless technologies.

Brian Petersen, CEO for Copenhagen Airports A/S explains: “We are continually investing in new technologies that can improve conditions for our passengers and collaborative partners. We want to use technology to give passengers a calmer, more relaxing start to their journey by sending them a text message when they need to go to their gate, but also using their exact position at the airport to determine when to send them that message. Airlines will be able to use this information to cut down on delays, since they will be able to find out where their passengers are and whether they can make their flight in time.”

Live test

Some of the project partners behind the new technology are the IT University of Copenhagen, the Risø National Laboratory at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU/Risø), Blip Systems, Lyngsoe Systems and Copenhagen Airport. For the past 18 months, the project partners have worked together to develop the technology, which is tested on actual flights. At check-in, each of the passengers volunteering for the test is equipped with an RFID tag that is paired with their mobile phone. As each traveller moves about in the terminals, the tag will send a regular signal to the airport and the airline.

Dr. John Paulin Hansen, Associate Professor at the IT University explains: “The reason we are using RFID technology for our test is that it provides 100 per cent coverage and in combination with Bluetooth, we have a unique opportunity to provide information to passengers through their mobile phones. We can’t just base everything on Bluetooth alone, because there are still passengers who don’t bring mobile phones when they travel. We also have the risk of phones running out of power or being turned off, which is why we have come up with this combination.”

Time to board

According to Niels Hemmingsen, Vice President for Production at SAS Denmark, there will also be great advantages for airlines if a combination of RFID and Bluetooth is used.
Mr. Hemmingsen explains: “For the airlines, it will be a big help in optimising the boarding process. We can’t take off unless we have a complete match between passengers and their baggage, so if one or more passengers don’t show up in time for departure, we have to pull their baggage off the plane before we can close the gate, which is extremely cost and time consuming. With this new technology, we can track individual passengers and we will be able to contact them in order to get them to the gate in time or to have more time to take the baggage off the plane.”

More services in sight

In the slightly longer run, it will be possible to use an even more sophisticated technology that allows passengers to always have the system on their mobile phone. This means they just have to sign up once and afterwards the passenger will be asked about their flight number when they arrive in the airport and all requested services will be delivered. To identify what the passengers want, we have asked them. So far, more than 7,000 passengers have participated in a survey to find out which information they look for when signing up. The aim is to make this information available in the future for those registering up for the gate calling system. In this way, we expect to be able to get the required number of passengers to sign up for the system, to the advantage of airliners, passengers and the airport.

To investigate the willingness of passengers to adopt this new technology, DTU/Risø and Copenhagen Airport recently completed a questionnaire survey to determine whether passengers see an advantage in using the technology. The survey indicates that 74 per cent of the 700 people asked would use the new technology. It is also important that airport staff are not counted when measuring, which is why antennas have been set up by all staff entrances, so that all IDs from Bluetooth phones that pass these entrances will be registered on a list and automatically sorted out in all counts.

We expect that the usage and test of these technologies will give a spin-off in regards to other services for our passengers and partners in the airport.

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