Face scans, robots: Planning the next generation of airports
... They are really competing to be the global hubs for air transportation.”
SINGAPORE — Passengers’ baggage is collected by robots, they relax in a luxurious waiting area complete with an indoor garden before getting a face scan and swiftly passing through security and immigration — this could be the airport of the future.
It’s a vision that planners hope will become reality as new technology is rolled out, transforming the exhausting experience of getting stuck in lengthy queues in aging, overcrowded terminals into something far more pleasant.
The Asia-Pacific region has been leading the way but faces fierce competition from the Middle East as major hubs compete to attract the growing number of long-haul travelers who can choose how to route their journey.
The regions “are the two leading pockets of technology growth because they are really competing to be the global hubs for air transportation”, said Seth Young, director of the Center for Aviation Studies at Ohio State University.
“If I’m going to fly from New York to Bangalore, do I transfer through Abu Dhabi or Dubai or do I transfer an automatic robot vacuum cleaning the floor during a media tour at the newly built Changi airport terminal 4 in Singapore, which is scheduled to open later this year. through Hong Kong? That’s a huge, huge market.”
But the changes also represent major challenges that could upend decades-old business models at major airports, with analysts warning operators may face a hit to their revenues to the tune of billions of dollars.
Facial scanning in particular is generating a lot of buzz. Changi in Singapore, regarded as among the world’s best airports, is set to roll out this biometric technology at a new terminal to open later this year.
Passengers will have their faces scanned when they first check in and at subsequent stages, theoretically allowing them to go through the whole boarding process quickly without encountering another human.
Despite the buzz surrounding new technology, there are concerns that rapid innovation could threaten long-held ways of doing business.
A report from consultancy Roland Berger warned that airport revenues from retail and parking could fall by between two and four billion dollars due to the new innovations.
Automated, more predictable check-in procedures threaten retail outlets as passengers are likely to reduce the “buffer” they build in to trips to the airport, meaning less shopping time, while developments such as ridehailing apps could undercut parking revenues, it said.
Journalists watch Center for Aviation Studies at Ohio University