The Liftoff of Smart Airports

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Energy consumption inside an airport is not a simple subject to talk about.

The multi-layered operational needs these transportation hubs have are as different as they are equally important. While one sector specializes in enforcing security and operation control, another must be focused on passenger comfort and experience optimization. Furthermore, there’s the added difficulty of having resilient systems operating all day, every day of the year.

Airports are also subject of constant pressure to evolve, thanks to the dependency the world economy has developed for air travel. A vision of the future for many airports is usually tied to becoming multi-node transportation hubs, designed for the exchange of passengers, information and trading. Said vision comes with the challenge of having processes and systems more digitally perceptive, interconnected, intelligent and of easy access. To achieve this, an airport must face difficult tasks, such as predicting demand capacity, provide an enhanced travel experience, increase operational efficiency, boost productivity, and ensure safety.

In an effort to improve their technologies, many airports have sought out to embed sustainability-based solutions. This year, Cochin International Airport (CIAL), in India, was presented with the Champion of the Earth Award, given by the United Nation Environmental Program (UNEP) for being the first airport in the world to completely run on solar energy. Other airports, from Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye Intl. Airport to the Norman Manley Intl. Airport in Jamaica have made significant investments on similar solar programs.

Even though generation from solar energy is a significant first step, it’s usually handled as an isolated solution. An airport’s impact on the environment has a tangible reach beyond electricity consumption, and that’s something that LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certified airports are well aware of. This certification or, more specifically, group of certifications, created by the U.S Green Building Council, demand continuous and integral analytics solutions throughout the entire operation, designed to achieve behavioral-driven energy savings, a neutral carbon footprint, and the treating and savings in water and gas consumption, to name only a few. Presently, there are 230 airport-related buildings (terminals, control towers, airport centers, etc.) that are LEED Certified, either in regular, silver, gold or platinum level.

El aeropuerto de San Diego, California, fue el primero en tener una certificación LEED platino

Being certified as a Platinum LEED Building is a challenge that the new airport in Mexico City has set from it’s inception. This is a sizable challenge, due to the fact that, out of the 230 certified buildings, only eight have a platinum certification, from which only two (Helsinki Intl. Airport and Amsterdam’s Schiphol) are outside the US.

Getting the sufficient points to be registered as a Platinum LEED Building is dependent of factors such as energy and water efficiency, innovation and integration of new technologies throughout the organization. To fulfill these requirements, airports like the new airport in Mexico City will have the need for holistic platforms (i.e. able to work at every level inside the airport) with the capacity to adapt to the specific need that each sector calls for.

Another factor to take into account when speaking about airport sustainability is the capacity demand. Every year, air travel in Mexico has an average increase of 10%. This comes with a challenge because, according to the Airports Council International, by 2020 there will be a 15% deficit on the infrastructure necessary to accommodate passenger demand. The pressure to provide nonstop services in a precise manner makes it necessary to improve productivity and reduce costs though data collection, predictive analytics and operations optimization.

Nowadays, the concept of “smart airports” is linked more with automatized, agile, scalable and responsive platforms than with partial and poorly systematized solutions. Airports that adopt truly intelligent solutions with benefit from the access to actionable data, vastly improving the precision in their decision-making.

As air transportation becomes more frequent, travelers are becoming more sustainability conscious and tech-savvy, and security measures become stricter and with tighter control requirements. Airports seeking a competitive edge will have to adopt more than one technology, but an intersection of many digital and automatization solutions. Holistic solutions are already starting to help airports around the world to improve passenger experience, operational efficiency, and the fulfillment of goals, thus establishing a foundation for future development.

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