Aviation has always been at the cutting edge of technology, adopting new innovations that made it a critical player in global travel and commerce. Air transportation not only facilitates social connections but also acts as a conduit for goods and services. The journey, however, starts from one vital site – the airport.
Modern airports are more than just a place where aircraft land and take off. They are sprawling complexes spread across thousands of acres that act as gateways to cities, regions, and countries for millions of travellers. It employs thousands of personnel and is a major hospitality and retail hub.
Despite the massive disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, passenger and cargo volumes are going to increase in the future and airports need to step up. To stay in the race, they will have to reinvigorate infrastructure and improve efficiency.
Getting the basics right
Over the last decade, a host of new terms have proliferated the aviation business, including ‘smart airport’, ‘self-service’, ‘connected traveller’, ‘location-based services’ etc. Connectivity forms the bedrock of all such applications. It links equipment, resources and assets, the Internet of Things (IoT) and enables data sharing from the farthest corners of the airport.
Transitioning to a digital environment requires a holistic approach involving two important areas of any airport. The airside comprising of the apron, taxiway, runway and the zone beyond security, passport and customs control, like duty-free, lounges and boarding gates. Next is the landside consisting of the terminal buildings, parking bays, roads and public transport network.
Taking off for Airport 4.0
Airport 4.0 is the air transport hub of the future. Using the latest advancement in wireless and wireline connectivity, automation, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and digital twins this wave of digitalization is set to take operational and situational awareness to a whole new level, reduce costs and generate diverse forms of non-aeronautical revenues.
The impact would be deep and wide. Hardly any segment would go untouched. Private wireless networks ensuring safe and efficient tarmac operations, cargo management and surveillance. Biometric readers screening passengers, automated systems tagging luggage, journey trackers providing real-time updates and remote border control carrying out immigration checks.
Consequently, airports would also seek to revisit current LAN practices. Airport LAN typically uses copper-based CATx switches, which require equipment closets every 600 feet to overcome the distance limitations of CATx cable. The latest LAN technologies use fiber and support terabits of data and miles of distance. They remove the need for equipment closets and protect airports’ investment in passive infrastructure.
“Connectivity can no longer be treated as a commodity. It is a strategic asset that is as important to an airport as the runway,” says Richard van Wijk, Global Public Safety & Aviation Practice Lead at Nokia.