The future of passenger flow management

In 2017 more than 4 billion passengers travelled by air, resulting in over 8 billion passenger journeys through airports around the world (IATA Economic Performance of the Airline Industry). Over the past three years, passenger traffic has grown by a compound rate of 7.4%; a rate that is unprecedented, but also indicative of the immense pressure placed on airport facilities globally. Airports with capacity constraints respond to higher throughput, by either investing in infrastructure expansion, or by optimizing processes. For the vast majority of the world’s airports, however, expansion is not an (affordable) option.

Similarly, over the past few years, airports have recognized the immense potential of directly engaging with passengers and by developing non-aeronautical revenue streams. In this endeavor, they encounter a major obstacle; they hold very little information on the 8 billion passenger journeys taking place at their facilities, while airlines have been reluctant to share any data on their 4 billion passengers.

These trends have culminated in the emergence of a set of IT solutions targeted at airport operators, collectively known as Passenger Flow Management (PFM). PFM refers to an ever-expanding universe of solutions used in the detection, tracking and overall management of passenger traffic through airport touchpoints. From the sensors that form integral part of an airport’s IoT infrastructure, to intelligent video analytics and software used for queue management, demand forecasting, capacity planning, and scenario planning. PFM can also involve the deployment of data platforms to integrate any type of passenger and baggage related data (movement, loyalty, mobile app, parking, e-commerce, etc.).

Key objectives

For airports, investment in PFM solutions is driven by four key objectives:

  • Ensure seamless passenger journeys throughout the airport, reducing and eliminating bottlenecks; performance typically measured by passenger wait-times, queue lengths at specific touchpoints, footfall and occupancy at specific areas
  • Improve the airport passenger experience; with customer satisfaction measured through airport sponsored and independent surveys, as well as feedback from ground staff
  • Enable improved ground operations for airlines; part of the incremental value that airports aim to bring to airline tenants
  • Enable new revenue streams; with non-aeronautical revenues growing in importance, technology enables a more direct relationship between airports and passengers

The PFM market is also a major testing ground for applications of innovative technologies, such as biometrics, blockchain, AI and AR/VR.

Biometrics applications

Biometrics applications focus on border control, reducing bottlenecks by automating processes. The technology is now being introduced across all touchpoints, in the form of identity management for self-service kiosks, aiming to create seamless passenger journeys. In the future passengers will be submitting biometric data (enrollment) at the first airport touchpoint and will only need to verify their identity in all subsequent originating airport touchpoints, with the possibly to further extend this facility at destination airport touchpoints.

Blockchain technology

Blockchain technology, as a trusted network for storing biometric and other personal data, can be used to create secure and faster passenger journeys. Blockchain could also prove to be the catalyst for a truly collaborative airport environment, among airport stakeholders that today work in silos. Passengers may be willing to share even more data about themselves, in exchange for valued personalized services and products, while blockchain eliminates any security or privacy concerns.

Artificial Intelligence

AI is already been used in narrow passenger-related applications, from chatbots to predicting preferences and recommending suitable products/services in the information and pre-travel stages of the passenger journey. It will be increasingly used in the e-commerce function of an airport, as well as in enabling operators to better manage airport spaces and allocating resources, according to optimized flow prediction models.

Augmented and Virtual Reality

Finally, Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR), will grow from being an attention-grabbing retail novelty to become another tool in the development of seamless passenger journeys. Already we are seeing indoor mapping smartphone apps incorporate augmented reality features to guide passengers through the terminal. Future applications could also enable airport employees to improve customer service.

Based on these market trends and the introduction of new technologies in the airport environment, we should see PFM grow exponentially as an investment area for airport operators. Indeed, the number of PFM start-ups has grown exponentially over the past few years, indicating a reallocation of IT budgets to passenger related projects.


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