What does it take to become one of the world’s top airports?

As with any industry, airports around the world are undergoing significant transformations and are incorporating automation and intelligent solutions into existing systems to better serve travellers. Furthermore, the introduction of new industry regulations, such as the US and Britain ban on certain electronic devices into plane cabins for selected routes, renews the need for authorities and the aviation industry to cooperate to minimise and reduce potential risks. With so many changes and considerations, it is not always easy to find the balance between operational efficiency, security effectiveness and passenger satisfaction.

Now that the world’s best airports for 2017 have been revealed, it is an opportune time to understand what makes a top airport. And since customer satisfaction towards perception of security was one of the judging criteria for this award, we’ll also discuss what an airport could improve upon if it wanted to move up this list.

Evolving passenger expectations

With a projected five percent annual passenger traffic growth[1], airports will need to adopt more efficient operations to support these travellers. Security checkpoints will need to work towards providing a seamless, more efficient and less intrusive experience for all passengers.

Over the last few years, security events and attacks on airports have brought airport security to the front pages and top of people’s minds. Airports and regulators may not have any control over existing threats, but they can mitigate and reduce risks through security measures. After all, passengers’ perception of security and safety standards is one of the many criteria assessed in the World’s Top Airports award.

Take the reigning champion, Singapore Changi Airport, as an example. Being crowned the world’s best airport five years in a row requires an immense amount of effort and continuous improvements. From building on its aesthetic features, including the world’s first Butterfly Garden in an airport, to speeding up security processes, the airport continues to experiment and improve their services to travellers.

By anticipating passengers’ future needs, Singapore Changi Airport pays attention to the details and invests in technology to invigorate mundane processes and drive efficiency. In partnership with the Singapore Economic Development Board, Changi Airport Group launched the Changi Airport Living Lab Programme that will develop the next generation of solutions using technology areas such as automation and robotics, Internet of Things, smart infrastructure management and non-intrusive security technologies. We are proud to be part of their growing journey, supplying over 300 detection and inspections systems for passenger and staff screening, inwards goods inspections and customs screening across all terminal at Singapore Changi Airport.

The benefits of a close collaboration between airports and regulators are clear: they must work together closely and continuously innovate to meet the ever-increasing passenger expectations.

Technology as a catalyst

Checkpoints of the future can expect smarter security solutions – incorporating automation, big data and analytics to drive operations. Currently, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the Airports Council International (ACI) are driving the SMART security programme that aims to deliver strengthened security, increased operational efficiency and improved passenger experience.

In fact, we are already seeing these starting to roll out. Earlier this year, Smiths Detection deployed the first Smart Security checkpoint at Kansai Airport in Japan to reduce waiting times and provide a seamless, more efficient and less intrusive experience for passengers. To achieve this, the Smart Security Checkpoint is an integrated system that combines walk-through metal detectors with passenger security scanners, cabin baggage X-ray machines, an automated tray return system and an advanced image and checkpoint management platform.

Consumers today increasingly rely on mobile self-service channels for information and interaction with brands. Apps that display personalised real-time flight-updates and map navigations are considered commonplace now and this quick source of information can provide relief for time-pressed travellers. Furthermore, other features such as self-check-in systems and biometric passenger tokens can give travellers more autonomy and save airport waiting time.

But revolutionary technology tends to be the hammer that makes everything look like a nail. And businesses in our industry do need to rise above that temptation to view technology as the magic bullet solution to all problems.

Adding a personal touch

Technology can significantly improve airport operations but that alone cannot create a complete passenger experience. Technology may be able to detect security threats ranging from explosive devices to narcotics, but it can’t identify one disgruntled passenger from the other. The human element remains a critical factor in checkpoint security and passenger experience. Whether it is offering the personal touch to reassure passengers or having the skills to guide them through security procedures, customer service still plays a critical role.

A well-trained, motivated and vigilant team is essential in operating state of the art equipment and taking control of any unexpected situations. The past couple of years have proven that anything can happen – airports face threats that are constantly evolving from guns to narcotics and liquid explosives. When unprecedented situations arise, it is the people who have the flexibility and training to respond to new dangers.

What’s next?

For starters, airports and regulators will need to review their current security procedures and implement solutions that are better aligned with the changing passenger habits. Their challenge is then to find the right balance in order to optimise traveller experiences at every stage in their journey from check-in, to arrival and transfers. It is only by making every interaction from shopping to security and immigration fuss-free and seamless that airports can then climb the ranks to establish themselves as one of the world’s top airports.

Huge congratulations to our following customers who have made it to the top 10 rankings in the 2017 Skytrax World Airport Awards:

  • Singapore Changi Airport
  • Tokyo International Airport (Haneda)
  • Incheon International Airport
  • Hong Kong International Airport
  • Chubu Centrair Nagoya Airport
  • Zurich Airport


[1] http://www.aci.aero/News/Releases/Most-Recent/2016/09/26/ACI-has-released-the-World-Airport-Traffic-Forecasts-20162040-marking-the-beginning-of-the-ACINAWorld-Annual-General-Assembly-Conference-and-Exhibition