Miami International Airport is one of the most enthusiastic supporters of airport apps, Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and beacons. Here, the airport’s Director of Information Systems, Maurice Jenkins, shares some of his thoughts on mobility and the Internet of Things.

Maurice Jenkins, Director, Information Systems, Miami International Airport

You’re pioneering with mobility: can you give us a flavor of your approach?

Our clients across the airport, and our passengers, are telling us they have a need and it’s in the palm of their hands. We should remember that when we talk about mobility and the Internet of Things (IoT), it’s all about being connected.

Less than a decade ago, the average use per mobile device was 2.6 hours a day. We thought that was a lot. Today it’s 5.6 hours a day.

We look at our mobile devices about 50 times a day, even though sometimes there’s nothing there. It’s like opening your refrigerator: you know what’s in there, but you just have to open it again to see what you’ve missed.

Our mobile strategy has to deliver on that eagerness for mobile connectivity, so we evaluate our approach all the time, because if passengers have a level of comfort in using their mobile devices to help move and act within the airport, it keeps them happy and reduces anxieties.

But it also adds to a potential level of spend. There’s a direct correlation between the two. That explains why 68% of airports will add airport services for purchase to their mobile app by 2018.

How far can this go?

miami-app-iphone-screensWith Miami’s app – ‘MIA Airport Official’ – we already have the ability to look at flight information, wait times, your bag’s journey, the weather and boarding pass information.

Look at how we’re using APIs at Miami. We decided to introduce maps into the airport. Mapping is hard in the airport environment, particularly if you want to add geolocation.

We developed an indoor map, made it cloud-enabled and tied it to a mobile app and our website. It helps you travel through the airport step-by-step, to get from point A to B and on to C, with everything in between.

We also looked at geolocation services. As you arrive at the airport, before stepping into the airport premises, the app is triggered and sends a welcome, asking how can we help and providing options.

If you open the app while at home or leaving your hotel, Google Maps displays. It’ll show you the easiest way to get from where you are to the airport, avoiding traffic and any other snarl-ups. So the feeling of comfort starts right there.

Do you see beacons as a tool for further development?

Most certainly. There are many things we can do by using beacons. Proximity campaigns is one example, as a potential revenue earner. We can use beacons to encourage passengers to take advantage of special retail offers or any non-aeronautical purchases.

But at Miami we also use beacons to produce heat maps of the airport. We spend US$ 29 million a year on air conditioning. If we can reduce our carbon footprint by 3%, 4%, 5%, we’ll have achieved something. Beacons enable us to do a multitude of things simply by adding an app on top.

It’s important to establish governance on top of that: the platform and direction of choice, for instance. Otherwise, addressing multiple systems will demand additional resources and the cost factor increases.

Might there be too many apps?

I’ve had discussions on this with carriers and with SITA. The point is that airports want passengers – particularly regular flyers – to feel comfortable with and loyal to their app.

But of course we need to explore how we can leverage that across all platforms. There have been discussions about approaches that, if you’re using say an airline’s app as you fly into an airport, enable that airport’s API to come up, or vice versa. Perhaps there could be a sharing of the revenue stream.

So there’s a lot of thought going into it, in particular through the work of ACI with its initiative - see below.

What other IoT use cases do you see?

There are many. We know that airlines have been looking at using the IoT to check life jackets or to speed turnaround, for example.

We plan to use the IoT and beacons to address all kinds of day-to-day operations – such as keeping track of luggage carts or even checking if a restroom door needs some maintenance.

Think also about the aircraft turnarounds. The more they make, the better for them and for the airport, so we’ll do everything we can to help with turnaround. For that reason, we’ve increased the level of wireless capability in the airport itself as well as in the airfield.

We can’t impact what airlines do in their own aircraft, but we can leverage the infrastructure to support that faster turnaround.

We’ve even looked at putting sensors in trash cans so we know when they need emptying. But we’re also looking at how we can introduce an audio element to support passengers with restrictive mobility.

So there’s a lot to consider and evaluate. Can we grow it? Yes. Do we plan on growing it? The answer is definitely yes and we’ll respond to the feedback we get from passengers and other users.

Sensing the things around us

“The Internet of Things is about physical things having the ability to talk to the Internet and say something about their status. That has colossal implications in the air transport industry.”  

Jim PetersSo says Jim Peters, SITA CTO, citing a piece of baggage as one example. “If you say – ‘Well what does it want to talk about? What is its status? What does status mean for it?’ – then you can actually start thinking about its attributes and what might be usefully monitored and communicated.

Bags and gates

“Its size and weight, for instance. Whether it's either moving or sitting still. Its origin and destination. Its owner and the party currently responsible for taking care of it.

All of this and more could be discerned by putting intelligent sensors on bags.

“Another example is, say, Gate 18 at the airport. Gate 18 is a ‘thing’ and it's either in use or not. A flight is either arriving or departing. It has a flight number. There are passengers and staff either present or not.

“There may be passengers who are supposed to be on that flight that aren’t present. The gate area has a temperature. It has some kind of health: either working or possibly broken. There's a density of passengers around it. There's a security status, either there's some kind of incident or not.

“There's a set of devices that are included around the gate. It has a location, it's got restrooms, ATM, shops, and so forth.

Seismic changes

“All of this information can be sensed and it all keeps changing. These simple examples underline exactly why, through sensing the things around us, the IoT is poised to bring seismic changes to the air transport industry.

What is ACRIS?

The definition and implementation of standardized business processes and interoperable IT solutions is a vital issue for the global aviation industry, especially as a way to increase revenues and reduce costs.

This is not only valid within one stakeholder group (e.g., airlines), but also between different groups such as airlines and airports. These cross-company processes require Business-to-Business (B2B) integration of the partners’ varying IT solutions, and the ACI Airport Community Recommended Information Services (ACRIS) Working Group (WG) is focused on providing these solutions.

ACRIS is based on a Recommended Practice that describes the benefits of a service-oriented approach. It is supported by additional documents, the production of which falls under the responsibility of the ACRIS working group.

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