Geneva Airport’s expansion project is one of its biggest in more than 40 years, and it’s set to change the face of the airport. Technology transformation is crucial.
Driving technology transformation across Geneva Airport will be real-time collaboration, data sharing and the Internet of Things – what Massimo Gentile, the airport’s Head of Information and Communication Technologies, calls ‘Airport 3.0’.
The new East Wing will replace the airport terminal’s current large-aircraft wing, which was built as a temporary structure in the mid-1970s.
Over the next five to ten years the focus for airports around the world is on integration of all stakeholder information in real-time. This is key to proactive operations where stakeholders can act in real-time to whatever is happening in the airport.
Providing a modern facility more appropriate for present-day travel, the new building will house boarding areas, airline lounges, and retail and F&B outlets. It will have six contact gates and six parking bays for large aircraft, catering to its growing intercontinental network.
Expansion is part of the Geneva Airport’s master plan to expand its facilities to accommodate 25 million passengers by 2030, almost double the 15 million passengers it served in 2015.
The sleek new building is designed with efficiency in mind and facilitating a smooth passenger flow through the travel steps. It allows for quicker boarding and disembarking by using two air bridges – instead of the current one – and does away with time-consuming bus connections.
So what role does technology play in making sure Geneva Airport gets the maximum benefit from the new East Wing?
“In Geneva we are severely constrained by space. Therefore growing our capacity requires efficient use of new spaces and the smart application of technology to maximize passenger flow and comfort. We need to be smarter at every step,” says Gentile.
“Technology needs to strike a balance between making sure that every process in the airport, from parking to boarding, is fast and efficient while making the airport experience intimate and personal for the passenger.”
To achieve balance, Gentile outlines several layers of technology. “First and foremost, the focus has to be on airport process optimization, making sure that every step of the journey is as seamless as possible.
“It’s equally important to define your passenger flow, the second level. Getting both right is fundamental to the successful use of airport infrastructure,” he says.
To maximize the benefit of optimized processes and passenger flow also requires collaboration between airlines, ground handlers and the airport, which is the third level. “Increasingly, airport stakeholders recognize that sharing information is the key to better decision-making,” says Gentile.
This all leads to the fourth level: Passenger intimacy. “More than getting our passengers through the travel steps quickly, it is important we provide them with a travel experience that is extraordinary.”
Geneva Airport already has many of the building blocks in place in the existing terminal to support the opening of the new East Wing and, says Gentile. Many of the systems will not be radically different.
The use of automated boarding and immigration gates will help passengers move quickly through the travel steps. And some of the passenger-facing tools will be available too, such as beacon technology and an app to guide passengers through the airport.
Underpinning these passenger-facing tools is a solid base of business intelligence which provides the operator a clear view of what is happening in the airport at any point in time.
Gentile warns that with the rapid pace of technological innovation, it’s impossible to look too far in the future. “However, there are some key trends we are keeping an eye on that hold tremendous potential for airports in the next few years.”
At the top of Gentile’s list is the Internet of Things. “Airports have over the decades moved through three distinct technology life stages. In Airport 1.0, the airport was largely managed by the airlines.
“As passenger numbers ballooned, this was followed by Airport 2.0, with a big focus on process optimization by airports. This was about speeding and smoothing the passenger flow. This era spurred new innovations in the area of self-service check-in, bag-drop and boarding.”
Airports are now firmly in Airport 3.0. “Over the next 5 to 10 years the focus for airports around the world is on integration of all stakeholder information in real-time.
“This is key to proactive operations where stakeholders can act in real-time to whatever is happening in the airport.”
Here the Internet of Things holds significant promise to deliver relevant data from across the airport.
“We see the potential to use Internet of Things, together with geo-locating technology, to gather information on every aspect of the operation as it is happening, creating a real-time picture of the airport.
“This is the cornerstone of Airport 3.0, where we can respond proactively and ensure that every process and passenger touch point is optimized and integrated with all stakeholder requirements. This will help our throughput while reducing the stress on our passengers.”
Single token biometrics is of great interest. “The use of single biometric identification at every step of the journey holds the potential to dramatically improve the flow of passengers through the airport and potentially reduce the number of touch points,” says Gentile.
“It also holds out increased security without making the immigration any more onerous.”
But we must never forget the passenger, he admonishes. Here, artificial intelligence is likely to dominate. Geneva Airport is looking at a second generation of Robbi, the prototype robot that roams the airport, providing information to passengers.
Built by Swiss company BlueBotics, Robbi was initially used in the baggage hall to welcome passengers and help them find points of interest, like money change and free transport tickets.
It was then used at departure immediately after security, promoting the airport’s shops and their various promotional offers. By touching the screen and selecting the promotion you’re interested in, the robot will take you to the outlet.
“We found passengers were more than happy to interact with the robot. They also understood that this was not just another gadget, but an important tool to provide information to them.
“We believe that we can develop Robbi even further as a mobile information kiosk that is able to interact with passengers on all their queries and potentially assist them at any point in their journey,” says Gentile.
The airport also played a part in a trial, with SITA Lab, of Leo the baggage robot. See 'The promise of robotics'.
Technology is ever-evolving, and while the new East Wing will provide a major step forward for Geneva Airport, there’s always something better just around the corner, taking us closer to the ultimate airport of the future.
Geneva Airport is the world’s first airport with SITA Scan&Fly, allowing passengers to check-in their luggage with or without a pre-tagged bag. View the video to see it in action.