Airport Digital Transformation

Airport operations and business models have developed dramatically over the last two decades to support the explosive growth of the global airline industry. Airports have increased more stakeholders, with gradually complex operations. Nowadays, these have become a trend. Airports are constantly adapting to digitization standards. They create various concepts with a focus on more efficient, safer, and faster operation, technological innovation, and overall passenger satisfaction. The standard of security and safety remains a top priority for airports. To address these commercial realities, airports must embrace the challenges and opportunities presented by digital technology in a way that goes far beyond incremental process improvement.


The varying maturity that characterizes the digital airport landscape is also reflected in the different priorities that airports attribute to the potential benefits of digital technology;

  • Airport 1.0 (Basic airport operation) – All about manual and analogic processes; typically, long lag-times between resource solicitation and airport response.
  • Airport 2.0 (Agile airport) – Implementation of self-service thanks to the automation of some key flow processing tasks (bag-drop, passport check)
  • Airport 3.0 (Smart airport) – Several focused initiatives to leverage digitalization to optimize flow monitoring and passenger processing
  • Airport 4.0 (Smart airport) – Full-connected with all stakeholders; superior proactivity and reactivity to adapt to the real-time airport requirements (e.g. operational needs, customer requests)


Successful airports, ranging from traditional quality and satisfaction leaders and emerging airports which have driven dramatic improvements to establish global hubs have all focused efforts on three areas of integrated operations, each driving direct impacts on key stakeholders:

  • Passenger Experience, focusing on the improvements of passenger flow based on dynamic flow management, maximization of time for value-added activities such as retail and leisure, Customization of the passenger experience through integrating emerging technologies, and extending the airport experience to pre- and post-flight experiences based on integrated information platforms and user experience across check-in, pre- and post-flight travel options and destination management.
  • Airport Operations, maximizing the air side and land side utilization and throughput of fixed assets, increasing the productivity of airport staff, reducing the impact of disturbances, and providing more resilient services to passengers and airlines.
  • Non-Aeronautical Revenue Growth, focusing on digital and mobile technologies to support retail opportunities optimizing retail yield and advertising revenues based on dynamic, real-time targeting of passengers and integration with passenger flow and gate allocation, as well as parking revenues.


At the present, the pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation trends in all industries with merely no exceptions. For airports, digital transformation is all about evolving processes and services to deliver a better experience to passengers and customers by adopting and implementing new technologies and integrating them with existing which also enables the faster recovery of the industry. The need for healthier and safer spaces post-pandemic has forced airports to reimagine the passenger processing flow and digitize the passenger experience. Digital transformation also plays a vital role in creating more efficient airports of the future – those are connected in the true sense while driving more efficient operations across both airside and landside and supporting sustainability strategies.


In the aviation business, phrases like connected traveler, smart airport, self-service airport, in-terminal location-based services, management process visualization, and collaborative decision making have all become ubiquitous.


“The growth of global air travel, increasing infrastructure constraints and higher traveler expectations have created a new challenge for airports: how to maximize existing facilities and deliver value to all stakeholders”, Amadeus stated in 2018.


In addition the International Air Transport Association (IATA) warned that an increasing number of airports do not have the capacity to handle all the flights airlines want to deliver. And with global passenger numbers set to double within the next 20 years, the pressure is on for airports to adapt to a new environment.

Three clusters of technologies, which airports are likely to focus on

  • Core enabling technologies such as big data and cloud technology,
  • Process automation and integration such as the Internet of Things, mobile technologies and smart energy systems,
  • Fringe technologies like virtual modelling and block chain.


Empower technology in the aviation industry

Big Data

Many of the analytics solutions currently used by airports relate to Business Intelligence (i.e. management dashboards and reporting) to support performance management and traffic flow forecasting for short and long term planning.

In future, however, airport managers will use analytics to help them visualize airport operations in 3D and based on real-time data inputs. It is also conceivable that airport systems will be taking automated actions on behalf of managers to remove bottlenecks and improve efficiency. This will be the first manifestation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the airport environment.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Airport 4.0 using artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to accurately forecast passenger flow at security control lines and passengers with reduced mobility (PRM) booths in its terminals, weeks and days in advance. With these advanced technologies, airport able to diffuse bottlenecks caused by the heavy traffic flow of passenger cars at the airport throughout the day. This initiative has proven to be successful in minimizing the trade-off between passenger experience and the cost of managing airport processes.


AI in aviation is disrupting the way companies approach their data, operations, and revenue stream. The world’s leading airlines are already using artificial intelligence in aviation to improve operational efficiency, avoid costly mistakes, and increase customer satisfaction.


Last but not least, as passenger volumes continue to grow exponentially, and the needs and expectations of passengers and airlines become even more diverse, airports can no longer satisfy these expectations using traditional approaches.
Faced with the prospect of capital-intensive expansion projects that take years to deliver, digital technologies can, at the very least be used in a tactical way to help airports extract the maximum value from their existing assets, especially by enhancing passenger flows and reinforcing the On-Time performance that is so important for airlines and passengers.


However, what is also clear is that to reap the full benefits of these new technologies in the future, airports are not at the end of the road, and must continue to evolve on a daily basis.