digital solutions

Renjit Benjamin, Senior research analyst from Frost & Sullivan explores the world of airport passenger flow management, focussing on how digital solutions enable efficient passenger handling

The demand for air travel has been increasing over time with the International Association of Air Travel (IATA) expecting 7.2 billion air travellers in 2035 compared to the 3.8 billion travellers in 2016. While this increasing demand implies higher revenues and growth, airport stakeholders are expected to consistently increase their capacity while whittling down the operational costs and providing passengers with maximum value and a wholesome experience to ensure repeat engagements with the airport.

Challenges due to growing demand

However, with limited physical capacity, airports are unable to handle the growing influx of passengers. The struggle to find adequate land mass for airports to increase its physical footprint and the high capital investment required forces them to delay such projects and instead, to invest in technology that can streamline operations to handle additional flights and passengers with the existing infrastructure. Implementing technology is relatively less cost-intensive and has a reduced impact on daily operations.

Legacy airport systems are disparate and inefficient leading to long queues at passenger touchpoints such as check-in, security screening, border-control and boarding resulting in delays that impact the punctuality of flight schedules and airport efficiency gains.

Long waiting times at touchpoints combined with inadequate seating facilities, connectivity (Wi-Fi), overpriced parking and food stalls and lack of appropriate navigational services have shown to increase passenger frustration and stress.

These challenges necessitate a transformation in business models, operational processes and organisational activities, by leveraging emerging digital technology and transitioning from a flight operations-based business model to a passenger-centric model.

Digital transformation of airports

In a research study completed in May 2017 wherein 50 global airports were interviewed, Frost & Sullivan identified that most airport operators invested in digital technology with the anticipation that a smarter airport would yield improved passenger experience and operational efficiency with more than 50% of CXOs agreeing that it was the most important programme, a key pillar, in their growth strategy. While more than 40% of airports expect their IT budgets to grow more than 5% in the next five years, the annual IT spending is expected to increase to $4.6 billion by 2023.

The enthusiasm to invest and implement digital technology is driven by the necessity to digitise systems and processes, ensure seamless connectivity between stakeholders, airport systems, resources and assets and leverage data generated by these systems. Frost & Sullivan research identified that airports prioritise the passenger journey, implementing key projects that improved related KPIs. The research shows that 76% of airports have deployed solutions that manage passenger flow in terminals with another 18% planning to implement such projects by 2020, thus enabling them to achieve process efficiency and passenger satisfaction.

Handling increased passenger flow

Passenger Flow Management (PFM) solutions enable airports, particularly with capacity constraints, to automate the handling of passenger flow in the terminal. Solutions such as video analytic solutions or sensors operated using low energy Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, track passengers and provide them information on queue wait times, airport location-based services and provide quick navigation across the airport.

The solutions also provide information regarding flight status, vehicle parking status and airport facilities. PFM solutions empower operators to forecast demand during peak operations and plan for various scenarios effectively using simulation tools. This helps operators to identify and mitigate bottlenecks in operational flow.

A general case study is the Cincinnati airport located in Northern Kentucky, USA, which witnessed 6.7 million passenger footfalls through its terminal in 2016. When faced with the growth of traffic by 80%, the airport deployed a passenger detection, tracking and queue management solution that used Wi-Fi and low energy

Bluetooth sensors to track and count passengers in queues and display wait times. The solutions helped the airport reduce the wait times at security lanes by 33%. This not only increased passenger satisfaction scores, but also increased the time passengers spent at the airport retail area.

Frost & Sullivan research anticipates the PFM market to grow from $76.1 million in 2016 to $184.0 million in 2025, with a CAGR of 10.3%. The current high implementation rate will slow down post-2020 with most constrained airports having enforced flow management solutions within this period.

Globally, European airports have been found to implement PFM solutions at a higher rate due to their physical capacity constraints, while airports in the United States are slower to adopt due regulatory obstacles and multiple terminal owners. The rate of adoption in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific airports continue to rise with more airports investing in digital platforms.

The implementation of digital initiatives has endowed technology providers with opportunities to provide solutions for varied airport challenges. The market is witnessing healthy competition among such providers leading to consolidation. Leading airport IT suppliers are acquiring niche solution providers or forging strategic partnerships to strengthen their product portfolio, facilitate growth and beat the competition. Additionally, continued product development through consistent investment in R&D and active participation in joint R&D programmes is key to innovation and long-term growth.

With the development of technology like NFC, biometrics and wearable smart devices, the avenues for managing passenger flow will expand. Apart from benefiting operators, these technologies will empower passengers with greater control over their journey.


Renjit Benjamin

Senior research analyst

Aerospace, Defense & Security

Frost & Sullivan

Tel: +91 (44)6160 6666

Twitter: @Frost_Sullivan


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