Paul Eden looks into how regional airports are reopening with a mix of simple and high-tech physical barriers aimed at reassuring passengers and keeping them safe.

    “Covid-19 has accelerated the implementation of smart technologies as airports work to prevent overcrowding and create a contactless experience,” begins Miguel Leitmann, CEO of Vision-Box. Vision-Box develops technologies enabling travel biometrics, automated border management and electronic identity management.

    “Even before the pandemic, the aviation industry was shifting towards more innovative and efficient technology. The focus has always been to create a smooth experience for travellers and mitigate the primary challenges they face at airports, including long queues and congestion.”

    The company installed the first facial recognition e-Gate in Europe at Faro International Airport in 2007. Now, Leitmann notes: “Under the pandemic, passengers are actively basing their travel choices on airport safety measures. In a recent IATA survey, 42 per cent of respondents were concerned about queueing at airports, suggesting a new focus on technology that prioritises safety.”

    Airports are opening again with a variety of high-tech and simple physical anti-Covid measures in place. The types of technologies, such as the one created by Vision-Box, aim to speed up operations and enhance passenger experience.

    Technologies are also essential in live passenger forecasting, a feature Veovo has recently added to its Intelligent Airport Platform. Passenger behaviour has changed as a result of Covid-19 and traditional models predicting when people will arrive for their flights and their movement through the airport no longer hold up. Live passenger forecasting, recently introduced for the first time at Keflavik Airport, uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to predict passenger behaviour based on data from multiple sources, helping airport operators manage passenger flow, avoiding crowds and queues where the risk of transmission is higher, and boosting passenger confidence.

    May start in Milan

    Flying restarted at Milan Bergamo Airport on 13 May with the arrival of a Wizz Air service from Sofia. The airport had implemented a typical combination of physical and technological safety measures in preparation, as Alberto Cominassi, ground ops director for SACBO, the airport operator, reports.

    Milan Bergamo Airport
    Milan Bergamo Airport

    “Laser thermometers were used to measure the temperatures of arriving passengers. Before the reactivation of passenger flights, we had prepared protected walkways, single airport access and exit points, and limited entry only to passengers with a ticket. The check-in counters and gates have plexiglass barriers.” Cominassi also says that when bus transfers are unavoidable, vehicle passenger capacity is halved.

    He confirms that Milan Bergamo has also made the expected investment in technology, including thermal scanners at the entrances to the security checkpoints and at arrivals. “We also have a system of cameras, managed by advanced software, that allows us to detect and report any danger of crowding to the control centre in real time, enabling staff to intervene.”

    Leading the way in London

    The story is similar at London City, where a spokesperson confirmed measures including rapid contact-free temperature checking and digital crowd monitoring technologies were in place, along with an enhanced cleaning regime using an anti-microbial surface treatment, and social distancing procedures, including one-way systems and Perspex screens.

    Flight numbers continue to expand, but London City Airport has seen the effects of government reaction to rising levels of infection in some parts of Europe. “Quarantine measures have had an impact on passenger numbers for Spanish routes,” the spokesperson says, “and the changing travel policy for Luxembourg means that Luxair has temporarily suspended its flights again having briefly resumed in July.”

    Protective screens at LCY
    Protective screens at London City Airport

    London City Airport had already embraced digital crowd monitoring technology and is proving how the system can evolve to meet the new challenges of socially distanced operations. “It’s a tool we’ll definitely continue to use in the future,” the spokesperson adds.

    Reinforcing the technology message, Vision-Box’s Leitmann notes that the recent IATA survey matched his company’s own findings in a high-level industry survey of the world’s top airports, airlines and government agencies. Assessing the effects of Covid-19 on the aviation sector, it revealed that 63 per cent of respondents were seeking to implement biometric airport technologies for contactless travel, reflecting the urgency to create a safe travel experience for passengers. 

    The reality is that people want to fly again, but they must be reassured that the airport is safe. That means preventing crowds and queues, demonstrating that facilities are clean, helping passengers avoid the need for touching screens and other surfaces and monitoring and controlling their movement without making the experience too onerous.