We have often wondered what airports will look like in the future. But with the fast development of new technology, the future airports that we envisioned seem to be gradually becoming a reality.
From advanced biometric capture software and shoe scanners to immersive retail experiences, AeroTime takes a closer look at five newly implemented innovations that are coming to an airport near you.
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Biometric technology has been around since 1969 when the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) pushed for the use of automated fingerprint identification. The first fingerprint scanners were introduced in 1975, and in the 1990s and 2000s, biometric security authentication is commonplace in companies and institutions.
In 2001, United States legislation mandated the use of biometrics at airports for entry and exit following the 9/11 attacks. Since then, the use of biometrics, particularly hand and fingerprint scanning, have been widely used in airports worldwide.
The pandemic accelerated the development of non-contact biometric authentication to facilitate a more hygienic and seamless experience for passengers. The International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) 2021 global passenger survey showed that 73% of passengers were willing to share their biometric data to improve airport processes (up from 46% in 2019).
According to the Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques (SITA) 2021 Air Transport IT Insights, nearly a quarter of airports worldwide had begun to invest in biometric solutions and airline investment in biometric boarding is expected to rise 60% by 2024.
Two notable airlines that use contactless biometrics for its passenger processing are Emirates and British Airways.
Emirates’ biometric path at Dubai International Airport (DXB) launched in October 2020 and is open to Emirates passengers traveling from and through DXB airport.
Using the latest biometric technology, a mix of facial and iris recognition, Emirates passengers can now check in for their flight, complete immigration formalities, enter the airline lounge, and board flights, simply by strolling through the airport. Biometric data can be collected without the need for passengers to even stop.
In November 2022, British Airways launched a “smart technology trial”, where a group of passengers were invited to scan their faces, passports and boarding passes on their smartphone or tablet ahead of travel. The information was kept safe and secure.
When the trial passengers arrived at London Heathrow’s Terminal 5, Smart Bio-Pod cameras verified their identity in under three seconds, allowing them to keep their passport safely in their pocket until they reached their destination.
Mobile passport control app
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Some of the latest airport security innovations can literally be kept in the palm of a hand.
Launched in March 2023, the US Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Mobile Passport Control (MPC) program is now a mobile phone app that allows eligible passengers flying to the US from Canada to avoid the customs queue.
According to the CBP, travelers who successfully use the MPC app will no longer have to complete a paper form or use an automated passport control (APC) kiosk. As a result, travelers may experience shorter wait times, less congestion and more efficient processing.
The app can be downloaded for free from the Apple App and Google Play stores. This technology is made possible because of secure information sharing. Travelers will be prompted to create a profile with their passport information, including the traveler’s name, gender, date of birth, and country of citizenship.
It is currently available for eligible travelers to use upon arrival at MPC approved sites.
Next generation explosives trace detection
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The MIT Lincoln Laboratory is a US-government funded research and development center chartered to apply advanced technology towards national security.
In February 2023, the lab announced that its researchers are working to develop an explosive detection system that would work in tandem with a canine fleet to improve current airport security systems.
Researchers are developing a machine that can mimic canine abilities to detect concealed explosives, a ‘superpower’ of four-legged friends that airports have relied on for decades.
The team’s research builds on the laboratory’s ongoing work to create and use a mass spectrometer to help train bomb-sniffing dogs, a project that is supported by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) Detection Canine Program.
Researchers are using the spectrometer to measure explosive vapors in order to understand the requirements for creating an operational explosive detection system. This system would then work in tandem with the canine fleet to improve current airport security systems.
The laboratory’s end goal is to build a non-contact explosives detection instrument through vapor detection.
This technology will certainly be useful, especially when passengers check in baggage that contains explosives.
Shoe scanner technology
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While the technology is still in development, it is one that many will be relieved to see implemented in real life.
In 2010, a CNN survey showed passengers dreaded removing shoes at airport security the most. Although the survey is more than a decade old, passengers in 2022 still find pat-downs and shoe removal at airport security to be a humiliating experience.
The US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has licensed technology for a shoe scanner developed in 2021 to Liberty Defense Holdings, a concealed weapons detection company based in Georgia.
According to the developers, the scanner allows shoes to be screened without the need for passengers to remove them. The millimeter-wave scanners use advanced imaging to detect concealed objects in footwear. Passengers will be asked to step on a low-profile imaging platform for two seconds while electromagnetic waves generate an image of their shoes.
The PNNL said that the shoe scanner could improve wait times at security kiosks by as much as 15% to 20% by eliminating the time it takes for travelers to remove their shoes.
Immersive retail experiences
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Passengers can expect more immersive retail experiences at airports with the use of Virtual and Augmented Reality technology.
A 2017 study carried out by the University of Southern Mississippi showed that emotions are involved when people shop at airports. Leisure travelers often feel happy and buy souvenirs to share with friends back home and also to give themselves a reminder of their holiday. Boredom at the airport can also bring passengers to shop in order to kill time.
So airport retailers are taking advantage of advanced technology to further improve conversion and sales. In November 2021, ahead of the holiday season, LHR airport partnered with Chanel, Dufry and JCDecaux to launch a No 5 Spaceship activation in the departure lounge at Terminal 5.
The immersive experience included a “Find No 5” game for customers, which sells the brand’s fragrance line as well as a curated offering of skincare and cosmetics.
An augmented reality (AR) digital screen also allowed shoppers to virtually try on products.
According to Future Travel Experience, old-fashioned “bricks and mortar” shopping is in decline and such experiential retail tactics could be the answer to increasing conversion and yield at the airport.