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Big Data and Airports

Picture of Luis Perez

Luis Perez

AERTEC / Information Technology


Currently, large multinational corporations, governments, and, above all, technology companies are joining the big data “technology trend”. The intention is clear: to collect all possible data to provide users with the best service, at the same time as improving safety and what’s on offer, among other direct benefits.

If, for example, all the data that flows into an airport is collected and used to enhance the user experience, what can be achieved?

The use of Big Data is an incredible opportunity to improve the quality of services and the safety of installations.

There are already outstanding examples of this trend, such as the case of Singapore Airport (Changi Airport), where managers have recognised the power of information and applied it to the “comfort” of their visitors. In a city where stress is seen as “normal”, the managers of the airport have created a space which favours passengers’ relaxation and well-being through the enjoyment of gardens with cacti, water lilies, a rooftop swimming pool, a waterfall and a butterfly garden with more than 40 different species.

But this is only the beginning of something much more exciting. In the near future, the passenger experience will not only be less stressful, it will also be more personalized. The question is: how? Very simple: by analysing all the data that we leave behind us when we access an airport and we move through all its areas. With this information, airlines and airports can decide, for example, exactly where and when more staff are needed in the terminal to avoid bottlenecks or to increase control of the flow of people. This enables management to deploy resources more efficiently.

Another reference point is Dublin Airport, where a new app has been created: called Dub Hub, it works with Google Maps and serves to guide people throughout the terminal building. In the application, you can see where your favourite store is, where the nearest café is or find the shortest route to the nearest bathroom. This is also a great advantage for merchants, who will get more data about their customers so that they can improve, and even customize their offerings and experiences.

There are other examples of the use of big data in Barcelona (T1) and Madrid (T4) airports, where the technology used was created by the start-up “Seeketing” and is oriented to the sale of products and services. In a first phase, the company’s solution collects and to stores data on how passengers move through the terminal (anonymously): whether they visit a fast-food establishment or go to the VIP lounge, if their chosen transport is the subway or if they hire a car, etc. In a second phase, if users connect to the airport’s Wi-Fi, it also makes it possible to send messages with relevant information, such as, for example, the cancellation of a flight or the weather in the city that day.

The “Smart Passenger Flow Pilot” project is another example. Its designers are clear: “this will make it possible to discover whether passengers are in transit or if this airport is their final destination, whether they are travelling in tourist or business class, the number of bags they check, if they checked in online or at the counters at the airport, when they passed through the security area… With all this data, it will be possible to define patterns of behaviour.” All this data gives airports weighty arguments to help improve the delivery of services, at the same time as customising them.

We have discussed the use of big data at the commercial level and in terms of comfort, but more important still is the application of this technology to security. There are several lines of work, such as the use of facial recognition or the recognition of patterns of suspicious behaviour. The Los Angeles Police Department has begun to use historical data combined with algorithms to predict where it is more likely that security incidents will happen in the future, allowing officers to be placed in the vicinity, leading to a reduction of 13% in crime just four months after the implementation of the system. It is expected that airport cameras will be able to detect potentially dangerous passengers by comparing different agencies’ databases so that all the facts related to a specific individual can be shared, allowing intervention if there is any intention to take violent action.

Big data technology is not the future; it is the present and the European Union knows it. That’s why it has created a non-profit organization called BDVA (Big Data Value Association), whose membership is made up of database owners, data users, data analysts, and research organizations that have come together with a common goal: to improve society using data.


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