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How IoT Can Improve Airports

Christina Jung
Mar 15, 2017

Airports are busy, crowded places, and navigating through such large and complex buildings can be confusing. The flow of passengers through different checkpoints can go smoothly or stand still for hours. Around 23 million bags are mishandled (either lost or delayed) every year. However, thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), this experience can be transformed. Sensors and connected devices, combined with intelligent analytics, are allowing airports and airlines to make rapid advancements toward a better passenger experience and reducing operational costs.

Sensors are expected to enable airport management to have a real-time understanding of what is necessary to improve traveler experience, such as dispatching additional staff at the check-in counter. This data will help speed things up and streamline numerous processes within an airport. Sensors aren’t the only IoT-related technology being applied to airports. Travelers with smartphones will be able to take advantage of location-based apps to help guide them to their gate. In fact, in the context of digital transformation across all industries, customers are demanding innovations that enable customization—whether it be ordering a coffee or booking an airline seat. Smartphones and mobile applications are the main channels for facilitating customization.

Based on a survey of 225 leading airports, the 2016 Airport IT Trends Survey found that around one-third of airports have incorporated IoT into their IT strategy, while an additional 43% have plans to do so over the next 3 years. 80% of airports in India are expecting an IT budget increase in 2017. In China, 29% of airports included IoT in their strategy in 2016, and that number is expected to rise to 82% by 2019.

IoT Use Cases in Airports

Miami International Airport (MIA) is one of the pioneers employing IoT technologies in airports. The airport’s mobile application, MIA Airport Official, provides flight information, wait times, baggage tracking, the weather, and boarding pass information. It also provides an indoor map with geolocation to help passengers navigate through the airport to restaurants and gates. The GVK Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai has also launched an airport navigation app, the Mumbai T2. Based on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons and technologies, the app provides interactive navigation assistance.

One of the biggest pain points for travelers is baggage collection, and there are IoT technologies to help with that. In particular, radio frequency identification microchips (RFIDs) address mishandling during transfer from one flight to another by ensuring that airports and airlines keep track of bags at every step of the travel. The technology also supports the International Air Transport Associate’s Resolution 753, which requires member airlines to maintain an accurate inventory of baggage beginning in June 2018. In 2016, Delta Airlines spent $500 million to deploy RFID baggage tracking technology at 344 stations around the world, the largest investment in baggage tracking solution yet. The RFID-enabled tags look just like regular barcode tags, but with tiny chips inside that are able to provide real-time tracking of luggage during travel.

There is little doubt that further proliferation of the IoT advancements will affect the air travel industry. With IoT devices and analytics, the airline industry is poised to achieve greater efficiency and better customer service.