In airports today, the congestion struggle is real. As these complex transportation hubs become more and more congested with passengers, cargo, and aircraft in transit, the effects are felt by everyone. Many of these ramifications can’t simply be fixed by implementing congestion pricing.
McKinsey noted that there are 5 key trends common to heavily congested airports:
- Passenger growth flattens at congested airports and the city loses overall
- Aircraft get bigger and upgauge
- Network connectivity decreases
- Ticket prices rise
- Slot trading becomes more important
Of these trends, the first one is especially pertinent today. You’d be forgiven for thinking a busy airport would be indicative of an airport achieving traveler growth, however, congestion actually stifles passenger growth. This means that busy airports can’t increase foot traffic within the building - something retailers renting space within the airport are quite keen on, and in the long term, the city loses out on tourism from air travelers. In addition to the rising ticket prices endemic to congested airports (every 10% increase in airport congestion leads to an aggregate +1.4%-2.2% increase in air fares), network connectivity decreases as airports and airlines serve more flights to fewer cities. As such, McKinsey notes that airports in cities that aren’t major home hubs for airlines may find that they are skipped on airline routes in favor of more direct flights to fewer cities.
At the heart of it, airport congestion wastes time, increases pollution, and passengers lose out with terrible experiences. Since air traffic for travel and cargo transportation isn’t going to be decreasing any time soon, it’s time for airports to find ways to improve the situation, and harnessing all available data is the first step.
Understanding the flow of foot traffic through the airport can help facilities optimize gate and asset allocation, and using location technologies to help navigate passengers and staff can help smooth operations within the airport. A huge barrier facing airports is the hoarding of data by different parties with competing interests. Whereas airlines may want faster transit times to move passengers efficiently, retailers may be more inclined to have travelers linger in the airport with more time to shop, whilst the airports themselves are more concerned with effective asset utilization throughout the facility.
Further, there are issues around the different requirements around data security for all stakeholders, including governing and regulatory bodies. According to a McKinsey report, “all barriers are interdependent and therefore need to be addressed at the same time. Without transparency, there is no way to build trust and achieve equitable sharing. Without equitable sharing (and clear public benefits), regulators will not be sympathetic. Without responsible regulation, players will be reluctant to make their data available.”
Large airports around the world are finding ways to mitigate the symptoms of congestion mentioned above by embracing the role of being their own digital landlords and creating digital twins of their facilities. By owning their airport’s indoor maps, airports are able to take control of these issues and provide value to their tenants and airlines alike, while simultaneously improving airport operations. Using a feature-set like Map Profiles means that airports can provide different views of maps to different users based on their needs, and control them from a Single Source of Truth map, without needing to implement changes across various different maps. Airport security has very different requirements for their maps of the airport than a passenger just trying to get to their gate on time.
Some major airports have begun digitizing their assets to improve their passenger flow and passenger experiences. San Francisco International Airport recently won an award for their interactive indoor mapping solution, setting an example for other major airports looking to tackle their congestion problems by harnessing the power of indoor mapping and big data to create airport indoor navigation apps and other mobile-friendly experiences.
Congestion is a serious issue for major transportation hubs, and no space is feeling the pressure quite as intensely as air travel. Congestion is leading to scarcity, which ultimately means a limit to the number of aircraft that can arrive or depart through an airport - particularly at peak travel times and days. This is leading to issues as airports try to provide value to retail tenants, airlines, and passengers, without stalling their passenger growth. If airports don’t take congestion seriously, they may find themselves tail spinning as airlines pass them over for other, less expensive and congested, airports and destinations.