Technology will only get us so far

In this latest blog, see how Richard Hartshorn, Aviation Technical Director, SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins highlights the importance of stakeholder collaboration and cooperation as a means to improve airport design and passenger experience. If you would like more information about how digital workflow.


With aviation passenger demand set to double over the next 20 years and many airports already experiencing peak time congestion, using existing assets more efficiently is an area of immediate focus. When industry leaders discuss how we will achieve this, the response is almost always – technology will solve it.

My view is that enhanced collaboration of an airport’s many stakeholders is actually the answer. Technology will only make airport businesses efficient to a certain degree; it is how the businesses work together that is often overlooked.

The airport is a unique operational environment. It requires many different organizations to work together to enable passengers and cargo to journey through the it. At large hub airports, this involves hundreds of companies – Heathrow, for example, states that over 400 organizations are involved in its operations. It is hard to see many other parallels in the business world, let alone the transportation field, with this multi-agency/business complexity.

How well stakeholders operate and collaborate in this airport ecosystem will determine the experience for the passenger. Where businesses at an airport demonstrate a silo behavior with a lack of planning and information sharing, the passenger experience will be inconsistent and ultimately frustrating.

At airports delivering consistently strong passenger service levels, it is often evidenced by more mature levels of B2B integrated working. The critical element here isn’t technology, it is how organizations work together – technology should be an enabler to make this easier.

High quality stakeholder management is key to delivering the collaboration needed for a seamless passenger experience. This requires us to listen and gather requirements on what each business and department needs to achieve in a change event. Understanding, listening, negotiating and resolving issues are the personal skills that change agents need to use in these environments.

What role does technology play?

With increasing digitization of the passenger journey – from biometric identity management and automated access control at the border to self-service bag drops – a huge amount of data is being captured by airlines, ground handlers and airport operators.

Ensuring continued high levels of integration across the passenger journey requires the sharing of this data and managing the stakeholders through this change process. Airports are highly regulated businesses operating to strict safety and security protocols, and sharing data requires overcoming commercial and confidential hurdles. Plus, the data needs to be cleaned up, anonymized and formatted so that it can be used by others.

The benefits technology brings aren’t being questioned here. Data analytics supports more efficient resourcing or improved use of airport assets, often managed through airport operational centers with many operational stakeholders collocated together.

Increasing automation delivers a faster service to the customer at key touchpoints, such as border control, potentially reducing dwell space. And technology enables new experiences to enhance the service to the customer or new revenue stream opportunities.

What is being questioned is whether we’re focusing so much on technology that we’re losing sight of the bigger picture: ensuring we all work together to achieve the best outcomes for the passenger.

The methods and assumptions that have long underpinned our airport designs are changing rapidly. The planning norms of the past need updating as airports demonstrate that they can use their assets to new levels of intensity and deliver greater service levels to their customers.

So instead of thinking about how many self-service kiosks or self-boarding gates in a terminal, let’s start measuring an airport’s ‘integration level’ or ‘collaboration maturity’ as the means for improving airport capacity.

Author: Richard Hartshorn, Aviation Technical Director, SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins

Originally published in Passenger Terminal Today: