Infrastructure Week 2019: 20th Century Airports in a 21st Century World

Today marks the official start to Infrastructure Week 2019, the long-celebrated week each year when the infrastructure community comes together and engages in a broad conversation about the importance of modern infrastructure.  For us, every week is Infrastructure Week (we’re not the first ones to make that joke and we won’t be the last…), but we’re proud to join in and represent airports in such an important dialogue this week.

As part of our participation in Infrastructure Week, ACI-NA will continue to amplify our important message about the need to invest in America’s aging airports.  Beginning today, passengers in airports will have the opportunity to hear directly from ACI-NA on the benefits of an improved and modernized airport system.  Watch by clicking below.

We couldn’t think of a better way to get our message in front of those who stand to benefit the most from the improved passenger experience, increased airline competition and lower airfares, and enhanced safety and security that will come when we meet the nearly $130 billion in infrastructure needs of America’s airports over the next five years.

We are proud to count CNN Airport Network as a valued ACI-NA member and an active participant in our Beyond the Runway Coalition.  CNN Airport Network’s tremendous support for our industry is greatly appreciated as we ramp up our efforts to engage in a broad conversation about the importance of modern airports to local communities.

For the latest on Infrastructure Week, visit the Centerlines NOW blog or following along on social media using #InfrastructureWeek #BuildForTomorrow.

drone flying through orange sky

Protecting Airport Airspace

AIRPORTS CONFRONT DRONES WITH SAFETY AND SECURITY TOP OF MIND

By Sandy Smith

One of the last things a pilot on approach to a busy airport wants to worry about is an errant drone colliding with his or her aircraft. Unfortunately, as the world saw in December and January, this is exactly what happened in the airspace near London Gatwick and Newark Liberty International airports. The incident at Gatwick, reported to involve multiple drones operating over a 3-day period between December 19 to 21, resulted in hundreds of flight cancellations and well over 100,000 passenger disruptions during the very busy holiday travel season. The incident at Newark, although less disruptive, was reported by pilots to involve a drone flying “20-30 feet” away from an airliner and forced air traffic controllers to divert air traffic to other runways at the airport until the FAA was confident the drone no longer posed a threat to air safety.

Both events highlight the safety and operational impact unauthorized flights of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) on or near airports can pose.

Airports are an obvious choice for a close encounter with an untrained drone operator who “looks for what appears to be a large, wide-open space to fly their drone that happens to be near an airport,” said Scott Brockman, President and CEO of the Memphis/Shelby County Airport Authority (MSCAA). Complicating the issue: “The speed at which drones and other technology is advancing and the ability of the aviation system to truly adapt. It’s coming. Are we ready for it?”

The answer to that question remains somewhat unclear. Still, some airports are taking a dual leadership role in making sure that protocols are developed and in exploring the many benefits of drones.

“It’s frustrating to see these near-misses and know there is potential for an awful accident,” said Marily Mora, President and CEO of Reno Airport Authority and a member of the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee. “They have so much potential to help in airports that we don’t want to see the progress stopped.”

CONCERNS, CLOSE CALLS

As the technology improves and the price point declines, UAS offer potential for airports. But they offer that same potential for users outside the airport, threatening control of airspace.

ACI-NA member airports have been proactive on the issue. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey hosted a winter working session that included the FAA, FBI, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, state police, the U.S. Coast Guard, and others. The PANYNJ issued a statement about the event:

“We are committed to keeping Port Authority airports at the forefront of protection and technology. Federal law empowers federal officials to respond to drone activity. The Port Authority hosted a working session at its World Trade Center headquarters to review and enhance protocols for the rapid detection and interdiction of drones…For security reasons, we cannot discuss specifics. We are committed to continuing our collaboration with the FAA and federal and state law enforcement partners to protect against any and all drone threats to the maximum extent possible.”

The FAA requires pilots that operate near airports use the FAA’s UAS Data Exchange – Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) system to identify their craft and UAS operations. One major problem: “The majority of people who use that system are the responsible pilots,” said Thomas Mackie, Aviation Practice Leader and Vice President at Woolpert. “There’s a lot of work to be done to help airports and air traffic organizations, for us in aviation to educate, and for the community to communicate properly back to the airports when flying.”

“It’s frustrating to see these near-misses and know there is potential for an awful accident… They have so much potential to help in airports that we don’t want to see the progress stopped.”

– Marily Mora, FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee

It also means that all players – airports, airlines, air traffic control and the government – get on the same page, Brockman said. “The biggest issue is one that’s probably the most difficult to solve: the identification and acceptance of the sharing of information and the blending of technology across the various industry groups. Right now, everyone operates in a very proprietary way, but in order to truly integrate and manage drones in a safe way, we have to find a way to safely share certain information.”

Brockman believes the solution is best tackled in small bites rather than “the whole enchilada,” which he fears will slow down evaluation, analysis, and implementation. “When you get the ruling that says, ‘That test was a failure, therefore, we’ve got to take a step back and re-evaluate which puts us further behind as technology continues to advance.”

Reno-Tahoe was one of the first seven airports to become part of the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) system and accounted for about a fourth of the initial approvals, Mora said. She points to the local general aviation airport, the Reno-Tahoe owned Reno-Stead Airport, where NASA has been conducting UAS testing to develop protocols for the integration of drones with manned aircraft. The City of Reno, and Flirtey, a Reno-based UAS company, were selected in May 2018 as one of 10 projects for the USDOT’s UAS integration Pilot Program. More recently, on Jan. 14, 2019, the Nevada UAS Test Site’s Smart Silver State Project was named one of the three projects to mature technologies for unmanned aircraft traffic management.

POTENTIAL FOR GOOD

It is clear that drone technology is coming, and airports must be a participant in driving how drones impact the airspace in the community. That said, airports see positive benefits in their own operations. Woolpert, for instance, uses drones as “another layer of our remote sensing capabilities,” said Mackie. That includes construction site monitoring, aerial photography, pavement and structural assessments, wetland delineation and environmental applications.

Woolpert also advises its airport clients on integration efforts, ranging from regulatory and UAS technology to public outreach and awareness.

Perhaps nowhere is the potential for drone technology more exemplified than at Woolpert client Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport in Georgia. “They have sections of fence that are in the swamp and are primarily accessible in waders or via boat. Within five minutes of us flying an inaccessible perimeter fence line and showing what we could do, we identified trees that had recently fallen and taken out a section of fence,” Mackie said. “You can’t hire enough people to do this efficiently.”

As one of nine lead participants in the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program, MSCAA landed approval to test drones at Memphis International Airport for checking the perimeter fence security. It helped that the airport knew the topography of the airfield, what the fence looks like and how it should be maintained. The idea is to input the GPS so that the drone can recognize changes to the fence lines. Brockman sees a future of nesting stations, where a battery of drones can recharge and download information before returning to scan the perimeter, increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the system.

When the drone encounters a taxiway or runway, “it will stop and communicate with the tower independently to get approval to cross that area,” Brockman said. If the drone detects an anomaly in the perimeter, it will communicate that personnel need to be dispatched.

The saving of staff time would be enormous, Brockman said, especially if implemented at airports around the world – and the possibility for human error would be removed. It is not a perfect system – not yet at least. “If the battery life and distance can be improved, it will be a phenomenal benefit to aviation by being able to do this,” Brockman said.

Memphis’ tenant FedEx also is participating in the tests using drones to inspect aircraft. Brockman said the drone could be programmed with the manufacturer’s specifications for that exact plane. “It knows every rivet, every protrusion, every light.”

This inspection would not replace the pilot and mechanic inspections, but rather supplement or enhance human inspection.

“Right now, everyone operates in a very proprietary way, but in order to truly integrate and manage drones in a safe way, we have to find a way to safely share certain information.”

– Scott Brockman, Memphis/Shelby County Airport Authority

Airports also could use drones in ways similar to large construction projects. “Instead of sending people up on roofs to inspect buildings and facilities, there are several design and engineering construction companies that are using drones to do so,” said Dean Schultz, Reno’s Chief Operating Officer. “They are much more efficient and gathering a lot more data in a short amount of time. We wouldn’t want to miss out on that opportunity as well. Soon, we could have a drone doing the runway inspection.”

With the pace of adoption and improvements of technology, the sky is the literal limit. “There is testing going on every day at airports,” Schultz said. “It’s little by little, following the crawl, walk, run method. We’re in the crawl stage, but it won’t be long before we’re walking and running.”

FUTURE FOCUSED

Mackie anticipates a day when the general public will gain more of an understanding of the potential impact and the importance of abiding by the regulations. Improvement in sense-and-avoid technologies and the UTM also are being developed.

As improved drones and safety mechanisms merge, “that’s going to allow a large variety of UAS applications while helping mitigate the safety concerns with midair collisions and property damage,” Mackie says. “Every year we see better and better safety mechanisms on the aircraft themselves. You’ll see another adjustment to our federal regulation in the U.S., which will ease the ability for more UAS operations over people, over public areas.”

It may be just in time, because drone technology itself continues to march forward and new uses will continue to be adapted, Brockman believes. “At some point, there will be a cost-effective drone that will be able to carry a payload of more than a couple of pounds for longer than 10-15 minutes. When that occurs, the pressure to put some of those things into society without a real good plan to integrate them safely and effectively is really a concern at least for me.”

Brockman believes within the next decade, there will be unmanned, low-altitude personal aircraft that can ferry passengers downtown – and he believes airports can play a role in that. “Business models will operate differently than they do now. How are you going to monetize your airport if you lose parking, because of autonomous vehicles? I see a day when things are so automated that you’ll need to find a new way to monetize operations. You’ll still need miles of runway, terminals to get people on the plane, but how much of this other stuff are you going to need? That will be determined over time.”

“There is testing going on every day at airports… It’s little by little, following the crawl, walk, run method. We’re in the crawl stage, but it won’t be long before we’re walking and running.”

– Dean Schultz, Reno Airport Authority

If there has been one good thing to come out of the recent UAS incidents at Gatwick and Newark, it is an increased awareness, Mora believes. “In both cases, to have operational considerations and delays because of drones, it’s something we don’t want to see happen. It’s going to step up the cry for airport operators to get the drone detection technology that the FAA is working on. This will just speed up the conversation and the need for all of that.” <

TRANSPORT CANADA: TIGHTER RULES

Transport Canada is implementing new rules for drone use on June 1, which will require a certificate for non-commercial drone pilots. These pilots must pass an online examination to receive a pilot certificate. As of that date, they will need to have their pilot certificate and proof of registration readily available.

Other changes coming June 1 raise the altitude at which drones can fly – from 300 to 400 feet in the air. Rules requiring a distance from an airport – 5.6 km (3 miles) – remain the same.

Checked Facts: Airports Are Not Taxpayer Funded

Benjamin Franklin said there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes.  If there’s one more thing we can be certain of on April 15, it’s the airlines continuing to spread misinformation about how America’s airports are funded.

It is common misconception that airports are funded with taxpayer dollars.  In reality, infrastructure projects at airports in the United States are funded through three key mechanisms: federal grants through the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program (AIP), the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) local user fee, and tenant rents and fees.

No matter how many times the airlines repeat it, the PFC is not tax. The PFC is a local user fee that airports rely on to repair aging facilities, improve aviation safety, improve the passenger experience, create more airline competition to lower airfares, and accommodate rising demand.  With nearly $130 billion in infrastructure needs over the next five years, the PFC is the cheapest and most sustainable option available.

Here’s why:  The PFC empowers those who know the most about the local airport needs, infrastructure investments, and safety upgrades to make the best decisions for the airport while balancing the passenger’s interests. The PFC is collected locally and, unlike other aviation-related fees and taxes, stays local. It never gets passed to Washington, D.C. The PFC is the only funding tool that maximizes this kind of critical local control.  The airlines’ erroneous “tax” argument doesn’t hold water.

Today’s modern conservative movement is diverse and often fractious, so it can be hard to find unanimity on almost any issue. But when it comes to support for the PFC, conservative think tanks and advocacy groups speak with a clear voice in support of this quintessential user fee.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, FreedomWorks, Heritage Foundation, Heritage Action, Reason Foundation, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, Taxpayer Protection Alliance, and Citizen Outreach are some of the leading anti-tax and free market organizations that agree the PFC is a local user fee.

User fees represent a better way to pay for infrastructure. Under this system, the people who actually use the airport bear the burden of upkeep and modernization. That is the most fair and equitable way to fund it – passengers who don’t use the airport will never be asked to pay for it. Americans certainly deserve to keep as much of their hard-earned money as possible.  How else would they be able to pay all those exorbitant airline bag fees?

Philadelphia International Airport Offers a Helping Hand to Federal Employees

The 35-day government shutdown impacted thousands of federal employees across the country, leaving many without the resources to properly care for their families. Individuals, organizations and airports sprung into action in their local communities to help those affected. One of those airports was Philadelphia International Airport.

In the Jan. 25 episode of the “Taking Off with Chellie Cameron” podcast, Philadelphia Division of Aviation CEO Chellie Cameron spoke with community partners about the resources and opportunities available to help federal employees in the area impacted by the government shutdown. Representatives from the airport, TSA Philadelphia, PHL Airline Managers Council, MarketPlace Philadelphia joined Cameron to talk about the initiatives they led to offer support.

“The airport is really a big family,” Clarence LeJeune of MarketPlace Philadelphia said. “So when things happen as in a family, everybody kind of gets together and figure out how we can help. And the shutdown has been a concern for everyone.”

MarketPlace Philadelphia organized a weekly “Meals on Monday” event to feed more than 500 employees.  Airlines and their industry partners hosted a sit-down lunch for all federal government workers. Fresh Grocer, Wawa, ShopRite, Philadelphia CVB donated coupons, gift cards and other items to help those affected.

Philadelphia International Airport has also opened a food bank to help employees and their families. Mahoney explained that they’re not only collecting food, but baby items, household products, pet food and other items that programs like food stamps will not cover.

“When one of our family members is in need, this community comes together,” Cameron said.

The food pantry at Philadelphia International Airport will remain open through Thursday for those in the area who need assistance.

To listen to the full podcast, click here.

Will Technology Solve the Capacity Crisis?

Passenger numbers are expected to double by 2035.
IoT queue measurement technology enables airports to keep waiting times from growing.

By Marc Rauch, Xovis

The airport industry stays on the rise, while a capacity crisis is on the horizon. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects 7.2 billion passengers to travel in 2035, almost twice as much as today.

As many airports are landlocked and can’t just go bigger, the climbing passenger numbers further complicate the fight against long queues and waiting times. Already today, passengers at major US airports sometimes have to slog through a queue for over an hour. As a result, passengers spend less: according to an industry survey, an extra 10 minutes spent in a queue at security reduces a passenger’s spending on retail by 30 percent. How can airports prevent queues and waiting times from growing along with passenger numbers? Is there a way to streamline passenger flows within existing capacities to increase both passenger satisfaction and revenues?

REAL-TIME DATA AGAINST WAITING TIMES

There is good news: queue and passenger flow measurement technologies pave the way for preventing queues from building up and frustrating passengers. Not surprisingly, RFPs for queue measurement systems have been sprouting lately. More and more North-American airports count on robust real-time data from an IoT system with 3D sensors and software solutions: Ceiling-mounted 3D sensors count and track all passengers anonymously. The software receives data streams from the sensors and calculates the KPIs such as queue lengths, waiting times, process times and passenger throughput. The real-time data can be accessed by airport staff members and shared with passengers.

MSP: SMOOTH OPERATIONS AFTER SUPER BOWL LII

As the host airport for Super Bowl LII, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) pleasantly surprised passengers with shorter than expected waiting times the Monday after the Super Bowl. The airport broke its single-day record up to that time for the number of passengers screened, with 60,455 passengers going through its security checkpoints. This was nearly double the airport’s average day and well above the 40,000-plus that are screened daily during the busy spring break period.

3D sensors at security checkpoints helped smooth operations, measuring queue length, waiting time, and process time per security lane as well as other KPIs. “We aim to create a seamless passenger experience, using passenger flow technology to link together every touchpoint of the departure lobby area, the checkpoint locations, and all the way to the gate,”  said Eduardo Valencia, Vice President, Chief Information Officer at Metropolitan Airports Commission, which operates MSP and six general aviation airports.

“The real-time data the sensors provide is shared with all of the stakeholders and helps the Transportation Security Administration manage its security lines more efficiently,” said Phil Burke, Director of MSP Operations for the Metropolitan Airports Commission. “The system is also useful to passengers, who can choose the shortest lines based on wait times displayed on digital signs in the departure lobbies.”

MSP is one of four US airports that process more than 38 million passengers per year and count on a combination of 3D sensors and software solutions. Many more US airports and authorities are currently conducting trials to find the right queue and passenger flow measurement system.

THE DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION OF PASSENGER FLOWS AND QUEUES

Some airports are using tracking systems to help with passenger flows and queues. IoT systems in particular, combined with 3D sensors and software solutions measure KPIs such as waiting times, process times and passenger throughput. For example, Swissbased Xovis has equipped 352 sites (from check-in to gates, and from gates to taxi ranks) at 66 international airports with the Xovis Passenger Tracking System (PTS). Airport operators around the globe also use this system to monitor the fulfilment of Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and to compare standard and new processes at security checkpoints (e.g. automated vs. conventional screening).

At landlocked Dubai International Airport (DXB), the third largest airport in the world, over 5,000 staff members use the data on their mobile phones and tablets to react upon identified bottlenecks. If the waiting time in a certain area exceeds a defined threshold, the team is alerted and can send more staff members and open more counters. DXB has reduced waiting times by a remarkable 10 per cent during the first three months of 2017. “This automated system provides us with timelier and more accurate data more quickly than the manual system that was used previously. As a result, the operations team and other organizations that work across the airport now have a bird’s eye view of bottlenecks, allowing them to better manage staffing levels and lanes, and improve the overall customer experience. We have more work to do in this area, but we are pleased with progress to date,” said Frank McCrorie, Senior Vice President of Operations at DXB.

BENEFITS FOR ALL AIRPORT STAKEHOLDERS

Smaller airports also aim at streamlining processes with a combination of 3D sensors and software solutions. Helsinki Airport (HEL) is an important hub for air traffic between Europe and Asia and serves as a good example to visualize the positive impact a reliable queue measurement system can have. Currently, HEL increases its annual passenger throughput from 19 million to 30 million. Antti Tikkanen, Business Analyst within the Digitalization Program at Finavia, the operator of HEL, describes how the airport benefits from the system: “Our 900 million Euro ($1.05 billion USD) Development Program includes both the optimized utilization of existing facilities and the adding of new sections. Having a technology in place to move the increasing number of passengers efficiently is key to improving the passenger experience. We now have the required real-time data to communicate effectively with all stakeholders and to keep queue lengths and waiting times as short as possible.”

A.I. FOR A SEAMLESS TRAVEL EXPERIENCE

With the right IoT queue measurement system up and running, airports can actively tackle the capacity crisis and shape the digital transformation on their premises. A.I.-powered 3D sensors will further perfect the accuracy of the gathered real-time data and enable new applications, in particular where anonymous passenger tracking over long distances leads to new insights. In the end, passengers will benefit the most from a seamless travel experience. As they save time from shorter queues, they are likely to spend more money in other areas of the airport.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marc Rauch is Managing Director for Xovis USA in Boston, MA. Prior to joining Xovis, Marc worked for more than 10 years in various capacities for Xovis’ first customer, Zurich Airport. Founded in 2008, Swiss home-based Xovis has evolved from a three-man start-up to a high-tech company with more than 80 employees. Since its opening in September 2017, Xovis’ US office has grown from a one-man show to a team of five highly motivated and skilled employees.

BNA Is Ever-Expanding

By Douglas E. Kreulen, A.A.E., President and CEO, Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority

Nashville is on fire – there really is no other way to describe it. Always a great place to live, the city is now receiving an unprecedented level of attention from all across the country and beyond. National Geographic Traveller U.K. included Nashville on its “Cool List,” Business Insider named Nashville as one of the “33 Trips Everyone Should Take in the U.S. in 2018,” Forbes “The 20 Happiest Cities to Work in Right Now” list included Nashville, and the lists and accolades just go on and on. The word is out, and the world is coming here to see for themselves. In fact, according to recent U.S. Census estimates, 94 people are moving to Nashville every single day.

As aviation industry professionals, you know how this type of popularity and growth can put major demands on transportation facilities. The challenge is to anticipate and address those demands so as to best serve the aviation needs of the community.

The story of passenger growth at Nashville International Airport (BNA) has followed an irregular path. Nashville’s current terminal opened in 1987, built to accommodate the hub then-operated by American Airlines. Driven by that hub activity, BNA grew to serve more than 10 million passengers by 1992, though only 15 percent of which were origin and destination travelers. In the next year, however, American began reducing operations at BNA and ultimately “de-hubbed” from our airport, causing a steady decline in overall passenger traffic. As it turned out, the high water mark of 1992 would remain the passenger record at BNA for the next 21 years.

But the city and region continued to prosper, solid and steady, and passenger traffic grew likewise. With the end of the recession in 2009, Nashville boomed and growth surged, along with steep increases in air travel. Since then, we’ve been on a tear. By 2013, BNA finally surpassed that 1992 passenger record, and we would add an additional million passengers or more in each of the following five years, reflecting annual growth rates as high as 11 percent. Most recently, in our Fiscal Year 2018, BNA surpassed 14.9 million passengers, a ten percent increase, with nearly 90 percent origin and destination traffic.

This torrid growth required a response. Today’s passenger numbers are years ahead of the forecast found in our last master plan. It was clear to our Board of Commissioners and executive team that expansion plans needed to be finalized – and accelerated – to accommodate the region’s aviation needs.

So in 2016, after additional passenger analysis and forecasting, research and planning, we launched BNA Vision, our dynamic growth and expansion plan for Nashville International Airport. Upon its completion in 2023, BNA Vision will include a parking and transportation center, a new Concourse D, an expanded central terminal, an airport administration building, a possible hotel and transit connection, and a state-of-the-art International Arrivals Facility, among other features.

This billion-dollar project will be completed in phases, as to limit inconvenience and allow the airport to continue all operations. Current projects under construction include a terminal garage and transportation center; a second garage with an airport administrative office complex on top; Concourse D and ticketing wing expansion; and a terminal apron and taxilane expansion to accommodate the construction of our future International Arrivals Facility.

Our focus is on expanding and renovating BNA, and we’re working at a swift pace to add more than 500,000 square feet to our terminal. But the cranes and construction only tell half the story. Expansion for us also means adding air service to make certain we are taking Nashvillians to as many places as we can in the world while also bringing the world to Nashville.

In May of this year, transatlantic service returned to BNA after a 20-year hiatus. The long sought-after and highly anticipated service to London’s Heathrow Airport via British Airways was largely made possible thanks to the support from our community, business leaders, state and city officials and our Board of Commissioners. This new services truly opens Nashville up to the world with Heathrow serving as a gateway to so much of Europe and Asia. As our airport grows, and as Music City expands its increasingly recognized brand, we anticipate adding more international service to meet local demands and that of travelers worldwide.

And while we bring these dramatic changes to our airport facilities, it is vital that we maintain the sense of place and top-notch customer service our travelers expect. Nashville is truly a unique city – from the extraordinary food scene to the live music day and night for which we’re known. It is important to us that the moment you step foot off that plane you know you’re in Music City. This is top-of-mind with every decision we make during construction – the warm and welcoming vibe, the concession offerings, and especially the music. Our live music in the terminal program recently celebrated its 30th anniversary and touts more than 700 performances a year in six performance areas throughout the terminal, and we plan to add more. Nashville is southern hospitality at its best, and we want to make sure those values remain embodied in our approach to customer service.

So we’ve taken on a big challenge – expand the airport while maintaining that “Nashville feel.” We’re confident we will accomplish our goals thanks to the thousands of our hardworking colleagues and partners from all over Middle Tennessee. These are the people who make the aviation industry go. The people who show up every day, arriving before the sun rises and working until long after it sets, to open our storefronts and music stages, provide passenger safety and make sure our baggage systems are running while tackling so many other tasks necessary to make a modern airport function. Because of their commitment and dedication, we know the best days at BNA are in front of us.

And in this fashion, we’ll provide our world-class city with the world-class airport it deserves.

What’s On Trend for 2019?

By Sandy Smith

As airports continue to focus on an improved customer experience, they are looking beyond and outside of the box to pinpoint areas that could use improvement – even though there might not be any obvious need for changes. Figuring out what travelers need – before they have figured it out themselves – is what sets airports apart and leads to an airport becoming an experience and adventure, not just a waypoint.

Getting travelers in and out smoothly and providing creature comforts can make or break a traveler’s perception of the airport, too. This important leg of the customer journey requires skilled service providers who bring unique services. These valuable partners can provide much needed services when there’s been a flight delay or a connection missed. And they might just employ the first human a traveler speaks to on their journey.

The coming year will see these service providers continue to grow in importance to the traveler experience. HMSHost and Uber – both Platinum Plus ACI-NA members – are more than ready for the task ahead and want to help you be ready as well.

Food & Beverage and Retail Morphing Into Immersive Experiences

HMSHost Shares Insights from the Front Lines

Recently Steve Johnson picked up the phone to hear a story from a happy customer.

It was her 10th wedding anniversary and her husband wanted to celebrate at his favorite restaurant. The restaurant, Wicker Park Seafood & Sushi, just happened to be one of HMSHost’s restaurants in Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

That story was just one more piece of evidence of the changing face of airport food. As President and CEO of HMSHost, Johnson has had a front row seat to see hot dogs and pizza give way to a true dining experience – if that’s what the traveler wants. As he looks at 2019, it is clear that the traveler is firmly in control and HMSHost and airports are there to ensure that they get what they want. Top of that list: feeling like they’re actually in the city in which the airport resides.

“If you’re looking at where we’re headed in restaurants and food and beverage, we’re focused on an immersive, cultural experience,” Johnson said. “Local brands were the beginning of this process, where you’re trying to create a sense of place, a local feel.”

Food is no longer about filling the tanks after a long day of traveling or grabbing a sandwich for the plane. It’s about creating a dining experience that is worth bragging about.

“If it’s not Instagrammable, it’s not important,” Johnson said. “If they can take a picture of a well-done particular plate, something that their friends would not be able to experience, then we’ve done something.”

The move toward local brands has brought an evolution in HMSHost, too. The company has gone from operating around 100 brands eight years ago to well over 320. Instead of having one restaurant and bar in every airport, it will bring in local name plates, local foods. But that has brought changes, too.

“It took a few years to figure out how to translate local brands to airports,” Johnson said. “It’s a completely different business. Your timeframes are really different. Menus and processes have to change. You go into a 400-square-foot kitchen compared to 2,000. We also found that some of the best local restaurants had no standards or recipes. We had to start from scratch.”

NEW MEANING OF LOCAL

Locally harvested has grown alongside the local branding, and that trend will continue to expand into the coming year. Johnson attributes that to millennials, who want to know where their food comes from. It is an aspect of the overall evolution to more healthy options in the airport.

“Millennials look at things differently and they’re driving some of these changes toward a clean diet with less processed food,” Johnson said. “You make a pizza differently today. It used to be that every pizza made in an airport was from frozen dough. Today, it’s wheat flour, procured locally and made and cooked the same day. It’s made the process more complicated, but certainly more enjoyable.”

These days, most meats, dairies and proteins are procured less than 100 miles from each airport, Johnson said. “It’s changed our supply chain, but for the better.”

TECHNOLOGY DEMANDS

While the move toward local has created opportunities for memorable dining experiences, it has presented HMSHost with a dilemma: integrating technology into its operations. Since it operates restaurants under brand names, customers might be somewhat confused. Take Starbucks, for instance. Outside the airport, the customer can use the Starbucks app to preorder a drink. Not so inside the airport. But Johnson is determined to fix that in 2019.

“Mobile order and pay is probably the biggest gap in what we have today,” Johnson said. “You could be sitting in your office and pull out your phone and book a flight, call an Uber, go through TSA and board with your phone. When you land, you book your hotel and call another Uber. You can check into your hotel room with your phone. In that traveler journey, the only thing you can’t do is order a meal.”

It is a huge hurdle with 2,000 restaurants and 320 brands. “We need to be able to connect to their app through our system,” he said. “That digital journey and handshake is quite complicated.”

The company pilot tested 10 Starbucks with mobile order and pay in 2018 and expects to expand that more fully in 2019.

“You can order your Frappuccino as you come through security. It will tell you your drink will be ready in 12 minutes. You’ll be able to walk up, grab your drink and go. That’s the piece that we want to replicate to as many of our locations throughout the airport as possible.”

It is just one more way that HMSHost is attempting to meet the needs of the traveling customer. It is a juggling act, to be sure. For every person who wants to eat healthy, there is one who wants a treat while traveling. For every person wanting to take a respite and linger over a meal, there is another who needs to grab something in those few minutes on a layover. For every person who wants to be left alone to work (and recharge their phones and spirits) at a restaurant, there is another who enjoys the community table where they can meet fellow travelers. Community tables, by the way, are proving popular. “We don’t build a restaurant without them anymore,” Johnson said. So too are electrical plugs and WiFi; both are essential in every new construction, Johnson said.

Ultimately, it is about giving “customers the choice to decide what’s important,” he said.

He anticipates that choice may be available within the restaurant, too. “I envision the future where you ask, ‘Would you like full service or self service?’ The customers will be in full control of their dining experiences and can leave at their leisure. They won’t be dependent upon anyone to bring the check or return the credit card.”

Smoothing out any bumps throughout the traveler’s day is one of the most important roles that HMSHost plays for its airport and airline partners, Johnson said.

“If you think of a customer’s journey, they have shown up an hour and a half ahead of time, stood in line for 15 minutes to check their bag, gone through TSA and stood another 10-15 minutes. They’re pretty frustrated by the time they get to us. We get the brunt of it sometimes. It’s our job to understand that we can make or break the airport experience.”

Ultimately, the world of airport food has changed dramatically and Johnson finds himself hearing more stories like the anniversary trip for airport sushi.

“When I got into this business 20 years ago, if I told someone I worked in the food business in airports, they would make a face and say, ‘Did you lose a bet?’ When I say that today, they get a gleam in their eye and tell me about a great restaurant in a certain city. It’s no longer a punishment to eat at the airport. It can be a great thrill.”

And it is one that HMSHost is pushing to continue into 2019.

 

Ground and Air Transportation Goals Coming Together

Alignment Is in Commitment to the Customer, Says Uber

While airports focus on creating a happy customer experience onsite, Uber is focused on getting travelers out of the airport. Those goals aren’t as opposing as it might seem.

“Uber and airports are aligned around our commitment to the customer,” said Marcus Womack, Uber’s Director of Product Management. “We believe Uber, airports and airlines can and should be working together to solve the points of friction throughout the passenger journey.”

And for good reason. “Simply, customers have come to expect to have the option to take an Uber or other app-based rides to and from the airport,” he said.

Airports, with their dependable passenger load, are equally as important to Uber drivers. That’s why Uber has focused on expanding its partnerships around the globe. Currently, the company is in 500 airports around the world.

Solving issues for passengers, drivers and airports is a significant goal for Uber in 2019.

IMPROVING THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

Airports haven’t always kept up with this rapidly evolving transition to ridesharing. The result has brought frustration for travelers, especially as they arrive at their destination airport. “We know that a big pain point for passengers is they don’t know where to find the pickup point. Further, they might not know when to request their ride if they don’t trust the driver’s ETA. This is often a function of staging lot location, congestion on the roadways, or confusing decision points for drivers in getting to the correct pickup location. Partnering together, Uber and airports can address this challenge to elevate the customer experience.”

Uber will focus on three areas to improve the experience for travelers in the coming year, Womack said. “First, we want to make it easier to find the pickup point through better wayfinding and signage. Once at the pickup point we want to make finding your driver fast and efficient. And most importantly, we want to reduce customer waiting times throughout the process and make it a stress-free experience.”

There are benefits to airports as well, such as improved efficiency and a reduction in environmental footprint.

Recently, Uber partnered with several ACI-NA members to define standards for a TNC wayfinding icon and nomenclature at airports. The result of extensive survey data, the consortium distilled a clear, uncluttered icon showing a car and a map pin situated on smartphone screen, and identified “Ride App Pickup” as descriptive, simple, and neutral nomenclature. “We are actively working with airports now to implement this new standard,” Womack said.

Uber tools could help with airport traffic congestion, as well. The company has developed multiple programs that could speed passengers’ trips in and out of the airport. UberPOOL pairs travelers with others while Uber’s Rematch allows drivers who drop off a departing passenger to immediately find a passenger who just landed.

Driver satisfaction and ease is equally important to Uber, which has been working with airports to improve staging areas for its drivers, Womack said. “We want to make sure staging lots have appropriate facilities for drivers to rest, use the washroom, and even get a snack. Partnering with airports to provide these essentials is key.”

PARTNERSHIP POTENTIAL

Uber’s relationship with airports has had some bumps along the way, especially early in its disruptive launch. But the new Uber brings with it a “change in tone and culture” Womack said. Increasing partnership opportunities with airports is a goal. The company has organized a team focused solely on building those partnerships and creating new products to create that experience. It means more frequent conversations about how Uber can help “reduce congestion, participate in landside redevelopment projects to improve efficiency, and plan for the way our customers will want to travel in the future. We know airports plan in five- to 30-year cycles, and we’re eager to join the discussion on the evolution.”

Those are not just words. Already, Uber has named Toronto Pearson International Airport as its first Innovation Hub.

“Uber’s commitment is to configure the airport with the best and most appropriate technology available, utilizing YYZ – an airport where we recently launched peer-to-peer ridesharing – as a pilot for new products we’re building that decrease congestion, drive down wait times, and increase throughput,” Womack said.

Consider Uber just another form of transportation, a relationship not unlike that of the airline to the airport. “Think about how an airline operates with respect to branding, dedicated parts of the terminal to serve its customers, and its preferential or exclusive use gates,” Womack said. “In many cases what we seek isn’t all that different. Our ideal operating environment would include some level of (a) dedicated pickup zones, (b) elevated passenger experiences, (c) amenities for drivers, (d) active traffic management for pickup zones, and (e) reasonable pick up/drop off fees that reflect the cost of our operation to the airport and the value provided to customers.”

It is a two-way street, too. “We are thinking deeply about tomorrow’s travel experience and partnering with select airports throughout the world where we will invest significantly in operational excellence, best-in-class product technology, and an elevated passenger experience where you may find Uber lounges or other amenities to improve or at least de-stress the travel day.”

Uber’s new e-bike Jump showcases how much the company is expanding into all facets of transportation. “For riders, imagine a one-stop shop where you can figure out the best, most affordable transit option for you – whether that’s a car, public transportation, a bike, or some combination.”

SOLVING BIGGER CHALLENGES

Together, Uber and airports can solve bigger issues that extend well beyond the passenger pick-up and drop-off. Uber recently launched a pilot EV Champions Initiative program in seven cities – Austin, Los Angeles, Montreal, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle – to help drivers understand more about electronic vehicles. It includes new in-app features built specifically for EV drivers. “We hope to work with airports to help us scale our efforts in the EV space, particularly as it relates to fast-charging infrastructure,” Womack said.

Ultimately, Womack believes that some of the greatest challenges facing airports are shared by Uber. “We recognize how the major shifts in transportation are having an impact on airports and cities across the globe. We share the goal of creating a great customer experience while working through the challenges of congestion and operational efficiency, all while balancing cost. These are similar challenges Uber faces. We’re committed to working together to deliver products and services optimized for today’s infrastructure while partnering together for a future with transportation options optimized for the future airport.”

Airports Seek New Efficiencies to Go with the Flow

By Sandra Arnoult

Anyone who frequents an airport doesn’t need to be told they are usually a work in progress. Airports, their airline and tenant partners, and their terminal designers and architects are constantly on the hunt for new and better ways ways to serve customers and streamline the passenger processing experience.

A tall order, indeed, as any and all of these changes must be carried out at the same time thousands of passengers and employees use these busy terminals. Nonetheless, airports have shown they are up to that and more as they continue to pursue better, more creative ways of conducting business.

“To play on the world stage and continue to accelerate the growth we are experiencing, it’s critical that we work with agencies and business partners to ensure our processes are competitive on a worldwide scale,” said Howard Eng, President and CEO of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority. Toronto Pearson, which served 47 million passengers in 2017, estimates that by the mid-2030s, the airport may serve as many as 85 million passengers.

Eng has a straightforward approach to customer satisfaction: Remove factors that make the experience stressful and provide the help and information they need to enable them to enjoy the airport amenities.

As with all airports, safety and security are top priorities. Eng said the airport is working with the Canadian Air Transport Security Agency (CATSA) to roll out the latest CATSA Plus technology.

“These modern new security screening lines feature parallel divest stations, a bin tracking system, continuous X-ray belts, remote X-ray image review, motorized and improved repack areas,” Eng explained. “These improvements can as much as double passenger throughput, enhance security and contribute to a more relaxed passenger experience through this critical process.”

Over the past five years, Pearson’s redevelopment program spanned two terminals. New restaurants were integrated into gate lounges, branches of well-known Toronto brands have been added and outdated waiting and concessions spaces have been “reconceived” to make them more passenger friendly, he pointed out.

“We know the airport is never the final destination,” Eng said. “We need to connect people on the ground with the same success we’ve had at connecting them in the air.”

A proposed Regional Transit and Passenger Processing Centre would serve to connect passengers to a variety of ground transportation options. GTAA announced it is working with Metrolinx, the agency that oversees public transit, to study ways to integrate the airport with existing transit operations. This would include connections with local high speed rail, Toronto light rail transit (LRT) and various local bus services.

Toronto Pearson is on the right path, Eng believes, supported by their recent recognition by the Airport Service Quality program as the best large airport (over 40 million passengers) in North America. “Passenger feedback tells us that people like the feeling they get when they’re at the airport,” he said. “We’re hearing that passengers understand that the temporary pain of construction has led to a real benefit in the ambiance in areas where redevelopment has taken place.”

MAKING THE CONNECTION AT LAX

Los Angeles International Airport is on the threshold of a multi-billion dollar Landside Access Modernization Program (LAMP) that will include upgraded and expanded facilities, a new automated people mover (APM) and the construction of three terminal cores with staircases, escalators, elevators and walkways.

“LAX has been researching ways to improve access to and from the terminals for many years. We looked at the evolution of transportation and travel and how it continues to affect the airport and its neighbors,” said Mark Waier, Director of Communications for LAMP. “We have visited numerous airports to learn about the various systems in use and looked closely at our imprint and what was possible in our available space.”

Project components include a consolidated rental car facility, public parking and the Metro regional rail system as well as planned roadway improvements at multiple locations.

On the new APM, guests will be carried to and from the terminals every two minutes, with a total ride time end-to-end of 10 minutes, Waier pointed out. At peak times, it can take a car 30-45 minutes to drive through the terminal loop area. The APM will be capable of handling up to 87.7 million passengers per year.

“Mitigation of traffic is a key component of the LAMP project and a key focus of LAX as we move through our modernization efforts,” said Waier. “We work closely with the contractors and builders on a daily basis to ensure coordination of construction efforts and create targeted messages to communicate the scope of work and its impacts.”

In April, the Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) Board of Commissioners approved a $4.9 billion, 30-year contract with LINX, an integrated team able to provide design, engineering, construction, maintenance and operating systems for the APM.

Key to the project is the ability to keep everyone informed, including airport workers, police and security personnel as well as passengers, Waier said. “As guests arrive at LAX they will find clear signage to help them get to where they need to be quickly and efficiently.”

In 2017, LAX served more than 84.6 million passengers, a 4.6 percent increase over the previous year. It is the fourth busiest airport in the world, second in the United States. LAX offers 737 daily nonstop flights to 100 cities in the U.S. and 1,386 weekly nonstop flights to 88 cities in 44 countries on 73 commercial air carriers.

IMPROVING THE PATHWAY

Memphis International Airport is in the midst of a renaissance of sorts with an ambitious modernization project of its Terminal B, which will feature moving sidewalks, wider corridors, larger boarding areas, higher ceilings and natural lighting. The project will also include a children’s play area, a stage for live music in the rotunda area, additional lounge areas with charging stations and more retail and restaurant options. All four baggage carousels at the airport will be replaced.

While the work is being done, two of the carousels at a time will remain open. The airport was able to shift traffic to gates in terminals A and C to accommodate the renovation work.

“Having gates available on A and C enabled us to close B for construction rather than keep part of it operational while it’s actively under construction,” said MEM President and CEO Scott Brockman. “We estimate that will save a year in construction time.”

Five years ago, Delta Airlines shut down its hub operation at MEM, dropping about three dozen flights and 230 airline jobs. MEM is just 370 miles east of Delta’s main hub in Atlanta.

“Our modernization project reflects our airport’s reinvention from hub operations to origin and destination,” said Brockman. “It’s been nearly five years since Delta removed the hub, and we have already transitioned to nearly 100 percent O&D passenger traffic. We need an airport that, from an operations standpoint, serves the O&D base.”  <

BUILDING FLEXIBILITY INTO YOUR FUTURE

Any airport improvement project faces high hurdles. There’s the multi-million dollar cost, the requisite regulatory approval process and the ability to balance the needs of the passengers, the airport and the airlines all at the same time. That’s the challenge that airports face as they seek a pathfinder, a master planning organization – a wizard of sorts – who can bring all the elements of design, technology, construction and IT planning together.

For more than 50 years, Arup has partnered with airports and airlines to help with their projects – from the planning process and design through engineering to the operations phase. “We come from different places but are all seeking similar objectives – creating an experience that makes customers want to come back and use that airport over and over,” said Regine Weston, Airport Planning Leader at Arup. “One size doesn’t fit all in a single airport. It is important to understand that airports consist of different kinds of passengers. You have to think of it as various market segments.” Passengers have different needs and expectations, said Weston. “Some of it is demographics and some of it is econometrics.

Arup worked with JetBlue to map out the carrier’s Terminal 5 project at New York’s JFK International Airport. They needed to accommodate the existing passenger base but be flexible enough to accommodate future growth.

The initial Terminal 5 opened in 2008, but since that time Arup continued to work with JetBlue and the airport to upgrade the space. The design successfully melded the old with the new to accommodate international existing flights and JetBlue partners. A new U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspection facility, 40 automated passport control kiosks along with 10 Global Entry kiosks were added, as well.

Arup also worked with Toronto Pearson International Airport to provide master planning for a $4.4 billion airport development project. It provided consultation for engineering services for a new Terminal 1, which consolidated two older and dated existing terminals. Arup continues to work with the airport on planning for future expansion.

“There’s no question that there’s a healthy tension between airports and airlines around some issues,” said Weston. “Those tend to be about money. But customer experience is something they all stand behind.”

FINDING THE RIGHT FIT

There’s good news and bad news for airports. The strength of the global economy has bolstered an increase in the demand for more air travel. The challenge for airports is to find a way to keep up with that growth.

“In many cases, this growth is happening far more rapidly than facilities can be expanded, when there is room and the financial resources to do so,” said Jim Jarvis, a Senior Vice President at Ricondo, an aviation consulting firm that provides airport master planning, as well as airfield and airspace analyses.

Extensive reconstruction or redevelopment is not always feasible in terms of time and money, so it may be more effective to consider the augmentation of existing systems and less extensive physical improvements.

Ricondo uses micro simulation modeling to test how potential changes or modifications in one area could impact flow and congestion in another area.

“Micro simulation modeling is, however, only a tool and cannot supplant effective planning,” said Doug Trezise, PE, a Senior Vice President at Ricondo. There must be a “holistic approach to planning” that recognizes the interconnection of the airport to planes to terminals to curbs and roads.

He admitted that it can be a challenge to reach consensus given the different interests of the various stakeholders in an airport. Early agreement on constraint and goals and relying on data and analysis to drive decision-making are key to the planning process, said Trezise.

The road to reconciliation is not always easy. Currently, Ricondo is working on a terminal and landside project that is not balanced with airfield capacity.

“To make matters worse, the airport is landlocked with no ability to expand,” said Jarvis, who is familiar with the project. He explained that everything must fit within the existing footprint and supporting landside facilities. “In this case we are developing capacity enhancement alternatives that rely solely on operations, technological and demand management solutions.”

This may mean repurposing certain facilities such as parking garages to serve as auxiliary terminal hubs, developing strategies to influence passenger arrivals and departures from the airport and reallocating underutilized space to another use that is space constrained.

“There is no silver bullet, rather a series of programmatic and small capacity and efficiency improvements that will culminate in improved airport operations and customer service,” said Jarvis. “The reward for a project like this is satisfaction of being engaged by a client willing to work collaboratively between departments to develop solutions. It takes strong leadership and willingness to compromise to find the best solution – not just the solution that best meets the objective of a single operating unit.”

Crowd listening to a speaker at ACI-NA’s 2017 Annual Conference

Cheers to 70 Years: The Best Is Yet to Come

By: Kevin M. Burke, President and CEO, ACI-NA

2018 represents a great milestone for Airports Council International-North America as we celebrate our seventieth anniversary as the Voice of Airports in North America. Anniversaries like this provide a great opportunity to reflect on our past, celebrate our present and look ahead to the future.

As you know, air travel – and the world – has transformed immensely over the last seventy years. And our industry’s evolution along with it hasn’t always been easy or certain. That’s one of the chief reasons ACI-NA exists.

Then in a post-war world with a growing economy, air travel was increasingly accessible to the masses. As we entered the golden age of travel, airports faced many of the same challenges we see today, including burdensome government regulation, infrastructure and investment needs, and airline decision making.

Realizing that there was power in the collective, nineteen founding members convened in New York in 1948 to establish a body that would bring airports together in addressing the challenges and issues of an evolving aviation industry.  From there, our journey took off as the Airport Operators Council.

Looking back, this industry has overcome significant hardships and setbacks. From economic ebbs and flows to airline industry deregulation and airline consolidation to the September 11, 2001 attacks, this industry has always had to be nimble and responsive to the challenge of the day.

Your association has had to be nimble too. In the past seventy years, our name has changed from Airport Operators Council to Airport Operators Council International, and now to Airports Council International-North America in an effort to make room for our ever growing U.S. and Canadian membership and global connections.

While the issues of the past may sound familiar today, so much has changed. Today, airports operate more as businesses than they ever have before.  They are becoming cities unto themselves.

The current landscape presents many unique challenges that require solutions. Today’s airports are not your father or grandfather’s airport. We are seeing a change in the way technology affects air transportation across the world.

Meeting the demands of passenger and cargo growth has never been more important. Our airports must have the ability to modernize as they seek to accommodate rapid growth in passenger and cargo traffic. In the United States alone, airports need nearly $100 billion in infrastructure upgrades and maintenance in order to remain competitive with airports across the globe.

Solving today’s challenges are essential in order to lay the foundation for the future. As such, airports around the world are actively working to enhance competition, create efficiencies through technology, and improve the passenger experience.

There used to be more than thirty airlines that no longer exist because of airline consolidation. The future of the airport industry is at stake without an economic climate that fosters airline competition and choice.

Competition has many benefits in our industry, which can be enhanced through more air service routes and more airline choices. In order to ensure communities in North America remain connected to the global marketplace, we are actively working to make certain our industry – airports and airlines – are as competitive as they can be. Our work in this important area will only grow in the years ahead.

Technology will also be a large part of an overall improved and seamless passenger experience. Today, easiness is synonymous with technology. What new technologies can we use to our benefit? Biometrics is speeding up the boarding process for certain flights, and in a just a few years, all flights may be boarded with the scan of a face.

It’s clear that we must focus on enhancing the passenger experience for a successful future. But these challenges are too big for anyone to handle alone. And that’s where your association comes in.

Members always tell me the real value of ACI-NA comes through our ability to advance airport priorities in Washington and Ottawa, provide essential industry intelligence by keeping the pulse of the issues impacting airport operations, and foster industry collaboration by creating a forum to develop and exchange best practices.  The rich history of advocating for policies and services that strengthen airports will continue as we reflect on our accomplishments and look beyond the horizon.

ACI-NA is only as strong as its members and their active engagement. Our team is proud of the members we serve because of the profound and positive impact they have on local communities across North America. Thank you for your leadership.

Today, as we celebrate our seventieth year with a strong membership and transnational – even global with the establishment of ACI World in 1992 – reach, we recognize that there are obstacles still to overcome. We’re not done yet. We’re just getting started.

Here’s to the next seventy years.

Meet the Member: Rep. Jeff Denham

ACI-NA President and CEO Kevin M. Burke recently caught up with Rep. Jeff Denham, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, to talk about prospects for an infrastructure bill in Congress.