The Airport of the Future

In its early days, air travel was the privilege of the rich. Now airports need to depart on a journey of their own.

According to SAP’s Roland Müller, Singapore’s Changi International Airport is one of the most forward-looking. Singapore’s biggest airport features a family zone, spas, a series of green parks, free city tours for connecting flights, and modern infrastructure. It also offers movie theaters, video game consoles, a butterfly garden, and an amusement park-like environment for its passengers.

As head of airport solutions and the creator of the SAP User Group for Airports, Müller knows airports inside-out. Recently, he invited SAP airport customers from around the world to one of Eastern-Europe’s best airports — Budapest.

Hungary’s largest airport is also one of the latest customers to use SAP S/4HANA.

New Demands

Budget airlines in Europe have brought millions of passengers to airports that previously weren’t used very much. At the same time, business- and first-class passengers are being offered new levels of luxury. As a result, the number of air passengers is expected to double over the next 20 years from an estimated 4 billion this year.

Passengers expect a high-quality experience as they travel through an airport. Factors that affect their perceptions include security, how easily they can get to and move through the airport, cleanliness, how fast their baggage gets processed, prices in duty free, and — increasingly importantly — the quality of the WiFi.

All this means that airports need to cater to passengers with very different needs while making their operations more efficient and sustainable. At the same time, they need to look for new streams of revenue and ensure that the time spent in their facilities is an enjoyable experience for travelers.

It is a big challenge and airports must become intelligent enterprises to be ready for the future.

Solutions for Airports

Some airports have already established themselves as being in the forefront of innovation. For example, London’s Heathrow as well as Geneva and Miami airports are testing how blockchain technology can be used to secure flight data and South Korean’s Incheon Airport is exploring the possible use of robots.

Among technology providers, SAP can provide the latest technology to airports enabling them to become intelligent enterprises. SAP S/4HANA, SAP C/4HANA, SAP SAP SuccessFactors, and SAP Ariba and SAP Fieldglass solutions represent a set of intelligent systems with built in machine learning, Internet of Things (IoT), and analytic capabilities that airports can use to achieve more with less infrastructure while empowering employees to do more.

Looking ahead, SAP Leonardo includes a number of intelligent capabilities ready to be deployed at airports, such as image recognition for field maintenance, face recognition for identity checks, text extraction for different applications, conversational AI for digital business assistants, and customer service chatbots for check-in. With SAP Cloud Platform Blockchain service, airports can make cargo handling and their supply chain more secure and trusted as well.

As Müller points out, an increasing number of companies are running their businesses using a cockpit of real-time data and achieving intelligent insights and automated processes as a result. Some airports have also moved internal reporting to SAP S/4HANA in order to have the same quality, real-time visibility, and usability across all their subsidiaries.

Among them, Budapest Airport went live with SAP S/4HANA after 15 months of implementation. It was the largest IT project in the last five years and includes more than 30 interfaces to other IT systems, according to Gyorgy Farkas, head of Application Management at Budapest Airport

This dynamic new environment is also creating opportunities for startups. For example, UK-based Wittos created an application powered by SAP HANA that sits on top of WiFi networks and analyzes what passengers are looking at and searching for. Using this data, service providers and WiFi operators can provide customers with ultra-local and relevant offers.

Elsewhere, Düsseldorf Airport is building a data lake for Big Data analytics, mapping touch points with passengers and automating processes, while Stuttgart Airport is getting better insights from its airport management system and using SAP systems to make improve forecasting and find new efficiencies. Its customer journey project aims to give smart, localized information to passengers.

SAP’s Airport of the Future

At the recent customer event in Budapest, Müller featured the “Live Airport” demo, which showcases the power of integration. It brings relevant information from every area of an airport into one place on SAP Cloud Platform and offers an instant single view of what’s going on. This means, for example, that the system can warn managers if long queues are building and forecast how many people are expected to show up on a given time.

Connected smart devices can also make a difference on the airport aprons. For example, augmented reality can provide workers with cargo handling information, auxiliary information on a given jet’s status, or notification of low oil pressure in the lift truck enabling predictive maintenance to take place.

Mobility is also a big technology trend for airports. Since 97 percent of travelers have smartphone with them, many airports are exploring the possibility of creating personalized offers for them from airport retailers. According to the 2017 IT Trends study produced by the Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques’ (SITA), between 50 and 75 percent of airports plan to launch location-based promotions using smartphones by 2020.

With more than 17,000 commercial airports worldwide, the sky is truly the limit for SAP.