How automation could make airports more efficient
A security checkpoint at Reagan National Airport. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Implementing automation at airport bottlenecks could expedite drop-off, check-in, security, and boarding for flyers and employees.
Transportation authorities, airlines, tech companies, and others are experimenting with ways to automate and streamline airport pain points.
- In response, airports are contemplating using AVs to reduce low-occupancy vehicle traffic, including a shuttle-type AV pilot at Denver International Airport.
Check in: Many airports have self-serve “bag-drop” systems, where passengers interact with airport staff to confirm passenger identity. Delta Airlines is experimenting with automated biometric check-in screens that use facial recognition.
Security: The TSA allocated $71.5 million for adding more than 145 machine learning–based CT scanners into security checkpoints to expedite carry-on baggage inspections.
- The further expansion of this technology could automate the detection of firearms, knives, explosives, lithium ion batteries and other prohibited items.
- Metro21: Smart Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University and the Pittsburgh International Airport developed a model for estimating security wait times and distributing passengers across checkpoints.
Boarding: Since the 1970s, boarding times have more than doubled.
- IT provider Amadeus developed a biometric boarding procedure that uses facial recognition to reduce boarding processing time by 75%.
- The Design Doing Collaboration developed a mobile app that automates flight delay and gate reassignment updates.
The impact: Automation of these processes could lead to job losses, but could also reduce TSA employee turnover.
- The Department of Homeland Security has found that overwork and staffing shortages at security checkpoints were a major cause of TSA employee attrition.
- Automation could expedite processes and fill gaps in staffing, potentially improving employee morale and retention.
The bottom line: Most major airports are projected to experience “Thanksgiving-peak traffic volume” at least once each week this year, and these technologies could potentially help alleviate the worst bottlenecks.
Karen Lightman is executive director of Metro21: Smart Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.