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  • Writer's pictureHeini Noronen-Juhola

Ten years of smart airport solutions

Quite unexpectedly sent me an email asking if I have published an article called "Smart Solutions at Helsinki Airport". Indeed I have. I wrote this article for the Journal of Airport Management at 2012 when I was working at Helsinki Airport. So it´s been now ten years since the publication of the article. What has changed? How much smarter has everything become? I´m referring in the article to several things, but let´s pick a few examples.

I´m talking about the automated border control equipment and how the new devices are speeding up the passport process at the border. Finnish border authorities at Helsinki airport were among the first ones in the world to implement these devices. When we are looking at the situation now, the automated passport process is quite widely used globally wherever the regulation and the laws allow. There are better and better automated border control devices coming to the market all the time. Generally at the airports this process is becoming more developed and secure while the passenger experience is becoming smoother.

I also talk about one of my specialities which is the snow excellence, the Snow How, that Helsinki Airport masters. At a Nordic airport, where they can be five snowy and icy months every year, it´s a must to be able to deal with the winter conditions. Airport infrastructure must be operable also during the winter. Looking at the situation now, the past ten years have changed the climate and the predictability has become harder. Also all the weather phenomena are much stronger: when it´s cold, it´s really cold and when there is a storm, it´s very strong. The winter conditions may last for one month or they can last for six months. Budgeting and planning winters have become very challenging.

The Continuous Descent Approach (CDA) alias the "green landing", was a big thing at Helsinki Airport ten years ago. It was possible to save up to 70% of the fuel during the landing based on the aircraft type by making the approach to the runway in a continuous angle instead of steps. Today this process has become extremely important since the environmental sustainability is becoming a question of life and death in the aviation industry. Ten years ago it was merely about saving fuel costs but now the focus is on the CO2 emissions. However, the result is the same. If the cost savings drive for the environmental sustainability and vice versa, it´s a win-win battle and good results can be expected.

Biggest step forward has probably happened in the personalized passenger information. We had a test project with a local college about a personal information card for a passenger. The card could give information about the boarding time and gate, time available until boarding, changes of flight details and the distance to the gate. The technology was based on RFID and wireless data sharing technologies. Needless to say that we are today on a totally different planet as far as these kinds of services are concerned. This was still a very good project and it taught a lot to all the stakeholders involved in the project. Looking at the pictures of the project and the cards is nice, but they show so well how the digitalization has taken giant steps further during the past ten years. And it will continue to do that. Digitalization will change the aviation industry dramatically during the following ten years.

The aviation industry has been suffering big time because of the pandemia. Now it´s also suffering because of the geopolitically unstable situation between Russia and Ukraine. But the aviation industry is like a cockroach; even though it may be hit, it always survives. One way or another, sooner or later. I´m sure that during the following ten years we´ll see nice changes happening in the world of aviation. It will be a digital and a sustainable future.

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