Our 7 Favorite Examples of Innovative Airport Tech

Not every airport is equal. Even airplane passengers who will barely see a dozen airports in their lifetimes know that some airports are dramatically better than others. Yet, for pilots, attendants, maintenance professionals, and other aviation experts, it isn’t necessarily the availability of outlets that makes one airport superior to another — it’s the efficacy of the technology.

Aviation tech continues to become cheaper and more efficient, but oftentimes airports get mired in their old, bungling ways. Here are a handful of excellent airport innovations that could radically improve airport experiences all around.

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1. Security Lasers

Most fliers continue to hate the indignity of full-body scanners that purport to catch any and all weapons before they get on flights, so the announcement of a new (less-invasive) security technology should be exceedingly satisfying. Michigan State University created a new type of laser that can detect micro-traces of explosive chemicals. The laser is low-energy and absolutely harmless to passengers and luggage; plus, the single beam can scan large groups of people much faster and more efficiently than the bulky scanners currently in use in most airports. Though the bomb-detecting laser is currently just a prototype, its creators are eager to implement it in airports around the country as soon as possible.

2. Fabric Hangars

As several industries take steps to be more sustainable, the air industry flies close behind. Perhaps the most impressive movement isn’t in the air, but on the ground. Some airports are abandoning old, weak hangars made from steel sheeting in favor of fabric structures that keep planes safe and secure without the expensive maintenance that metal demands. Fabric is resistant to natural elements, including sunlight and precipitation which corrodes steel, and it lets in plenty of natural light to help aviation workers see.

Soon, we may see even more fabric around the airport. Large area maintenance shelters, maintenance, repair, and operations facilities, warehousing and storage space — and even terminals and walkways are being erected with ingenious fabric covering to reduce both construction times and costs.

3. Sustainable Aviation Fuel

Another giant leap in the sustainability sector is in the use of alternative fuels, which could reduce the air industry’s collective emissions footprint by as much as 80 percent. Biofuels continue to be refined and reworked to make them more available and cost-effective around the world, but already about 2,000 commercial flights have used alternative fuels since 2011. The more pressure airports and aviation professionals place on using sustainable resources, the more we will see eco-friendliness across the air industry.

4. Beacons

Beacon technology — a Bluetooth capability that triggers devices to display location-relevant information at certain times and places — is now available at 525 airports around the world, thanks to global IT provider SITA and the SITA Common-Use Beacon Registry. Now, aviation professionals and passengers alike can uncover important information about airports, airlines, and specific flights right from their personal devices.

5. Efficient SID Routes

At most airports, to the chagrin of passengers, flight crew, and nearly every aviation professional, planes take at least dozens of minutes to take off. However, at Edinburgh Airport, planes leave the runway every minute. The airport is able to organize such frequent departures due to revolutionary Standard Instrument Departure (SID) routes that take advantage of modern aircraft capabilities. By requiring planes to fly higher sooner, Edinburgh has been able to continue growing, meeting customer needs without expensive changes to the airport’s infrastructure.

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6. Flexible Baggage Handling

Modern baggage handling must be fast, organized, and accurate to cope with quick connection times. A number of airports have begun tinkering with the traditional baggage process to make it speedier and more flexible to suit the industry’s current needs:

  • Helsinki Airport uses a tool to monitor incoming flights and prep for baggage that needs quick transfer. Plus, the airport uses special motors and belts to reduce the system’s energy usage by 75 percent.
  • Frankfurt Airport has decentralized its baggage handling; tens of thousands of totes circulate around terminals to transport luggage exactly as necessary.
  • Amsterdam Airport Schiphol focuses on increasing proficiency with high capacity, using robot handlers to monitor the more than 70 million bags per year the airport soon expects.

7. Sensor Solutions

We have smartphones, smart televisions, and smart classrooms — and finally, we have smart airports thanks to sensors that track logistics and make every airport process run smoother. By placing sensors on strategic elements of airport functions, such as boarding bridges, ground support vehicles, baggage and cargo systems, and even catering facilities, airports can be safer and more efficient all-around.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 2.20.23 PM Author’s Bio: Gina Poirot is a proud veteran of the U.S. Air Force. After piloting for commercial airlines for 16 years, Gina worked as a private pilot for another six and finally retired to simply fly her very own Grumman Cheetah.

This post was sponsored by Legacy Building Solutions