Due to the unprecedented spread of COVID-19, airports around the world have been constantly ramping up their security measures. The aviation industry is perhaps one of the worst-hit industries as several countries barred entry to foreign citizens. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the aviation industry has suffered an innumerable number of flight cancellations, aircraft groundings and domestic/international border closures around different parts of India and the rest of the world. This has resulted in a rapid decline in traffic, fewer flights, lower load factors and a resultant revenue loss in millions.
Economic analysis by the Airports Council International (World) has found out that this pandemic is set to wipe out 38.1% of passenger traffic and has lost more than 45% of revenues in 2020 only. A large portion of small airlines, ground operations and other airport-related service providers have gone bankrupt that has deeply impacted the aviation industry. The only silver lining that this slowdown has presented is in the form of cost-efficiency and major digitization and automation measures that have been taken in order to cut back on health risks.
As international and domestic travel is slowly resuming albeit at a low pace, airports are spending additional expenses for thorough cleaning and sanitization in addition to introducing several new technologies to enable touchless/ frictionless travel. We can only hope that with improved new technologies along with our sheer patience and resilience, we will be able to overcome this major crisis.
Post-COVID 19 Technological advancements around the world
This is the new normal in airports and train stations all around the world. A handheld thermometer wand is used to check the temperature of inbound passengers at entrance gates and security checkpoints. On the other hand, several major airports have introduced (or temporarily tested out) walk-through thermal screening cameras.
These cameras can detect fevers by analyzing core temperature from the heat emanating from a human body. Many airlines in the USA have already asked for implementation of these cameras for ensuring safety of both passengers and the airport staff.
But according to WHO (World Health Organization), these scanners are not foolproof since they would not be able to detect asymptomatic individuals and infected persons without any fever. To counter this, Soter Technologies has introduced a new device called Symptom Sense which can give a more in-depth reading of a passenger’s health as they pass through the contraption just like a normal metal detector gate. Within five seconds, this can analyse an individual’s temperature, blood-oxygen levels, heart rates and respiration rates.
In the future, passengers might even be disinfected on arrival. For example when you land at Hong Kong International airport, future visitors might have to enter a small capsule filled with negative pressure. This CLeanTech contraption performs a 40 second treatment with the help of nano needles, photocatalyst technology and a sanitizing spray which are meant to disinfect any passenger or airport and service staff from potential viral infections. According to an airport spokesperson, this might become fully operational by the end of 2021.
Passengers have been using smartphones to check into flights or change seats long before Covid19. But in the post Covid era, mobile apps like EaseMyTrip will be an increasingly important part of the travel experience.
In the absence of face recognition, mobile apps can collaborate with kiosks and gates to minimize contact. Mobile alerts can ping individual passengers to board, thus minimizing crowds near the gates or on the jet bridge. Basically, mobile apps have the potential to positively influence airport travel culture.
At several US airports, a software called Safe Distance is being tested right now in order to figure out if there is a need for better social distancing signage or improved security measures for enforcing social distancing. A similar app can easily be installed for smart phone boarding apps.
Currently, major USA airlines are looking for alternative check-in procedures so that there are less human encounters. At present, Beamer is working on a contact-tracing app with the University of Arizona in order to collect data on all passengers and help them check in via app.
Fashion-forward safety uniforms for flight attendants
There is a fashion-forward futuristic flair to all the PPE uniforms that have been laid down by several airlines. While AirAsia’s PPE uniforms resemble flashy red HAZMAT suits, Philippine Airlines’ cabin crews wear face shields along with chic white medical jumpsuits with a rainbow stripe on one shoulder.
Also, further training is needed to train attendants on how to properly use and handle PPE uniforms. This is for maintaining the health of both the attendants and passengers who are always at close contact all along the flight.
But what about the quality of air inside the cabin? Thankfully, the HEPA filters in the airline ventilation systems neutralize the virus thus making it safe to breathe ideally through a clean N95 mask.
In the future, biometric devices might be used to scan your face instead of handing over a passport or ticket. This identifies a person by their unique features like the curve of an ear or the shape of a forehead. Airlines like Delta, Air France, and JetBlue have already started to roll out these biometric identification technologies and soon other airlines might follow their suit.
These technologies and medical equipment will undoubtedly make travel a lot safer for the general public, but there is always a risk to information security in the absence of proper protection against data breaches.
At Pittsburgh International Airport, four robots have been introduced in collaboration with a local startup called Carnegie Robotics that have been cleaning the airport floor with UV lights by completely killing any virus. These bots roam around the airport for around 8 to 10 hours a day and have been carefully programmed in a way that the UV lights are only focused on the floor.
If this works out well, we might see more such bots in other US airports and the world.
Covid has no doubt set the tone for an increased level and needs for digitization in the aviation industry. Right from conventional online booking systems and self-check-ins to cleaning robots and face recognition systems- technology has indeed taken a big leap. It is evident that this will only get more prominent in the coming years.