The U.S. Airport System Needs Help: 4 Ways Big Data Can Solve its Problems

Andrew Deen  |

If you’ve been in an American airport recently, then you’ve probably noticed that things are getting a little crowded—and outdated. Growth in passenger numbers combined with aging airport infrastructure is beginning to spell trouble for the future of air travel. Unless big changes are made, delays will increase in coming years, causing passengers to miss their flights and packages to reach their destinations late.

Although spending on US airports has declined in the last year, a recent study showed that infrastructure spending will need to increase significantly in order to keep up with air traffic growth and hub consolidation. A full $75.7 billion will be needed through 2019 to improve airport infrastructure and simply accommodate passengers, never mind competing with sleek and modern international airports that are destinations on their own right. This is an investment for the future: our airport infrastructure is currently rated at a “D” level, and costs of delays could rise from $34 billion in 2020 to $63 billion in 2040.

Clearly, we can’t afford to ignore the airport infrastructure crisis. But what can be done? Big data could be the answer. Here are 4 ways big data could be used to help the US airport system run smoothly again.

1. Improve Capacity Management

Did you know that airlines are always vying for new spots at the world’s busiest airports? There are only so many slots that planes can fly in and out of each day, and in places like London’s Heathrow Airport, those spots are coveted and expensive. Recently, however, the airport used historical data and simulation tools to determine that two new arrival slots would not disrupt the airport’s operations. These types of big data insights can help improve capacity management, allowing airports to function at maximum efficiency while taking on new passengers. Without big data tools, it would be nearly impossible to factor in everything that could be affected by new arrival slots, but predictive analytics can help airport officials strategize confidently in improving capacity management.

2. Increase Revenue

Airports and airlines are businesses, as are all the restaurants and shops inside the hub. Improving capacity management, adding new flights, upgrading restaurants, and making airports more appealing and efficient for customers are all activities that help increase revenue. Big data can be used in two ways to help airports make more money. First, it can increase efficiency, allowing airports and airlines to bring in new revenue without adding new flights, while simultaneously cutting down on waste. Second, it can find opportunities to add services, routes, and amenities that will attract customers to the airport and increase spending.

3. Streamline Processes for Customers

Inconvenience is one of the biggest complaints travelers have when flying. Booking the flight, checking in, checking baggage, and other processes that are essential for getting from point A to point B can cause congestion, delays, and annoyance. Not everyone is up to speed with technology or regulations. Big data can help streamline these processes by using historical data, and understanding the different traveling generations. Airports could use that information to strategize and come up with a plan to make operations easier, and ensure travelers are able to get to their destination without hassle. Airlines can go further and enhance the travel experience for the elderly too, and design their technology to be accessible by everyone. Overall, the goal is to improve processes to decrease complaints and ensure travelers of all kinds have a great travel journey.

The beauty of big data is that it can help improve all types of problems, and it takes everything into account.

4. Elevated Customer Experience

Have you ever sat at the gate and looked around for an outlet, only to find that the two you can see in the area were staked out long ago? Or spent $12 on a dry, stale sandwich? Passengers are used to these annoyances when traveling, but eventually, they may catch up with airports, who are competing for business. The modern traveler wants to be plugged in and comfortable while waiting for their flight. That might mean anything from adding more moving sidewalks to constructing comfortable workstations so business travelers and online entrepreneurs can get some work done before their flight takes off. Data reveals what customers really want!

The Dublin airport has already begun using big data to cater to these types of needs and elevate the customer experience. For example, they now provide fast, free wi-fi, and created a local entertainment channel that streams exclusively Irish content in 15 minute segments. On top of that, they’ve created an app called Dub Hub to help passengers easily book services and navigate the airport. American airlines would do well to use the data they have to find out what their customers are looking for.

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