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The Future Evolution of Airports: 2030 and Beyond

view of an airport from a plane with the words "airport in 2030", this is the future of airport

Today’s airport infrastructure is already falling behind and facing massive pressure. Certain major airports have exceeded planned capacity, while others are in danger of further congestion. With these in mind, those in the airline and airport industry are doing bold moves. What will the future of airport terminals look like in the next 20 years or so?

Progressive Cities’ Airports

There are two ways of dealing with the slew of airport and airline issues: upgrade current airports and airlines, and create new solutions like new smart terminals and plane models. Plenty of these airports skyrocketing themselves into the future are outside the United States. In fact, in the 2017 Skytrax awards, the U.S. had only 14 airports that made the top 100 list.

Dubai World Central – Al Maktoum International Airport

Dubai is no stranger to futuristic ideas coming to life at the present time. One of their latest bold innovations is the development of Dubai World Central – Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC). They are developing it with 12 independent, self-contained, medium-sized airports located in one site, instead of a giant hub across their 140 square kilometer (54 square mile) area. They expect to handle as many as 20 million passengers a year.

Paul Griffiths, chief executive officer (CEO) of Dubai Airports, says this makes the DWC airport one of the most “customer centric” in the world. Nobody has to walk beyond 400 meters (437.45 yards) just to get to a connecting flight. “We will be creating something that is manageable, navigable, and easy to use at Dubai World Central and it is all being enabled by technology,” he said.

“In my view we are heading in the wrong direction by building ever bigger airports,” said Griffiths. “Bigger is not necessarily better…. It inevitably means longer walking distances, less intimate experiences, and greater difficulties in customers making connections.”

Singapore – Changi Airport

Changi Airport SIN) is an industry pioneer, named the world’s best airport for the fifth year in a row. In addition to the many attractions available within, they also recently opened a “living lab” that allows Changi to create and pursue innovative ideas. They have gardens, children’s play areas, and shopping centers. Truly a world-class experience, this place is a tourist destination all its own.

Changi has a free all-day movie theater for people who want to spend some fun time during their layover. In addition, they have a gaming center where people can play Wii, PlayStation, and Xbox, as well as a LAN café – all for free as well. For people who prefer watching TV in a comfy sofa with in-chair audio, the Xperience Zone is available. The Social Tree’s webcam area has customizable, printable photos, located in Terminal 1’s transit area.

Perhaps one of the most interesting and innovative ideas the Singapore airport has is they have a Jacuzzi and swimming pool at the rooftop of Terminal 1’s transit zone anybody can use for just $17. They also have a Snooze Lounge where people with long layovers could catch a few Zzz’s on a fully-reclined seat within a quiet and isolated area of the airport.

Other Innovative Airport Features

Other forward-thinking airports have tried stepping up their games. San Francisco International Airport in California, USA has a yoga room. While nothing too amazing, it’s still one of the most unique spots in any airport. Hong Kong took a page from Singapore’s playbook, with their IMAX movie theater. Seoul Incheon has an indoor skating rink, yet another unique albeit not-so-innovative feature for an airport.

Top 10 Best Airports

Skytrax World Airport Awards ranks airports from all over the world each year, revealing some of the most interesting and boldly innovative spaces in the industry. As of 2017, this is the top 10:

  1. Singapore Changi International Airport (Singapore)
  2. Tokyo Haneda International Airport (Japan)
  3. Incheon International Airport (South Korea)
  4. Munich Airport (Germany)
  5. Hong Kong International Airport (Hong Kong)
  6. Hamad International Airport (Doha)
  7. Central Japan International Airport (Japan)
  8. Zurich Airport (Switzerland)
  9. London Heathrow Airport (Great Britain)
  10. Frankfurt Airport (Germany)

Airport 3.0: Trends of the Future

Airports today are slowly catching up to what potential is out there. With some of today’s biggest airports like DWC, Beijing Daxing International, and Istanbul New Airport accommodating about 150 million travelers annually, it is high time the industry create and follow through on the Airport 3.0 standard as dubbed by global information technology (IT) company Comarch.

Airports of the future have more than just automated checkins, biometric scanners, and bag drop kiosks – public spaces are just as important, the same way Changi Airport has been setting the trend. The use of drones and hovercrafts is not far from the future, as well as other forms of interesting technology.

“The airports of the future will fully exploit the power of new technologies, including sensors, processors, mobile apps, gamification and behavioral analytics,” said Vincenzo Sinibaldi, former business development manager at Comarch Italy. “The key is broad integration process among airlines, retailers, restaurants, cafés and parking facilities. In this model, airports can cross-sell and upsell to passengers.”

Richard van Wijk of Nokia suggests that modernizing communications within the airport is a crucial step into becoming an airport of the future. “Commercial aviation is a very competitive business,” he said, “and the airports that offer the most attractive facilities and amenities – along with operational excellence – tend to win out in the competition for routes and travelers.”

“An airport should be one of the most seamless experiences in modern life,” concurs Max Oglesbee, head of Intersection’s Client Strategy department. While it’s not yet happening as quickly as it should to catch up with the demand of many travelers, a number of today’s airports have already morphed into interesting, public spaces with plenty of things to do before and in between flights.

As far as security is concerned, airports are trying new technologies as well. In the future, there might not even be check-in desks and long security lines – rather, passengers’ identities may be confirmed via biometric screening. People no longer need to present security documents, as advanced screening tech will help ensure passengers a safe trip minus the long, tedious stops requiring them to take off their shoes and belts or scan bags, laptops, and toiletry bottles.

“Imagine an airport with no check-in, no immigration, and discreet non-intrusive security all enabled by a single identity database securely held in the cloud and available to those who currently need physical evidence of our identity as we travel,” Griffiths said during the International Air Transport Association (IATA) World Passenger Summit in Barcelona. “The possibility then re-emerges to reorder the entire travel process around the customer’s service, rather than around the convenience of everyone else.”

Another interesting point is the thought of a fleet of urban flying cars – rather than using helipads, there may be airports or terminals exclusively for such vehicles. Companies like Porsche and Volkswagen’s Italdesign Giugiaro collaboration with Airbus called “Pop.Up” have both been investing in the idea. Perhaps in the future, even space travel will become the norm, shrinking down the idea of individual launching pads into an airport for such services.

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