How else can airports foster frictionless journeys for all travellers to, from and within airports?
Larry Schneider: Advancing inclusive transportation involves a host of considerations, and one of them is how to create spaces designed to help all people navigate more easily.
More than one frictionless ticketing solution is likely needed because people with different disabilities—auditory, physical and visual—must be accommodated, and each disability may require a specific solution. Biometrics plays a key role to eliminate the need to hold a ticket or a phone. Planners and designers can explore how our senses, through sound, light and touch, can guide paths between different modes of transportation. Currently in the ADA, or American with Disabilities Act, there are audio and visual requirements; use of sound and light can be further explored to provide options that support navigation for all people. Recognition memory can be enhanced using music and lights, for example, allowing people to draw from sensory experience to assist them at different airports or multimodal locations around the world if the same patterns are used. We can also borrow ideas from the natural environment, to incorporate calming influences to help those who find travel a stressful experience. Aesthetics plays a large role in forming what MCO calls “The Orlando Experience” by instilling a sense of place through natural light, foliage and water elements.
There are layers to supporting accessibility and inclusivity—the design of spaces and infrastructure, the technology used and how airports collaborate to share effective approaches.
A cross-disciplinary group of professionals, including architects, engineers, planners and environmentalists, can drive progress by looking at the patterns of movement between modes of transportation to help the industry understand the diverse human needs involved to create a truly frictionless approach for all travellers.
Alex Jackson: Keeping in mind that frictionless travel will rely extensively on technology, it is important for airports to consider that not all travellers have the same technological understanding or capabilities. In order to foster an environment that works for everyone, product selections and guiding philosophies need to consider intuitive solutions that streamline the facility while ensuring that they work with all types of devices or have opportunities for those who may not carry a smartphone.
Bosco Rodrigues: An airport’s business and pricing strategy also has a part to play in developing inclusive transportation. For example, Heathrow Airport offers free or heavily subsidized travel at and to and from the airport aimed at staff and passengers travelling to and between its passenger terminal buildings. Such initiatives have tapped into an employee base who may otherwise have struggled to afford travel to work at the airport. Airports outside of the UK have followed a similar path to embed themselves in the local community.
Turning our attention to promising aviation technologies, what can airports do now to take into consideration the advent of advanced air mobility?
Larry Schneider: For some time now, airports in the USA have been master planning for emerging electric, alternative fuel and advanced air mobility. As part of the planning exercise, airports are working with their local power utility companies to increase electric power. This may seem like a simple task, but the power grid was not designed to accommodate emerging electric aircraft, such as eVTOLs and electric vehicles. Capacity and resilience of existing electric distribution grids will increasingly become a priority for airports modernizing their infrastructure systems.
Alberto Ruiz: This need must be considered within the wider context of business diversification to support a multimodal approach that enables expanded access so that all passengers can make choices for their mobility needs. Airport operators are tasked with applying, and expanding, funding sources to advance plans relative to passenger movement within the terminal as well as from public transportation areas, offsite parking lots and car rental areas—not to mention having to fit everything within existing land constraints.
One of the first steps in support of shaping their capital programs is for airport operators to define their business approach, which will entail reimagining their business models. In support of sustainable responsibility, it will be necessary for airport operators to explore and take into consideration the repurposing of existing infrastructure on airport property to be used in a multimodal approach. Internal business-line stakeholders in collaboration with their engineering teams would first assess existing infrastructure and conduct feasibility studies to help determine how to repurpose assets while, in parallel, understanding the challenges that will arise during that process.
Prior to the implementation of emerging eVTOLs and electrification of the industry, a key step, as Alexander noted earlier, will be purposeful collaboration, where local and commercial airports work closely with government and city councils. With the industry is on the verge of t considerable change,the question is, will airports adapt quickly enough to stay on pace Airport authorities and operators should continually revisit their business models to strengthen aeronautical revenue streams, with heightened attention to increasing non-aeronautical revenues. In order to provide a seamless passenger experience, airports require simplified access to city cores; it is crucial for airport master plans to include integration of new technologies such as eVTOLs and rapid transit connections as part of their multimodal approach.
Bosco Rodrigues: I agree with Alberto, reassessing an airport’s business model is important. Transition is key for existing airports, whilst new, or greenfield, airports such as Neom International Airport will need to decide whether to construct a fully developed Future Ready®1 airport design or include legacy fuels and means of propulsion for both advanced air mobility and surface access with a plan to swiftly transition as the market, regulation, governments and business dictate.
Advanced Air Mobility and eVTOLs are more evolution than revolution in aviation planning, operations and infrastructure, sharing common attributes with existing aircraft such as helicopters and general or business aviation aircraft. So, what makes them different? I would argue it’s purely the means of propulsion—electric and SAFs.
Solutions that accommodate the future needs of airports will require integrating them into the urban fabric. This will involve connecting an airport’s existing surface access network—rail, including metro and local trains, coach and transit bus—with city transportation systems, helping to create a truly integrated, frictionless multimodal experience centred around, but which may ultimately outgrow, the airport.
Alex Jackson: As part of this process, it is also essential to look beyond the physical infrastructure. As digital systems become more prevalent and relied upon, the associated risks continue to build. Network infrastructure and cybersecurity capabilities need to be assessed and upgraded as airports expand into the realm of digital systems that manage electric grid supply and new fuel supply sources.
1 Future Ready® is WSPs global innovation program that seeks to better understand the key trends in climate change, society, technology, and resources and how they are impacting our world, locally and globally. Future Ready® is a registered trademark of WSP Global Inc. in Canada and New Zealand. WSP Future Ready (logo)® is a registered trademark of WSP Global Inc. in Europe, Australia and in the United Kingdom.