Passenger Terminal Expo 2014 Report

My first trip to the Passenger Terminal Expo in Barcelona was a valuable and enjoyable one, taking the opportunity to see the latest terminal-based technology and products for airports as well as listening to various speakers and meeting existing suppliers.

The end of March is certainly not the worst time of year to visit Barcelona. Under blue skies and warm sunshine, the Fira complex played a good host to an exhibition which was suitably full but not exhausting to traverse. Having attended CES early this year in Vegas, a smaller Expo was welcome. Now in its fifteenth year, PTE was well-attended – records were broken – and all the leading suppliers were present.

Innovation is vital in the technology space these days, as opposed to just supplying the tech itself, so it was good to take in some cutting edge examples of various business challenges being solved. On the SITA Labs stand, Virgin Atlantic were demonstrating their Google Glass and iBeacon trials currently running at Heathrow Airport. Google Glass is being used for Upper Class passengers to check them in to their Clubhouse via the limousine entrance in Terminal 3. It’s been such a success that there was one story about a First Class passenger waiting for the Glass-equipped concierge to book them in, as opposed to a normal member of staff.

iBeacons are things we will be hearing more about in time. They’re small, battery-powered devices that transmit a unique number in variable intervals via the Bluetooth low energy protocol. The intelligence isn’t within the iBeacons themselves but where they are positioned; they can be picked up by devices and used to perform certain actions, like display a boarding pass, for example, avoiding that annoying period when you’re at the boarding gate or presentation barrier anxiously unlocking your phone. Currently, iBeacons work with Apple’s Passbook in iOS 7.0 and above, but Android also supports it too.

In busy areas of an airport terminal, these devices could become important to assist passengers over time. Talking of which, Xovis were present with their interesting crowd management software, that uses custom cameras to detect people and measure dwell time. Their software was sophisticated enough to determine from a group of people who was in a queue and who wasn’t, as well as detect different queue movements. Clever stuff and they already have a couple of European airports under their belts. I was told that a lot of their business comes after a trial, which seems a natural and obvious way to get the tech implemented.

I was also impressed with Quintiq’s resource management system. It had different interfaces to not just organise and plan human resources, but also solve business challenges by measuring cost and coverage in different units or areas of a company. I also spent some time with Path Intelligence, who brought their GSM, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi solution from retail into the airport terminal arena. Used for identifying and tracking movements of customers through stores, their approach could have large operational benefits to a terminal too.

On day two, I decided to spent more time in the conference areas, focusing initially on the IT room. I presented “Innovation in Aviation” in the last afternoon session of the day. Thanks to all those who attended! I got a couple of questions at the end and there were a sea of faces visible from the lectern, so hopefully attendees found it useful.

On the topic of the conference, my feedback to the PTE organisers was that perhaps they should consider cutting down the number of presentations. Over the three days, the eight rooms had presentations running continuously, and I think no-one would disagree that the quality varied quite a bit. If the number was halved, this would have the added benefit of more foot traffic to the exhibitors.

After my presentation was delivered, I had to skip the SkyTrax Awards and head straight back to the airport. Due to other commitments, I was only able to complete two days but I feel I got everything covered, including a night out with colleagues at a great Tapas Bar and then a wander around Las Ramblas. Paris 2015 has a hard act to follow.

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