Could this be the airport of the future?
SOME of the world’s major airports are getting bigger and smarter to meet the operational and capacity challenges.
Self-check-in and bag drop, so passengers do not have to wait in line to communicate with airport workers, allowing for faster throughput of bag drops. Automated border control systems or immigration gates, so people get to their holiday or back home faster.
Let’s not forget: Facial recognition to speed up the process of boarding a flight, doing away with the traditional paper boarding pass and at the same time ensuring better security.
At the rate airports are teching up, there will come a day when it is harder to find a human official than bots. And by that, we mean robots.
Skytrax-voted world’s best airport for six years in a row, Singapore’s Changi Airport is one of those enthusiastically pursuing extensive automation.
It is so enthusiastic, its newly opened Terminal 4 (T4) was built to test airport bots for its upcoming Terminal 5 (T5), which is set to be one of the largest and most automated passenger terminals in the world.
At T4, travelers enjoy start-to-end automation, from do-it-yourself checking in to baggage tagging, and aircraft boarding – a first for Changi Airport. To ensure travelers move from the first to the last step, it uses facial recognition – also a first for Changi Airport.
And the experiments do not end there.
Changi Airport’s ultimate goal is to have all automation working without a hitch for T5 as the monstrous building is expected to handle 50 million passengers a year.
This helps the airport stay ahead of competition from neighboring countries that are upgrading and extending their airports.
So, what else is Changi Airport bringing to the table for its mammoth-of-an-airport aspirations?
The island city-state’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAAS) is working together with ground-handling and in-flight catering firm SATS Ltd. to automate.
Currently, SATS is testing a remote-controlled vehicle that can collect luggage from a plane and move it to the baggage handling area in 10 minutes.
SATS is also trialing an autonomous electric vehicle to ferry documents for air cargo as well as light detection and ranging to map routes to deliver trolleys with up to 200 kilograms of food each to lounges.
“More than one billion people in Asia will fly for the first time between now and 2035,” BBC quoted SATS’ chief executive officer Alex Hungate as saying, adding that automation will “help the company manage higher volumes with no additional manpower.”
In the kitchens, SATS prepares almost 100,000 meals a day in Singapore. To boost productivity in this area, SATS implemented an automated cutlery packing system.
It worked. Productivity went up by 36 percent, and its tray assembly line was reduced to nine employees from 45.
According to CAAS, a unit of St Engineering Co. is testing autonomous aerobridges that align to the plane door using lasers and cameras. This technology can be used for other airport equipment such as catering trucks.
A smart tower that enables air traffic controllers to monitor aircraft via digital infrared cameras is being tested as well. The cameras are reportedly able to help increase visibility when it is hazy or dark.
Other major infrastructure works that have been planned for Changi Airport include an MRT tunnel connecting T5 to the rest of the island city-state and a third runway
The airport is also scheduled to be opening an SGD$1.7 billion (US$1.27 billion) mixed-use development called Jewel sometimes in early 2019.
Jewel will connect three of the airport’s current four terminals and will have seven stories of shopping, dining, indoor gardens and parks, including the world’s tallest indoor waterfall.
Changi Airport’s T5, which will cost Singapore tens of billions of Singaporean dollars, is slated to open around 2030