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Airport 4.0

Faced with multiple pressures, airports, it is argued, are rapidly approaching a ‘tipping point’ beyond which the needs and expectations of passengers, airlines and shareholders can no longer be met. In order to access the full range of benefits associated with more advanced levels of digital maturity, airports of all sizes need to re-evaluate traditional approaches to technology deployment, and embrace the concept of ecosystem-level digital transformation.

On a positive note, the progress made in transitioning away from the ‘new normal’ of self-service and process efficiency toward the use of digital to optimize flow monitoring and passenger processing, must be noted.

What is Airport 4.0?

The transformation to Airports 4.0 emphasises on connectivity and real time information reporting to provide a digitalised total airport experience.

With the current Airports 3.0, airports many processes that occur throughout the passenger journey have already been digitalised such as self-check in, self-bag drop and digital way-finding through a mobile application.

Embarking on the Airports 4.0 initiative would enable a fully integrated ecosystem promising a seamless travel experience by relying on business intelligence and digitised data collected across the passenger journey. Airports 4.0 encompasses infrastructure enhancement, capacity development and digital innovation.


This article highlights the role of specific digital technologies, including cloud and big data, but also Internet of Things, virtual modeling and simulation and collaborative smart machines and robots, in enabling transformation.

The promise of greater cost efficiency, but also enhanced capacity, operational resilience and passenger experience, resonates with all airports. Yet, if airports are to realize the full potential of digital transformation and its associated benefits, there remains much to do. As this article highlights, to achieve effective digital transformation, airports must confront and overcome a number of challenges. At the most fundamental level the issue is how to first understand the different technologies available, and second, identify the practical applications that can deliver tangible benefits.

4.0 Technologies for Airport Industry

Big Data & Analytics

Using a united open data platform, the airport is able to share a diverse range of data sets, including information on flight status, connecting bus services and traffic congestion, with multiple airport stakeholders.

Cloud Technology

Faced with such engrained complexity, cloud technology offers the potential to remove, or at least reduce, the need for costly hardware at airport premises with resulting benefits for IT manpower and hardware costs.

Collaborative smart machines and robots

Already deployed across many airports in pilot form, smart machines and robots are increasingly gaining traction as permanent additions to the physical infrastructure of an airport. Check-in is a typical area for deployment, with robots such as Munich Airport’s Pepper and Watson able to provide customers with clear and consistent information to facilitate their journey through the airport.

Clearly, an airport’s appetite to supplement, augment, or replace labor with machines and robots will be influenced by its cost of labor. Further, it is also affected by prevailing attitudes to technological innovation and adoption among key airport stakeholders and passengers themselves, so must be seen as context-specific.

Cybersecurity & Biometrics

Biometrics are likely to play an increasing role in enhancing the efficiency and security of passenger processing. Although biometrics is not a new technology, it is the emergence of integrated end-to-end biometric authentication solutions that encompass automated check-in and bag-drop, security, immigration and boarding that is different and that has potential to deliver step-change operational and financial performance for airports and their users. Biometric-based solutions are not the only lever available to enhance passenger flows. For other airports, who are not yet ready to embark on a full-scale biometric implementation, mobile devices and integrated ecosystems are perhaps a more practical way to optimize passenger flows, while at the same time bringing a more ‘personalized’ service to the passenger.

Internet of Things

IoT: the sheer volume and diversity of physical assets that exist within the airport perimeter, and their criticality to business continuity, has driven strong interest in IoT-based solutions.

These technologies focus on the development of enhanced human-to-machine and machine-to-machine interfaces to deliver real-time and online information on asset location and condition. Such solutions are well suited to being applied in airport environments, especially where there is a desire to increase process automation and where reliance on existing manual ways of working is high. They also pave the way toward the attainment of other benefits.

Virtual modeling/simulation

Virtual modeling/simulation: the interest in virtual modeling and simulation technologies is aligned to the strong focus that airports have placed on optimizing passenger flows. These solutions can help airports more effectively anticipate the impact of different managerial decisions and better allocate human resources, especially at peak times. Since airports are commercial entities and understand the link between a passenger’s experience at security and their propensity to spend at the airport, airport have a vested interest in using these technologies to help them to effectively match passenger flows and airport resources. Such applications are not limited to the airport terminal and can also help airports to improve flight management performance.

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