Airport Innovation - The Future

Picture the future of Airport innovation and you probably paint, in your mind, a vivid image of a futuristic passenger-centric World. The current trend is eye popping features to promote Airports as destinations. This is not simply social media, news stories or feeds creating a storm, word of mouth is a huge delivery method. Ask yourself how many times you have travelled through a brand new terminal, or new innovative Airport feature, and mentioned it to colleagues or friends.

One aspect worth considering when travelling long haul, or spending time in an Airport, is what would you consider to be a feature, benefit, public relations stunt, or innovation? All the above can so easily be lost in translation while walking past a wave machine, or a rain forest, in an Airport terminal. If your sandwich arrives by Hyperloop to your table in the terminal, do we consider this to be an innovation, or just a gimmick? However, If your sandwich arrives by hyperloop to your passenger seat 4 minutes before push back, then this surely is innovation. 

Guest Experiences that Drive Revenue

Regardless of innovation, or the futuristic passenger experience, what is crucial for Airports is maximising revenues. The narrative on the internet is to focus on speeding up passenger check-ins, and security times. This is all ideal for extremely busy terminals, However, the key to driving revenue in the departure lounge is maximising the ‘GET’ (Guest Experience Time). The longer you can retain the ‘GET’ time, the more the individual can spend in terminal shops and restaurants. SITA, which is one of the World's leading specialists in air transport communications, has estimated that for every 10 minutes extra spent going through security, passengers spend roughly 30% less in the airport terminal. This statistic is one of the reasons Airport's are now investing in faster security systems and increasing staff levels. 

This article is now focused on how Airports can buy additional ‘GET’ for passengers, specifically converting revenue from passengers using ACCOMMODATION at departure terminals. This is the key to the future of passenger revenue, based on the hassle that passengers are NOW encountering on our roads through congestion, plus the time it now takes to park, then add airport security and arrival at the gate. If you can host the passenger the night before an early morning flight, the airport can retain more parking revenue, terminal spend, as well as dinner and breakfast. 

Airport Terminal Design

According to a recent survey, 97% of Chinese airports will need to be rebuilt by 2020, and with land globally at a premium the city of Beijing is currently planning the construction of a second airport. The designers of Air@Port have not only created a solution that reduces the impact on land, but the airport sits atop the bases of dozens of thin towers at 450 metres. These towers mushroom out with wide platforms that all connect to support the runways, with airport facilities on top. Looking at innovation, due to the height, the wind speed is far higher than it is at sea level, which means planes need less runway length to take off. Building a runway at height has it's complications, the design of buildings must also account for wind loads, and these are affected by wind gradients at different heights, so from paper to construction this will face challenges.

Another benefit, which could assist the raised Airport concept is Wake Vortex Turbulence. Wake turbulence comes in different forms, among which, wing tip vortex and jet wash are the most important. Jet wash relates to the huge amounts of rapidly moving gases exiting the jet engines. Wake vortex is dangerous and can stay in the air for several minutes. Building an Airport at height, with higher winds, could help to dissipate the vortex - thus making landings, and take off safer, and improving separation take off times.

It is also worth pointing out that bird strikes, and jet engine ingestion, could also benefit from an airport built at a higher elevation. Bird strikes can be a major hassle for Airports, as well as dangerous, and very costly for airlines. Bird strikes decline consistently by 32% every 1,000 feet so height could also have some advantages. Noise pollution would also be a clear winner with this design concept.

The overall winner for this concept must also be the Airport terminal design itself. Design, as we have seen, is a major factor at the forefront of all airports future planning. Similar to designer shopping centres, design clearly plays a key role in attracting shoppers and travellers alike. Whilst innovative concepts, like elevated airports, reduce land occupancy and costs, they are also money spinners based on passenger preference - or ‘victory by design’. 

The Terminal Hotel

Usually, we always associate an Airport Hotel stuck on a ring road outside the Airport terminal. By using the terminal as a destination, there is no reason why Airports should not look to their own doorstep to increase revenue opportunities. Airport Terminals are 24 hour operations in most International hubs, ideally positioned to serve passengers wishing to eat and shop at all hours.

MCR Development have reignited the magic of the 1962 TWA Flight Center at JFK Airport, restoring and reinventing it as a first-class hotel. The $300 million, newly refurbished, 512 room TWA Hotel at Terminal 5 is both innovative in design and function.  

With vast open spaces, and high ceilings, this hotel takes you back to the 1960's and the romance of air travel. Its clear from the hotel's popularity that TWA is clearly onto something, making people feel special, in style, and this has to be considered as an innovation. When we take into account the rise of low cost airlines, the demise of the standard hot meal on shorter flights, charges for luggage, and fees for seats. This has had a domino effect on other air carriers leading to the the average short haul passenger feeling unappreciated or special, just a shipping commodity with low expectations. The TWA Hotel reminds us of a time when the passenger came first.

The TWA Hotel offers the perfect rest break for a connecting flight, or stop over in style. The hotel appeals to every ‘plane spotter’ with its spectacular ‘Air Side’ views. For those who wish to take relaxation to the next level, the rooftop pool has the ultimate infinity view. The popularity of this airport hotel is a clear example that design and innovation are key to the success of an airport. As a case study for future airport hotel design, using aircraft as your panoramic customer experience will unquestionably increase bookings. 

Micro Hotels & Pods - The Osaka Capsule Re-imagined 

The Micro Hotel is here and no longer a thing of the future. The idea of the micro room or pod has been around for longer than you might think. The first Capsule Hotel opened in Osaka Japan in 1979 and soon spread across Japan as a solution to to lower cost accommodation, especially in cities with lack of space. 

The Micro Hotel is now starting to appear at specific Airports which have a vision for the future. This mini hotel, or cabin room, featured at Munich Airport, is called the Napcab. These four metre squared rooms are bliss if your flight is delayed, or you have a long connecting flight delay. They feature bed linen, internet access, and a small desk area to work from. Not only do these luxury cabins provide rest time, but they are ideal to escape the crowds. Quite simply a hideaway if you suffer from travel anxiety.

One of the major advantages of the Napcab is that you are ‘Air Side’. Effectively having passed security, and check-in, means you are only one step away from boarding your plane at the gate. Some of the most stressful aspects of air travel are parking, check-in, and security. In comparison to the non "Air Side" hotel experience, you still potentially have the issue of long term parking, bus, check in and security.

When it comes to Airport revenue, a key benefit of the micro hotel is the future increase in spend within departures. Not only will Airports potentially attain space rental revenue from these cabins, the Airport themselves may also wish to allocate larger spaces and bring the ownership in-house. This would result in additional passenger revenue - the current Napcab costs passengers $12 - $18 per hour, with a minimum spend of $35. 

The Sleeping Pod

How do you micro a Micro Hotel? You half its size and make it a Sleeping Pod. Yes, the Micro Hotel has been shrunk yet again into what can be considered a flat-bed first class seat in a terminal lounge. Sleeping Pods offer the same sanctuary of the larger Micro Hotel but at a smaller cost. 


The Pod Plane Seat

We all know where this is heading - check into your pod in the Airport car park and it will transport you to the terminal, and eventually your pod makes its way onto the plane. No queuing, and no bag check-in, no weighing and no hand luggage. This concept most definitely has some conceptual benefits. The sleeping pod, clearly if designed in a specific way, maximises vertical space. This is something that has been possible in commercial travel but at the cost of increasing the fuselage size to cope with a second floor and cargo bay. 

A two-level bed design has already been developed for long distance bus transport, which has clearly improved passenger comfort whilst maximised the use of vertical space. Taking this concept one stage further, Aviation Sales Partners has produced some concepts of how we might see this develop in years to come for the passenger aircraft. But why would such a concept design affect an airport? The answer is based upon keeping passengers in the terminal, and fundamentally increasing revenue within the terminal. As we have mentioned earlier, sleeping in the terminal has significant benefits for the passenger for early morning flights. For a family, the spend per head could also increase due to taking advantage of this stress free concept.

The self driving passenger pod concept, although decades away, could offer significant possibilities for passengers and airports. If you have travelled through Heathrow Terminal 5 then you might have noticed the highly successful Parking Pods in operation. The T5 Parking Pod is now so successful that passengers swear by it's hassle free efficiency to the point where they prefer to fly from T5. How many times have you waited for a bus, in the cold, at an airport car park bus stop, only to find you are back in the cold, trying to find your car on the return trip back to the car park? Step into the future with the T5 parking pod by dropping your car off and jumping straight into a warm, and private pod, which takes you straight into the terminal. The return trip is even better, back into a pod at the terminal and it drops you straight to your car. No delays and no waiting in the cold.

Taking this concept one stage further, and you have a pod which can seat your entire family, transport you from the car park into the terminal, and act as a secure base to store luggage and sleep overnight. Staying in the terminal would allow a family, with lots of bags, the freedom to eat and shop without stress. Furthermore, using the space within such a design, allows the conversion of seats into flat beds. Airlines, and Aircraft manufacturers, have always pondered over the vast expanse of wasted space above passengers heads, still to this day nobody has been able to design a cabin which takes full advantage of this.

So what benefits could an autonomous passenger pod bring to an airport? Charging for pod space, in a terminal overnight, could potentially offer a viable solution for increased hotel style revenue. Airport traffic statistics over the next 20 years speak for themselves, gearing up for the increase in numbers will not only require innovative thinking, but could also present a huge opportunity to convert passenger spend per head. Technology, in all forms, has not only changed vastly in the past twenty years, but our ability to adopt and adapt to innovation at speed has greatly increased. 

If you are used to pod parking already, then it wont take you much to imagine your autonomous parking vehicle converting into a micro hotel, and eventually entering your aircraft with the same creature comforts you had the night before. The concept of having all your luggage aboard the pod whilst utilising the dead vertical space might seem far fetched, but in an age where we have people sleeping at the wheel of electric cars it does not seem far fetched. Picture also, a family ordering and storing hot food in the pod for a flight, sold in the very terminal they just left, and the airport spend per head has just increased yet again.

In conclusion, the passenger experience has a big influence over terminal spend. Airports, which are only focused on passenger movement times and not the guest experience, are missing a big slice of the action.