Innovation labs function as catalysts for change, enabling airports to break out from siloed thinking
In January, the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) announced the launch of its Airport Innovation Index. This is a centralised repository of innovative research programmes at airports across the US, exploiting emerging technologies such as digitisation, blockchain, Big Data, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT). Many of these programmes are being developed within airport innovation labs, which seek to harness the power of start-up innovative culture within an airport ecosystem.
“Airports run creative projects all the time but it’s difficult to know who is doing what,” said the co-chairs of the AAAE Airport Innovation Steering Group, Justin Erbacci, chief innovation and technology officer at Los Angeles World Airports, and Dave Wilson, director of airport innovation at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, in a press statement. “Knowing what our peers are doing allows us to learn together and innovate more effectively.”
However, knowing what peers are doing may contradict the whole ethos of airport innovation labs; while much of the work in these places aims to improve operational efficiency, many other programmes are focused on competitive differentiation and the development of commercially confidential revenue-generating streams.
Some airports regard innovation labs as interesting places which may foster the development of an app or two, but others see them as key enablers for the reconfiguration of an entire operational structure.
For example, the Turin Airport Innovation Lab is fully integrated within the departures lounge. All the steps of the passenger journey have been recreated so technology companies, start-ups, research organisations, and universities can develop and test innovative solutions dedicated to all airport activities and the airport digitalisation strategy. Over recent years this has seen the introduction of enhanced dedicated wi-fi, a web app to feature personalised airport offers, e-gates for reading boarding passes, digital lockers for luggage, and a queue-monitoring system at security channels – all supported by a digital safety management system for sharing data in real-time among all partners operating at the airport.
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