Digital transformation is a term widely used across industries to describe the pace of technological progress that is transforming processes, products, services, and operations. Digital transformation is synonymous with IT investment and disruptive innovation, although it is a much broader and more comprehensive term that also describes changes in business models, corporate culture, and people.




For most aviation end users, digital transformation is meeting customer needs and driving new technologies and innovative programs. At an airport, typical digital transformation projects fall into 5 main categories (or areas of work):

  • ‍Data visualization and analysis
  • Infrastructure
  • Travel passenger and baggage
  • Airside
  • Administration and asset management


Data visualization and analysis

These are projects related to data discovery, data exchange, data integration and analytics, which are typical features of the IoT (Internet of Things) environment, with the aim of improving situational awareness.

The largest and most efficient project in this workflow is the Operations Control Room (OCC), which is the airport’s command center. The investments are aimed at expanding the role of the control room beyond security and integrating new data sources to implement the Total Airport Management concept.

In addition to data integration and improved visualization, new technologies are being explored, including artificial intelligence (AI) with applications focused on predicting KPI performance and the use of digital twins to manage big (and real-time) data.

An welcomed result of digital transformation is that airports are moving beyond their reactionary day-to-day thinking and can now plan for the future by executing multiple scenarios and adjusting forecasts with real-time data, thereby becoming more resilient. Indeed, fault management starts in the control room.



These are projects related to data storage, be it cloud or local storage. However, the biggest project affecting this area of work is cybersecurity, as airports rely less on IT providers and more on their own resources to protect systems and data.

AI, Edge Analytics, and Blockchain are some of the most promising technologies in this workflow.


Travel passenger and baggage

Passenger and baggage transport projects are attracting the most publicity and are an important investment area for the airport. The focus is on increasing passenger and luggage capacity through automation and increasing customer satisfaction by providing seamless passenger service from the sidewalk to the gate.

Effective projects relate to advanced baggage handling systems, passenger self-service points, and improved passenger and baggage screening systems at checkpoints.

Most industry initiatives, including the ACI and IATA New Travel and Technology Experience (NEXTT) program, also focus on this area. Biometrics, artificial intelligence and robotics are becoming increasingly popular technologies in this direction.



These are projects aimed at improving the efficiency, capacity and safety of the air zone. Airside investments are concentrated in five key areas: gate and apron, aerodrome, control room, operations management and security and safety.

Collaboration plays a key role in airside operations and is another area for industry initiatives, as evidenced by A-CDM and ACI Airport Community Recommended Information Services (ACRIS).

The airside will also be the largest area for AI and autonomous operations, as it is a controlled area with predefined routes and roles for personnel, motorized and non-motorized equipment.


Administration and asset management

Administration includes internal operations management and all aspects of asset and equipment management. Projects focus on improving energy and waste management as well as asset utilization and preventive maintenance.

As with all areas of work, artificial intelligence has an important role to play in this workflow as a key technology.




Key Findings of Frost & Sullivan’s Digital Transformation in Aviation Study

1. Global airport spending on digital transformation in the air zone will increase from $ 4.58 billion in 2018 to $ 5.6 billion by 2023. The fastest growing segment is operations management, which will grow from $ 960 million to $ 1,180 million over the same period. Investments are concentrated in A-SMGCS, VDGS, approach optimization and flow control systems, ALCMS, A-CDM, AOCC and analytics-driven forecasting systems.

‍2. Global airport spending on digital transformation of land areas will grow from $ 3.9 billion in 2018 to $ 4.6 billion by 2023. DT’s fastest growing segment is self-service, which will triple from $ 220 million to $ 660 million over the same period. Investments are focused on public platforms, cloud storage, smart security and passenger traffic management.

‍3. Digital transformation programs are developed and managed by airport IT departments, aim to improve customer service, and last an average of 5 years. DT’s vision is to implement projects to improve passenger experience and operational efficiency while moving from customer-centric processes to a customer-centric business environment.

4. The future airport will be built on data. More than 90% of the data collected by airports today is not used except in visualization applications. There is significant potential for optimization through big data analytics and the use of artificial intelligence. Eventually, airports will move to an ecosystem where stakeholder collaboration is effective, systems interact, and passengers have more control over their journey through personalization.

five. Disruption management offers the greatest potential for both airport operators and technology providers as there are no airport solutions available on the market today. The customer satisfaction, cost savings, and cost avoidance associated with effective failure prediction, management and recovery are significant.

‍6. Resistance to change, cost of implementation and poor business model design are the main reasons for delays in digital transformation programs, as well as general innovation at airports.


According to a survey of global airports, most airports (68%) are still running DT programs. So, which projects have already been implemented and which ones are yet to be implemented?


Landside Digital Projects

Typical Landside DT projects that have already been implemented include:

  • Digital display systems (implemented 96% of airports)
  • Baggage tracking and verification (82%)
  • Passenger traffic management (76%)
  • Public platforms (72%)

Among the Landside DT projects that have yet to be completed by the airports, the following are priorities for the next 12 months:

  • Biometrics / Smart Security Gates (42% of airports will implement)
  • Cloud data platforms (37%)
  • Advanced security screening systems (36%)
  • Smart parking solutions (36%)
  • Land mobile platforms (32%)

Airside digital projects

Typical Airside DT projects that have already been implemented include:

  • Gates and stands management (88% of airports implemented)
  • Automated lighting systems (88%)
  • Aircraft Visual Docking System (A-VDGS) (82%)

Among the Airside DT projects that have yet to be completed by the airports, the following are priorities for the next 12 months:

  • Drone control system (46% of airports will implement)
  • A-CDM (38%)
  • Aircraft and vehicle detection system (30%)




What digital innovations are taking place at international airports?

More than most other sectors, aviation has embraced digital transformation. The future will be increasingly digital and high-tech. Wherever you look, airports are turning to connected technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), AI, cloud computing, and more.

The SITA Air Transport Trends for 2017 report showed that more than half of all airports surveyed are planning significant investments in AI over the next few years. Technologies under investigation include self-registration, which uses facial recognition data that Air Asia uses.

Hong Kong International Airport, for example, aims to accept facial recognition data and allow passengers to use it as a single token throughout the journey. The cameras will scan faces as they arrive, allowing them to move faster through the terminal to their flight.

Other airports monitor the movement of passengers through their terminals to reduce congestion. They can provide detailed information on crowd movements, highlight potential bottleneck areas, and allow the airport to make infrastructure adjustments and deploy staff as needed to reduce delays.

Heathrow Airport uses smart cards for boarding, which are embedded with all passenger flight and boarding information. It can track them as they pass through the terminal and determine when they might be late. On large screens, they can give instructions to take your time and dig into duty-free shops. If a passenger arrives at airport security too late, they may be sent back for check-in. The airport hopes that this will help cut the 50,000 hours of delays he says are caused by late passengers.

Meanwhile, airport IT systems are becoming increasingly interconnected, bringing information from many different sources to a central dashboard. This is a future where airports are smart and connected, bringing together different technologies over the Internet of Things (IoT) to streamline operations, connectivity, improve collaboration between departments, and increase data transparency.

For example, using tags and sensors, an airport can quickly locate infrastructure and equipment, track the movement and location of baggage, and track the location of aircraft and vehicles in real time.

In the near future, airports will find themselves operating at or near full capacity. Expansion is costly and time-consuming, which means that airports will have to find a way to significantly expand their existing infrastructure. To do this, they need modern digital technology.


Key findings

In the era of Industrial Revolution 4.0, airports are in what Frost & Sullivan defines as “airport 2.0”. Now the processes are being digitized and moving to the cloud. However, databases are not fully integrated, analytics are not widely used, and automation is at a low level beyond basic processes like baggage handling. Due to the complex environment and the multiple stakeholders involved in any given process, the pace of transformation is slower than in other industries.

Nevertheless, digital transformation projects are underway at many airports, many of which are working on short-term, five-year strategic plans. Some are working towards a vision for 2030 or 2040 by hiring Futures teams that strive to understand the global megatrends that will no doubt shape their business models.

Airports are aware of these constraints and require the input of visionary leaders, IT vendors and industry organizations in designing the future airport, while providing a roadmap for short, medium and long term optimization.


Based on materials from Airport Performance Insights and Cyberrisk International

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