How Can Vision AI Help Airports Relaunch in a Post-Pandemic World


The travel industry is among the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. Vision AI efficiency is the ticket to help airports liftoff and accelerate operations post-recovery, explains Carlos Anchia, CEO at Plainsight.

Airports are increasingly operating as “smart cities,” managing all aspects of security, capacity, and passenger experience. Airports see millions of passengers every year who demand retail, hospitality, and entertainment, while managers have to carefully calibrate employee deployment, sustainability, wellness, and much more. Although their time spent in airports is fleeting, passengers behave and act very much as they would in any modern city, on a smaller scale. 

The pandemic has added yet another layer of complexity for airports. There are requirements from governments for airport authorities to ensure wellness and safety by enforcing social distancing and masking while meeting passenger expectations of minimal wait times and maintaining a travel experience that’s seamless and enjoyable. 

The world’s leading airports are meeting these new demands with deeper investments in AI to capitalize on emerging technologies that can assist. For major airports in the busiest travel hubs like JFK, Heathrow, and Dubai, AI technology is already improving the passenger experience – from ticketing check-ins, to digital services, and amenities. 

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The AI Challenge at Airports

Significant technology advancements that have enabled competitive advantages for the largest airports are increasingly considered table stakes. As a result, mid-tier and under-resourced airports are faced with tough choices, applying AI using limited resources, deciding where they might make the most impact, and understanding how to use it for operational efficiency and high customer satisfaction. 

The lure of automating and increasing the volume of data collection will not slow down. According to a report published this year by UK-based inventory management company Vero Solutions, by the end of the decade, robotics will increasingly facilitate aspects of airport operations and passenger services, decreasing reliance on humans for passenger services and check-in processes. In the next three years, 84% of airlines will be seeking technology partners for major programs and/or R&D for AI, and airports will invest in projects focused on business intelligence, biometrics, and 5G communications networks, according to the 2020 Air transport IT insights survey. 

How do airports solve their challenges today while they future-proof their operations for what’s to come? 

Navigating today’s turbulence

    1. Increasing security and regulatory protocols: With COVID-19 and heightened security concerns, airports are held to high standards to ensure passenger and employee safety.   
    2. Lack of insights from visual data: Airports are filled with cameras, without ways to gain a meaningful understanding of the data collected. 
    3. High demand for return on capex investment: Airports are expensive to build, run, and maintain. There is a lot of pressure to explore and optimize opportunities to generate revenue on existing infrastructure. 

Reaching higher altitudes

    1. Actionable insights: Decision-makers are inundated with data. Airports are one of the densest locations for cameras and visual data input. To manage all this complexity, airports must provide a literal 360° view of their operations and business. Additionally, airports want the ability to understand and turn this unstructured data into actionable insights to inform investments, unleash untapped sources of revenue, and improve security.  
    2. Turning technology investments into revenue streams: There is plenty of evidence that we will see increasing investments in AI. Where the rubber meets the road is if these investments can increase revenue relative to floor space, introduce new products and services, as well as recognize and predict passenger behavior that leads to enhanced security, higher quality time, and more money spent at airports. Airports can benefit immensely from the ability AI has to predict demand based on a myriad of key criteria, such as travel cycles.  
    3. Improving operational efficiency: The need to leverage the latest technologies is necessary to ensure the highest levels of efficiency, accuracy, and service. Airports know that even small improvements can make a significant impact on revenue, security, and experience for them and the businesses and organizations operating there.  

In speaking with our customers who are investing in vision AIOpens a new window , we know that incremental improvements in accuracy can cascade throughout an organization’s operations resulting in massive cost-savings and revenue stream optimization.

Seeing the Power of Vision AI

Vision AI holds the key to the next generation of technology experience that passengers increasingly expect, enabling computers and systems to “see” things to then understand the world similarly to the way people do, but with unblinking consistency, accuracy, and context. 

However, unlike human perception, which is highly subjective and error-prone, cameras are absolute measurement devices. With vision AI, they become smart optical sensors that continuously collect and precisely derive information from digital imagery, video, and other inputs, offering insights into spacing, speed, temperature, and movement. 

With continuous vision AI model training, solutions get smarter as more data is collected and models are optimized. Imagine the endless possibilities for airports if they were able to quickly and easily take advantage of the advancements in vision AI, and extend their existing capabilities of technology investments like security and temperature sensory cameras. 

For most airports, the solution for more meaningful insights is not more cameras but faster, better, smarter implementation and utilization of the available technologies. 

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AI And 5G Help Airports Liftoff Again

The crippling financial impact of the 2020 pandemic will be felt in the industry for years to come, even as passengers gradually return. It is during these unsettling times that technology innovation can flourish. Vision AI, combined with the latest camera technologies and 5G network connectivity, can be a game-changer for airports, triggering a new wave of digitization and innovation in operations and customer experience while limiting the operational impacts of COVID-19 measures. 

Complete vision AI solutions, created and deployed using end-to-end platforms, allow all airport stakeholders across facilities, technology, and business management to build, create, train, deploy, and improve vision AI models with centralized control. 

High-value vision solutions include:

Passenger flow monitoring and management

    • Understand crowd dynamics– movement, dwell times, and behaviors
    • Analyze foot traffic — real-time passenger volume, automate counts and identify high-traffic locations, times
    • Learn how passengers actually use space to encourage the use of revenue-generating services and amenities
    • Personalize the retail and dining experience based on passenger location, frequency, etc. and enable vendors to leverage targeted advertising
    • Detect and recognize human pose and movement characteristics to understand and predict behaviors 

Terminal capacity and gate efficiency

    • Monitor and analyze all gate vehicles and activity around the aircraft in real-time
    • Track numerous simultaneous gate service activities performed by diverse contractors to reduce delays 
    • Automate alerts based on customizable rules, such as when a service vehicle has exceeded a defined timeline to service the aircraft or equipment has been left in non-compliant locations around the plane, creating a safety hazard
    • Increase ETD accuracy and enable greater control of on-time departures

Safety and security

    • Monitor restricted spaces and automate alerts of violations
    • Track movement through security lines and recognize threats, causes for delay
    • Recognize anomalies of all kinds, such as abandoned bags, and identify causality
    • Ensure airport personnel are adhering to protocols and regulations
    • Automate parking security with license plate recognition and occupant monitoring
    • Ensure the safety of gate services and vehicles as they work quickly and often in close proximity

COVID-related protocols

    • Recognize the proper PPE, such as masks, are in use  
    • Optimize passenger movement to encourage social distancing 
    • Comply with CDC, state regulatory, and airport cleaning and disinfecting protocols
    • Ensure airports have a sufficient number and types of workers on-site to carry out protocols


    • Implement facial recognition, fingerprinting, etc. to accelerate security lines, checks, and automate boarding
    • Check physiological indicators (such as body temperature) and detect fever with infrared cameras

Inspections and infrastructure checks

    • Survey vital areas of airport hubs with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) empowered by 5G 
    • Perform inspections and inventory of ramps and dedicated storage areas 
    • Identify physical dangers such as debris and natural hazards such as bird flocks 

As Airports Reach Cruising Altitude, Their AI-fueled Future Is Bright

New technologies, such as AI/machine learning, vision AI, edge computing, and 5G connectivity are transforming the way airports around the world operate. Airports are central to local and national economies. Due to the vast and complex operational, customer, and service ecosystems involved, they are poised to benefit the most from new advancements. During this current downturn, and as the world returns to travel, it’s crucial for airport business and operations leaders to invest in the early adoption and fine-tuning of these new solutions. Vision AI holds the key for airports to unlock the untapped potential of the insights within vast amounts of visual data and drive greater revenues, improved security, and better overall passenger experience.

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