Last updated: 07:00 PM ET, Wed March 16 2016

Coming Soon to China: Smart Airports

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | March 16, 2016

Coming Soon to China: Smart Airports

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Crowded terminals and understaffed TSA checkpoints are trying the patience of fliers in the United States over the Spring Break season this year. The gridlock has people wondering what could possibly be done to streamline the airport experience.

Yes, there are options, like the TSA Pre program. Precheck might be worth the investment for frequent flyers, but probably not for casual travelers. And what happens when too many people sign up for the program and the lines become just as long as non-Pre security queues?

High-tech solutions?

The answer to airport gridlock could come from China. Despite being in the economic doldrums, the world's most populous country is busy building dozens of new airports. According to analysis from the airport IT specialists at SITA, these new hubs could be the world’s first “smart” airports.

It is certainly an attractive idea to imagine: using your phone to check in, verify your identity for fast and easy security screening, and track your flight’s gate information and boarding time.

Less face time is a good thing at airports

People complain about technology taking away face-to-face interactions. However, in the case of airports, such personal interactions take time. Even if you are totally prepared with your documents, boarding pass, carefully weighed luggage and plastic ziplock with your liquids, others in front of you will still slow the process down. When it comes to getting through the airport, less face-to-face interaction is a good thing.

READ MORE: The World's Largest Airport is Coming to China

Why are people looking to China to kick off the smart airport era?

SITA’s analysis shows that 72 percent of Chinese airports are investing in new technology such as scanners and automated bag check kiosks. That is compared to 58 percent in other parts of the world.

The several dozen new airports that are currently in the works in the country present the opportunity to build a high tech infrastructure from scratch, rather than the more difficult process of adding features to an airport that is already standing.

Most of all, though, China’s economic slump has done little to slow the demand for air travel. Projections suggest that Chinese fliers could take 1.3 billion airplane trips by 2034. Even with new airports, these numbers would cause gridlock that would make this year’s Spring Break terminal jams in the U.S. look like an evening stroll in the park.

READ MORE: Can China Save the Day for Slumping Aircraft Manufacturers?

Going high tech out of necessity

China will have to streamline the airport experience with high tech features, otherwise it will simply not be able to handle such a large number of fliers.

May Zhou, SITA’s general manager in China, thinks it is only a matter of time before smart airport features become a reality. Some high-tech features will be passenger-facing and others will be working behind the scenes to create a more streamlined experience for fliers: “…Change is coming, one area we see this happening is of the development of “Smart Airports” where new technology such as sensors, beacons and business intelligence are used to deliver efficiencies. Investments are now being made. Over the next couple of years, 85% of airports are planning projects in sensor technologies while 82% plan to have business intelligence initiatives for passenger flow in place.”

Other features could include baggage tracking via a smartphone, location specific information and virtual beacons that could help passengers find where they need to go. The SITA report even suggests bathroom sensors that can help people find the nearest open restroom.

Smart airports will become a reality in the near future. Travelers can only hope that the United States will adopt some of the newest features that will be coming to airports in other parts of the world.

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