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Air travel clearly has been one of the big business casualties of Covid-19. Although The International Air Transport Association expects global air passenger traffic to rise to 2.8 billion in 2021, up from 18 billion in 2020, that still would fall far short of the 4.5 billion people who flew in 2019.  

This isn’t the first slump to hit the aviation industry. Nineteen years ago, travel demand plummeted amid security fears after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And that forced airports to re-invent themselves and provide a level of security that would make people feel safe. For airports across the world, the pandemic is proving to be a new moment of reset — to attract, excite and reassure travelers.  

Here are five enterprise technologies promising to transform airports and help them revive and thrive in a post-Covid world: 

Facial Recognition 

It’s hardly surprising to see that a lot of facial recognition-based touchless technology is being fast-tracked to reduce the contact between passengers and airport officials. The Transportation Security Administration, for instance, has begun testing a self-service facial recognition system to verify traveler IDs. Launched at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, passengers will insert their IDs, driver’s licenses, or passports into scanners instead of handing them to TSA officers. Several other airports, such as Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airport and London’s Heathrow, are also planning to roll out facial recognition for check-ins by the end of the year. 

Blockchain Credential Authentication 

As airports and aviation authorities begin relying on facial recognition, they will turn to technologies like blockchain to validate passengers’ data without compromising their privacy. Blockchain attaches an anonymous token to the verified passenger data, so airlines, airport authorities and security agencies can validate passengers’ biographic and biometric data, and check who they say they are without needing to see the data another agency or a competing airline holds. Software platforms, such as Zamna and Blockchain Sandbox, already use blockchain to connect the passenger information sets siloed among airlines, governments, and safety agencies and create a paperless pre-flight experience, from check-in to boarding. 

Thermal Cameras and Passenger Flow Analytics 

Several airports are turning to thermal cameras to reduce the risk of infected passengers entering the building by detecting and flagging people with elevated body temperatures. Heathrow airport in London and all Hawaii airports receiving flights from outside the state are now operating thermal cameras to screen travelers for symptoms of the coronavirus. While not everyone infected with the virus catches fever, thermal cameras are expected to slow the spread of disease. By meshing heat maps from thermal cameras with IoT devices and other airport systems, they may also track passenger entry and exit, potentially allowing airport staff to identify high-flow areas and manage overcrowding in real time.  

Autonomous Robot Cleaners 

Autonomous industrial robot cleaners, equipped with ultraviolet lights to kill microbes in high-traffic areas, may become a regular sight at airports soon. For example, the Pittsburgh International Airport has worked with startup Carnegie Robotics to use UV-C sterilizer robots to sanitize the floors without exposing passengers or employees to the harmful rays. The robots can move around autonomously and first clean the floor surface with water pressure and chemical disinfectant, then run UVC light over the floors for a deeper cleaning. PIT is not alone. At JFK Airport in New York and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, a program will use the new UV system to treat surfaces in JetBlue aircraft interiors. 

Virtual queueing  

As the pandemic has redefined how much personal space people need while waiting to check in or board, virtual queuing systems will enable passengers to pre-book a time slot for processing at airport checkpoints. Instead of entering the crowded airport, they can wait outside or in their car. Time slots can be adjusted in real-time, based on queue wait times, changing arrival patterns, lane productivity and processing capacity. Several virtual queuing and passenger density management solutions, such as Veovo, use movement monitoring and machine learning to offer real-time and predictive passenger density and movement insights, for better live situational awareness and future planning.