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Digital Twins: Helping Airports Gear Up for the Challenges of the Future Today

With the number of flights and passengers set to rise sharply in the coming years, airports face a host of thorny challenges – not least when it comes to making the most of their existing facilities and infrastructure. A combination of collaboration and leading-edge tech will be key to mastering these challenges. And digital twins are expected to play a vital role. This month we’ll take a closer look at this technology and its potential benefits for players in the air travel industry.

Airports Are Facing a Major Capacity Crunch

Air travel is booming: The number of fliers and flights is rising fast and is expected to double over the next two decades. That may sound like great news for business. But when you consider that airports will expand by just 5% of their current levels over the same period, the forecast upswing promises to bring major capacity issues.

To master this challenge, airports will have to boost efficiencies by fostering collaboration between all stakeholders and deploying the very latest technologies. The technology side of the equation is already making headway – with the advent of smart airports. Like small-scale smart cities (see my blog from last July), these high-tech facilities leverage today’s IoT technologies, tapping into vast volumes of data to efficiently handle tasks ranging from parking right through to passport checks.

(Near) Real-Time Insight + Reliable Forecasting = Better Decisions

This is where digital twins come in. As the name suggests, these are virtual replicas of objects. Their real-world counterparts – whether processes, products, or services – are equipped with sensors that capture data and relay it to the digital twin in (near) real time.

This not only delivers valuable insight into the current state of assets, enabling more efficient and effective maintenance and averting costly downtimes. It also supports more accurate predictions of future states, improved simulation, and better decision-making, ultimately streamlining operations throughout the airport.

By harnessing huge amounts of data and making it available in an intuitive, easy-to-understand visual form, digital twins hold considerable potential when it comes to tackling airports’ looming capacity crunch. And that’s one of the reasons why the technology is now gaining ground in the sector.

Rapid Maintenance, Smoother Journeys, Attractive New Services

One major international airport that’s already harnessing digital twin technology to manage its operations more efficiently and handle capacity issues is Schipol in the Netherlands. For five years now, the airport has been deploying Building Information Modeling (BIM) as part of its asset management.

By creating 3D digital twins of its buildings, Schipol’s operator is able to keep tabs on the operating status of assets such as elevators, enabling rapid maintenance in the event of outages – and efficiently rerouting passengers.

And that’s not the only benefit digital twins offer travelers: Data captured using the technology also creates opportunities for new processes using apps and screens, making for a smoother, hassle-free journey.

Machine Learning Drives Intelligent Decision-Making

Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) is another major player that is now deploying digital twins as part of its drive to become a smart airport. Here, the virtual replicas will leverage captured data to recommend actions, enhancing decision-making.

Ultimately, machine learning will enable the technology to propose new decision-making rules based on past experience, streamlining the process even further. Like Schipol, HKIA expects digital twins to improve maintenance, reduce costs, and deliver better services for passengers.

The Way Forward

As the example of Hong Kong suggests, it’s not just IoT that will fuel the development of digital twin solutions. Machine learning and AI will also play a pivotal role. This, coupled with cloud connectivity, offers unprecedented potential for large-scale digital-twin implementations. In fact, some observers believe that virtual models of entire airports may be just around the corner.

Collaboration Is Key

As always, when considering how a new technology can benefit your business, you need to look at the bigger picture – and particularly at how digital twins fit into your overall business and IT strategy. At the top of this blog, I mentioned collaboration as the other key to effectively tackling the challenges facing airports. Here, it’s important to bear in mind that digital twin initiatives require asset managers and their IT counterparts to work hand in hand. So it’s essential to make sure these stakeholders are involved from the get-go.

If you have questions about any aspect of digital twin technology in the air travel sector, please feel free to contact me.

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