Airports: If everything is uncertain, everything is possible

Photo by Chris Zhang on Unsplash

By Jonne Kuyt

Airports have long been resourceful in times of crisis and uncertainty. But unlike terrorism or natural phenomena, the world has little experience in dealing with global pandemics. We are witnessing, for the first time, an impact on the whole world. No existing playbook will tell us how to get passengers back in their seats safely. It will be challenging. The only upside is the opportunity to meet disruption with change.

The pandemic has introduced new regulations and restrictions for airport operations, commercial partners, and passengers. How do we avoid crowding and queuing while making sure people feel safe and secure? How can health and hygiene precautions be implemented without deploying additional staff and within the given legal boundaries? How can we optimize our current infrastructure as efficiently and as safely as possible?

A mass of questions that need sustainable and diverse answers. Answers for a future that will be structurally more uncertain.

There is a rush to touchless and self-service solutions, off-airport processes, and digital-first strategies. It may seem like an appealing shortcut to try and solve problems by throwing tech at it; Tech has the power to automate processes where there would otherwise be a person and thus a risk of infection. But most of these ideas are only logical if you have the time and resources available to set clear objectives from a long-term perspective. Introducing and deploying at scale to be effective involves new fully automated processes, which take years to implement. Few airports will have the luxury of sticking to these timelines. For the most part, we have to work with what we’ve got, evolve, refocus, and make existing platforms work smarter, leaner, and more effectively.

The emerging new normal has forced us to focus on developing the ability to adapt to ever-changing elements. Changing variables such as globalization, disease, and climate change force airports to deliver solutions at a rapid rate. Airports need to have the processes and mechanisms to prepare for VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity). Like a true Darwinian system, those able to adapt and survive fastest will be the most successful. Scaling up or down, integrating tech, innovation, and regulations and instantly creating new value and profit streams, and adapting swiftly to the changing reality will be a core competence to be successful.

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