Have you ever been asked to immediately leave your airport boarding gate due to safety issues, together with all other passengers? If not, you’re lucky. It is something that has occurred every now and then at many large European airports: The entire terminal is evacuated and shut down. Shortly after, every passenger is asked to go through the entire check-in procedure again. What happened in these cases? The simple explanation: An apron bus with arriving passengers took a wrong turn and ultimately delivered them to the wrong gate.
What seems like an everyday mistake often has a huge impact due to laws of citizenship and immigration. Imagine aircraft passengers from a non-Schengen origin being accidentally delivered to a Schengen gate. Bad mistake. The bus driver, in this case, has served as an accessory to multiple illegal entries – with many legal (and costly!) consequences. The situation may get even more complicated if some of the bus passengers are entering their final destination, while others in the same bus need to transfer to another gate for their connecting flights. To avoid mistakes in these situations, a zero-error principle is required.
This specific European Schengen-/non-Schengen situation is anything but new and the airports have worked on solutions. One of them is to use a simple color code: The bus driver receives a task on his screen from the dispatcher, displayed in the same color as the gate where the passengers need to be dropped. However, this is still a fault-prone process which doesn’t rule out the possibility of human failure. The optimal approach is to use a more advanced IT solution which not only shares task information and directions from the dispatcher to the bus driver but also gives directions. The bus is tracked over a GPS transponder in real-time to ensure it is heading in the right direction. If it takes a wrong turn for whatever reason, the driver receives an acoustic and optical alert before opening the door. An automatic door locking isn’t allowed for safety reasons – in case of an emergency, the doors need to be opened in any situation.
But today’s hardware equipment for buses enable much more than just localizing the vehicle anytime and displaying all upcoming tasks. It also collects, processes and displays data about bus status and conditions from mounted sensors and cameras in real-time, while sharing the information with the passengers. Moreover, the data also provides evidence in case of deviations or accidents.
Furthermore, geofencing technology is used to keep the bus on track: Whenever it enters or leaves the defined set location, information is provided to the driver and the dispatcher. This technology is, for example, used at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol: Beacons monitor if the bus is on the planned route and any registered deviations are displayed.
The concept has proven to be successful and is increasingly becoming a requirement all over Europe. An Intel case study suggests several positive impacts:
- Dispatch teams can identify when a bus is being driven inefficiently or is insecure and can immediately contact the driver
- Drivers have one easy-to-use interface for all their information, reducing distractions but keeping them fully informed in real-time
- Passengers have fewer delays due to more efficient bus management, while on-board displays ensure they know where they need to go
The assumptions prove that while these measurements improve efficiency and passenger safety vastly, they are also beneficial for convenience.
Challenges: Europe vs. USA
The busing situation at large hub US airports is considerably different. As a major difference, the US obviously is not part of the Schengen room – nevertheless they face their own challenges within the passenger bus transportation space. Many US travelers simply don’t wish to take a bus to board the aircraft as they consider it inconvenient and not what they expect as a positive traveler experience. That’s why at many US airports, the standard boarding process is still executed with a boarding bridge. However, this will have to change in the future as the US passenger and flight numbers are dynamically increasing, especially at airports where building additional gates is not an option. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecasts the global passenger demand to double over the next 20 years. For the North American region, an average Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 2.8% is estimated for this period, resulting in a total of 1.3 billion passengers by 2035, which is an additional 536 million passengers per year. Many large hub US airports are strongly affected by this growth already today: The stands and terminal capacities as well as the boarding bridge capacities are mostly utilized. Consequently, many airports are re-considering the addition of, or enhancement of their busing services.
Enhanced Passenger Transportation Service
One enhancement example is the fast-growing Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEATAC). It recently completed a project to improve the busing experience for its passengers, using a fitting combination of hardware, software as well as camera and sensor equipment on its buses. One critical goal was not to compromise the quality of service, safety and security for the passengers during their transfers. At the same time, the airport wanted to maintain momentum in keeping its growing number of flights on schedule. The bus drivers are directed to the correct, non-restricted areas of the airport and passengers are informed about when they can disembark based on the Airport’s security measures. Also, the bus driver’s workload is reduced by computer-controlled announcements in multiple passenger languages, supported by GPS. The opportunity for SEATAC Airport to capture additional revenue streams through the sale of advertisements on the passenger displays, as well as to use the display for their own airport advertising (e.g., to drive passengers into airport stores and restaurants) are further benefits the airport has derived from this comprehensive solution.
This seems to be the future – and delivers an effective way to meet passenger growth, safety and security. These advancements in busing can hopefully also eliminate evacuations due to passengers exiting at the wrong gate.
What’s your experience with airport bus transports? Share your thoughts on how it will develop in Europe vs. US!
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