How to keep airports safe after COVID-19 while reducing OPEX

So much can change in such a short space of time. For the busy airport hub, the global pandemic has transformed this usual bustling hive of activity into a weirdly empty space. And COVID-19 is certain to continue to herald significant changes to terminal operations in its aftermath.

By Moritz Bender

The impact of COVID-19 on operational planning will be so far reaching that airports need to start adapting now to a world of higher constraints, prevailing uncertainty and a new number one priority of airport safety. Let’s explore how airport operators can keep airports safe while achieving the same or better OPEX performance.

The demands of the “new normal”

Firstly, what will the “new normal” look like for airports after COVID? For the pre-pandemic airport, operations were based on assumptions of passenger behaviour, stable schedules, costs and growth alignments and optimised capacity. In COVID’s aftermath, however, the key descriptor for the “new normal” will be volatility, with airport operations running on lower OPEX and CAPEX costs, fewer resources and increased demands for airport health.

Post the pandemic, the key drivers for airport operations will be:

  • Operations – balancing limited resources with predicted demand
  • Optimisation with reduced capacity – potentially more flights and passengers, with the same assets and less resources
  • Revenue recovery, versus former revenue maximisation, or reduced costs
  • Touchless-centred journeys, versus previous passenger-centred journeys
  • Safety and wellbeing first – where distancing and hygiene will be supported by occupancy management and automation

Source: Deloitte via International Airport Review

As the ground shifts so significantly, the question will be how airports after COVID can turn this volatility into predictability. Success will, in part, come down to the airport’s ability to predict and measure passenger movement and densities. Automation, predictive forecasting and monitoring through real-time data will hold the answers to managing airport safety.

Fortunately, there’s no need to wait for new technology to be invented to help people maintain healthy distances in terminals, while reducing OPEX costs. It’s already here – just take a baggage handling system, for example, with its self bag drop, multi-purpose baggage storage, dynamic reclaim track allocation, reclaim on demand and data analytics.

A check-in process that promotes social distancing

A self bag drop system, such as the CrisBag® self bag drop, can simplify and streamline the check-in process, making it safer for passengers and for airport staff alike. Intuitive and fully automated bag drop solutions, such as these, let passengers load their bags directly into individual totes at check-in, improving passenger flow but involving less person contact. Check-in staff can move away from providing routine one-to-one check-in and passengers can quickly move on to less crowded airport spaces.

The self bag drop solution also eliminates the need for conventional belt conveyor equipment and their related bag jams, which means minimal maintenance and the resolution of errors can be carried out by a single staff member. It provides higher check-in efficiency while reducing operating costs.

Multi purpose baggage storage to avoid the crowds

A multi-purpose baggage storage, such as the CrisStore® early baggage storage (EBS) system, can further promote a socially distanced check-in. With EBS systems, passengers can check in early, have their baggage stored until needed and avoid the densities involved in the limited time they have to check-in.

But the potential of EBS goes beyond just early baggage storage. The practice of ‘batch building’ – where stored bags are built and released in batches – results in less operators walking back and forth by handling all bags for one departure at one time. Speed loading in batches is able to reduce OPEX costs by optimising the loading of bags, while being safer for airport staff.

Airport safety through arrival planning

The dynamic and “as late as possible” allocation of reclaim tracks for arriving baggage can also minimise the waiting time for arriving passengers, enabling less crowding at each reclaim track. Accurate and predictable baggage delivery is achievable through an automatic arrival allocation function which is based on decision science – the rules and templates that airport operations configure to allow for “real-time, yet as late as possible” allocation of reclaim tracks – using information such as flight number, airline, day of the week and resources.

By having this complete overview, the distribution of bags between small and large carousels and the use of the carousels generally is better optimised, with passengers experiencing less crowds at each reclaim track.

Reclaim on demand takes safety on arrival even further

The introduction of reclaim on demand systems will transform the arrival part of the baggage handling process even more, offering safety benefits to passengers, airport personnel and baggage handlers. This automated system lets passengers know through an in-app message they will receive on their mobile phones when and at which self-opening kiosk their bag can be collected. The social distancing of the reclaim on demand can be facilitated by the individual tote-based CrisBag® system, by allowing passengers to follow their luggage throughout the travel journey and avoid crowd congestion in one reclaim location.

The role of dynamic forecasting in enhancing safety in airports after COVID

Over and above, the surest way for airports to make truly safe and accurate planning decisions is through real, up-to-the-minute data. In this “new normal” of many new variables, airports after COVID can no longer rely on experience and historical data to get a sense of passenger behaviour. And this is where dynamic forecasting comes into play.

Dynamic forecasting uses software that takes live scheduling data to create accurate passenger show-up forecasts for each processing point. From here, forecast and capacity plans can be continually updated to account for live situations, such as adjusting resource planning and predicted maintenance requirements. Keflavik Airport in Iceland, for example, has successfully used live forecasting to cope with constantly changing flight schedules.

Equally, this data-driven approach can be applied to baggage handling systems. Machine learning technologies in particular have great potential for airport OPEX savings by providing greater visibility into the operations.


There are a number of ways in which airports can prepare for the post-pandemic world, especially in their baggage flow. Through the use of existing technologies in their baggage handling systems, airports can provide both the safe airport environments that passengers will demand before walking into a terminal and realise the cost savings in OPEX they will need to recover revenue.



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