Can AI help address airport staff shortages as travel rebounds?
Siobhan Boyle, Marketing Manager at Veovo
After two years of lockdowns and border restrictions, the recent uptick/surge in holiday bookings over Easter and Spring break led to extraordinary crowds at airports. In fact, the airport industry body ACI recently reported that for many airports, peak traffic is already at, or higher than, pre-pandemic levels.
Unfortunately, the rehiring of airport staff hasn’t kept up with traffic growth, primarily due to training needs and lengthy security clearance requirements. As a result, personnel shortages are all too evident – from the handful of officers struggling to control the long snaking lines at security to the far-too-few baggage handlers.
And with a busy summer forecasted, the situation is unlikely to improve very quickly. A recent ACI Europe survey predicted that 66% of airports expect significant delays, and many anticipate a growing number of flight cancellations and schedule changes.
While technology can’t replace humans for many of the key processing bottlenecks or solve the staff crunch, it can help improve human performance – and ease some of the pressure felt by staff.
The key is to put the limited resources airports have to where and when they are needed most by using data and AI to accurately forecast passenger show-ups and behaviour by flight.
Here’s how airports can apply machine learning to help reduce the impact of the staffing crunch:
1. Shorten operational planning windows
With limited staff and continued schedule volatility, there is no point in creating seasonal-based plans and expecting them to be relevant. Instead, tap into up-to-date data and shorten your operational planning windows to 1 to 2 months or even weeks. The closer the planning is to your shift rostering process, the more robust it will be, with fewer buffers and changes needed on the day of operations.
2. Predict passenger show-ups per flight.
Using AI to predict when passengers will arrive and their processing needs makes it easier to automate the adjustment of plans to handle schedule changes and keep you within regulatory KPIs. Build robust show-up predictions at each checkpoint by looking at the number of passengers per flight and schedules. You can also apply external data, such as roadworks and local events that may impact planning, particularly around regional and public holidays.
3. Use live data to predict wait times and lane throughput.
Sensor data from queues provides accurate insight into live wait and processing times, which can feed a revised forecast for the hours ahead. The airport’s AODB also has a wealth of relevant information that can help refine the forecast. Lane productivity data and comparing actual to forecast throughput is important here to help understand the reason for any differences. This also drives more accurate future forecasts. For example, one airport found that in April, 30% of bags had to be rescreened for aerosols and laptops because rusty travellers forgot to remove them, against a historical rescreen figure of 10%.
5. Keep refining the plan to match demand.
A capacity planning tool fed with a live re-forecast will recommend the best options for the current situation given the staffing constraints, such as shifting staff between zones or terminals before queues build, changing breaks or adjusting lane openings. Even small changes to shifts and staff allocations can significantly impact processing speed and efficiency, reducing the length of queues.
6. Optimise the set-up you have.
Understanding how passengers move and arrive at checkpoints before they enter queues can help optimise maze layout, minimise crowding and boost productivity. Lane balancing is proving a valuable tool in staff-strapped airports to automatically direct passengers to processing lanes. It considers the wait and throughput of each lane to ensure consistent queue times for all passengers.
Intelligent forecasting is the key to airport agility
Ultimately, airports must become more agile and make proactive decisions based on accurate passenger information from multiple data inputs. This requires a single source of real-time truth across the airport – and continuously-revised passenger forecasts – so that the right information is getting to the right people at the right time.
Moving to a data-driven planning approach is not onerous or lengthy. Airports, like Gatwick, were able to quickly integrate their existing sensors into Veovo’s data aggregation and analytics platform, giving them the real time insight needed to improve productivity and decision making. Other airports have stood up passenger forecasting tools within weeks – allowing them to plan lane opening and staff rosters far more effectively.
There is no doubt that the recovery will be impacted by the staff shortages. And that the months ahead will be difficult for airports that are operating at capacity. But with AI and the right tech, operators can take steps now to improve efficiency by allocating staff to the right place at the right time – creating happier airport memories for passengers eager to get back the travel they’ve missed out on for so long.
Veovo helps airports globally adapt to new processes and changing travel patterns, unlock efficient ways of working and provide safer journeys. Please get in touch to arrange a call with one of our experts to explore how we can help your business.
“The sharing of real-time operation information across all A-CDM partners has created efficiencies throughout our business, leading to more effective and smart decision making.”
“Veovo gives us real-time insights into our operations and resources, allowing us to reduce delays and lower service costs”.
“Veovo gives us instant clarity of what’s happening, and when, across the airport. It allows us to make fast, proactive decisions, particularly around events like changes in flight schedules.”
“Veovo is providing us with real-time decision-making on where our resources are needed. We are most excited about the ability the system gives our teams to respond much quicker to unplanned events.”
“Veovo is facilitating a truly collaborative culture within the wider airport community. It is great to see the benefit of real-time information.”
“Veovo not only allows us to work smarter, but it also gives us a platform, on which we can easily build innovative new services, and connect to emerging technologies”