It’s time to get smart – funding and building the airport infrastructure of the future in a post-COVID world

The needs of passengers, airlines and airports will change irreversibly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and rapid advancements in technology. Some airports are already showing leadership along the path to building smart, more customer-centric and sustainable passenger terminals. From airline requirements and passenger processes, via immigration and security to shopping and food and beverage offers, the airport landscape will be different in the short-term and in some areas forever

Speaking at the May-2021 edition of CAPA Live, Ben Zandi, CEO of Adani Airports Group, highlighted that “comfort, safety and security” have to underpin the airport offer and this has been further exaggerated by the global health pandemic.

“We want to create the perception that our industry is responding to the voice of the audience, our industry is collaborating to make sure that everyone is safe and we are meeting and exceeding their expectations,” he said.

The demands on the world’s airports are all different based on geography, customer demographic, airline partners. From small regional airfields supporting essential connectivity to major global hubs these can vary by season, by day and even by the hour.

In the case of Adani Airports which holds a mandate to modernise and operate six airports – Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Mangaluru, Jaipur, Guwahati and Thiruvananthapuram – that involves creating a terminal plaza “that invites meeters and greeters into our revenue model,” explained Mr Zandi.

On the whole, strategies will be defined by the big-picture airport infrastructure drivers, mainly technological and market (network model) changes. The pandemic has changed airline networks and segmented international markets in new ways, for example by health/vaccine status and this will change the way airport flows will work long into the future.

Airport design is also being transformed by the ongoing digital transformation, another journey that will be accelerated by the pandemic and changing health requirements. Paccaya CEO Andrew Ford said in the CAPA Live session the specialist advisory firm is “working on new technology projects for airports that bring together all the aspects of entertainment, such as sports, film, music, fashion, digital gaming and F&B”. Mr Ford predicted airports will see “huge digital transformation” in the future.

One big shift will be in shopping. As duty free moves online and new domestic retail/e-commerce trends enter, this crucial segment set for a big change, but it will only become a more important aspect of the airport revenue model. Mr Ford said though that airports “have to separate themselves from this phrase of ‘duty free’,” which he described as having “the connotation of lower prices”.

Then there is of course the issue of sustainability – economically and environmentally. Airport finances are under huge pressures and environmental sustainability is now front and centre of all planning considerations. According to Mr Zandi, all of Adani Airports facilities will be operating on renewable, sustainable green energy by summer 2022.

Mr Zandi said the Adani enterprise owns “a transmission business, a gas business, a solar energy business as well as power”, adding “we’re going to take the combination of all of our sources of energy and create a sustainable, renewable micro grid energy source for all of our airports”.

You can find out more about the future airport landscape and the views of Andrew Ford and Ben Zandi in the below video of the CAPA Live session moderated by KPMG, partner & aviation head in India and global sector lead for airports, S Vasudevan.

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