The future of IoT in airports – Lessons from London City Airport

11 Matthew Hall - cropLondon City Airport is the first airport in the world to test how the Internet of Things – a network of machines communicating with each other online – can transform operations.

In this interview, we ask the airport’s Chief Commercial Officer, Matthew Hall, what lessons can be shared from this pioneering project and what impact it has had on operational efficiency and passenger experience.

BlueSky: London City Airport was awarded £800K of funding to become a trail-blazer Internet of Things demonstrator – what progress have you achieved with this initiative so far?

MH: The TSB funded IOT demonstrator project ran for 12 months from March 2013, during that time we focused on whether IoT technologies could be utilised in 3 very specific areas;

1. Measuring passenger journeys – we installed a sensor/camera network with the ability to monitor the volume and flow pattern of all passengers within the airport terminal, measuring and recording the speed of movement through each individual stage of the passenger journey and the density of passengers within specific areas of the terminal.

MH - 12. Asset tracking – using custom GPS, 3G and Wi-Fi enabled tracking devices to monitor the exact position and movement of airport equipment used to service in and outbound flights i.e. steps, tugs, charging units etc. assisting the operation in getting the right equipment in the right place at the right time to help ensure the fastest possible aircraft turnaround time.

3. Delivering Location based services to passengers – using an ‘app’ designed to enhance, speed and de-stress the passenger journey by providing service notifications specific to the passengers flight and related to their known position in the airport. In addition, giving the ability for passengers to pre-order retail, food & beverage services prior to arrival at the airport for the order to be ready to collect immediately the passenger reaches the chosen outlet, or for ‘at seat’ delivery. Triangulation of Wi-Fi signals within the airport along with low energy Bluetooth beacons were used to pinpoint with reasonable accuracy the location of individual passengers within the terminal.

Following successful completion of the project at the end of March 2014, we chose to continue to develop the IoT solution developed for measuring passenger journeys and roll out across the airport to monitor flows and density within all passenger accessible areas. We also developed a bespoke real time operational dashboard which as well as allowing us to view real time journey performance and respond accordingly builds a databank to better help us plan our future resource and infrastructure to deliver the quickest passenger journey times through the airport.

BlueSky: What have been the biggest lessons to come out of the IoT demonstrator?

MH: The project highlighted the sheer volume of data we currently have within the business which, if linked, could be utilised to drive internal operational efficiencies asMH - 3 well as provide useful services direct to our passengers. Also the complexities of tying together multiple data sources together and the impact of storing and processing Big Data within our IT infrastructure. The project has also been great at highlighting some fantastic new technologies available to address some of the very specific needs we had, such as crowd sensing cameras, low energy beacons, using Wi-Fi for passenger location mapping, we would probably not have explored these without the demonstrator project.

BlueSky: Your CEO Declan Collier announced ambitions to become the ‘fastest airport’ with a walking distance of 20 minutes between entry and departure gate – how do you plan to use IoT to achieve this, especially during busy periods?

MH: Our sensor/camera network reports back the journey times achieved through the airport both for departing and arriving passengers, this is broken down into every individual segments of the journey, for example; checking in, security queue and processing, through the departure lounge, walk to the gate, etc. and the same for inbound passengers.

As well as the historic build of data which helps with our forward planning to be able to predict and accommodate the peaks in passenger numbers, this data is gathered in real time and reported back to the teams via our live operational dashboard which uses a traffic light system to alert when we get close to reaching the time parameters we have set for each part of the journey in order to maintain our ’20 minute’ overall journey time, with this live data we can quickly react to mitigate future issues and for example by opening up additional security lanes.

The system we have developed also has the ability to forward predict the impact on journey times warning of peak passenger flows, utilising sensors at the exit from the DLR train we can forewarn of the impact on check-in and security processing in a few minutes time.

BlueSky: How are you planning to monetise the airport’s investment in the Internet of Things?

MH: The continued success of the airport relies on us being able to deliver and constantly improve on what are our core USP’s; flight punctuality and speed through the departure and arrivals process. We are using IoT technology to enable our operation to better plan and react to the constantly changing flow of passengers to ensure we deliver better, faster passengers journeys and best utilise our limited terminal space. Further development of IoT technologies may enable us to understand better our customers, their needs and habits and provide valuable input to enable us to better serve and reward them and evolve our proposition to drive repeat use, instil loyalty and increase revenue from both passenger flights and from our retail space.

BlueSky: With increased dependence on IoT comes data security and privacy concerns, how are you planning to address these?

MH: At present the data we collect through using IoT technologies is totally anonymous, individuals can not be identified by the camera network and we do not obtain any personal data, all data is contained within our own network with no external links which to an extent limits some of the potential security risks. Should we choose to go toMH - 6 a public launch of say, the passenger ‘app’ this would require the collection of a high degree of personal data which brings with it some new issues though we already operate a secure CRM program, publicly accessible Wi-Fi network and a transactional web site and we would address the data security and privacy issues around the ‘app’ by integrating with the existing secure network, policies and processes we have in place today. As a business we have also invested significantly in recent years to ensure we have the necessary infrastructure and management processes in place to support our data security and privacy policies.

BlueSky: What is your future vision for IoT at London City Airport and what are the key milestones?

MH: The roll out of the sensor/camera network across all passenger accessible areas of the airport has been a huge milestone for us, our focus now is on embedding this technology and working it across the business to realise the MH - 7operational benefits we set out to achieve. The next step is to look at how we can start to link additional data sources both internal and external with the existing network to further benefit passenger journeys. For example linking the Airside Operations Database would add detailed flight status data, and we could integrate travel data from TFL and local road camera networks, end destination weather and transport data and so on, making this accessible to passengers along with the ‘live’ journey time data through the airport which we have today would enable our passengers to better plan their end to end journeys.


Matthew Hall is a speaker at the Connected Aviation Summit taking place on 27th-29th April 2015 at the Chelsea Harbour Hotel in London.

To request an invitation to attend, email: