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Dubai Airport turns to real-time data in drive to be world's "biggest and best" airport

Scott Carey | Oct. 2, 2017
The world's busiest international airport is turning to sensors and real time data analytics to manage queuing times through security, baggage wait times and even toilet usage.

The first task is getting all of the data from the building management systems across the hundred buildings the airport operates. Splunk has given the airport a vehicle to consolidate that data and drive real-time information on energy to decision makers within the organisation so that they can start to consume energy more efficiently.

One project Ibbitson knows well is driving down waiting times at security. By ingesting data from ceiling sensors and 3D cameras, the airport can now see queue times in real time and start to blend historic data to make passenger volume predictions.

By giving this data to operations staff and allowing them to push notifications around spikes in passenger flows via its staff app, the airport can start to make the process more efficient and bring those queue times down.

Security staff at Dubai are not employed by the airport, they are police - so the airport decided not to provide analytics access to non-employees and instead gave dashboards to senior staff. This differed from the Gatwick approach where all security staff had access to passenger numbers via overhead monitors.

The airport has already seen wait times in transfer security halve since implementing Splunk and the new processes around it, down from averaging eight minutes to four.


Improving baggage handling

Now Ibbitson is really focusing on using data to build on the airport's baggage handling capacity, including by discovering and improving bottlenecks.

"We tied the operating system together and used Splunk to prove the changes we were making," he explained.

The airport now collects 200 data points per bag as each one travels the 15 kilometres of conveyor belts across the baggage system.

This gives staff the opportunity to spot issues that they didn't know existed before. For example, one section of the system was reporting timestamps for the year 2047, so the baggage system thought those bags had been in the system for a long time and started prioritising them unnecessarily.

According to Ibbitson, where the baggage system used to struggle with 10,000 bags an hour, the airport can now handle up to 13,000 an hour without any issues.

Further ahead, Ibbitson wants to start applying machine learning to this baggage data to predict where a bag is in the system 12-24 hours in advance, with the eventual aim being the capability to send an SMS to customers to say when and where their bag will land on the carousel.


Building the best airport wi-fi

After conducting some market research Dubai Airport identified that wi-fi was the number one concern of customers when it came to their overall satisfaction. "We wanted to have the best free airport wi-fi," Ibbitson said.


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