Dubai international airport; Dubai international airport;

Digital Efficiency, Dubai International, Dubai

Responding in real-time: digital efficiency comes to Dubai International

Dubai International (DXB) is the busiest international airport in the world, handling some 90 million passengers each year. The airport is aiming to increase its capacity to 118 million by 2023, while simultaneously improving service – all without building new facilities.

To achieve this in a smart way, our technology experts worked collaborativelly with DXB on the development of a cost-effective digital technology solution. The resulting work is effectively an information and decision-making toolkit, based on machine-assisted learning, developed by British and American firms and led by Arup.

The technology behind the project enables every step in a passenger’s journey to be monitored. Sensors provide a time-and-date-stamped digital footprint: at check-in, at security – even using the bathroom in the departure lounge. All of this data can be collected and analysed to find ways to streamline operations and improve passenger experience.

Project Summary

6 minute decrease in transfer security queuing times

23%increased throughput on re-screening processes at security

BCIA Award finalist - October 2018

Technology is an enabler. Achieving speed and safety, it will allow us to optimise the infrastructure and grow. Focusing on open data and integration is a vital success factor to us achieving our expansion challenge without building anything ” Michael Ibbitons EVP of Technology and Infrastructure

Improving the passenger experience 

Arup’s Digital Efficiency initiative gathers, analyses and shares data from different systems in real time across the airport infrastructure. Staff in any part of the airport can see what’s happening elsewhere, enabling them to respond to passengers’ needs before problems arise. The initiative has proved a cost-effective way to increase capacity, reduce queuing times and improve passenger satisfaction.

By gathering and learning from this data, DXB can now pinpoint and alleviate bottlenecks. Patterns in the data can be recognised, behaviours anticipated and steps taken to prevent problems and improve service.

The system has helped to cut queuing times: sensors mounted overhead at check-in, security and immigration convert images of people to a series of dots, which are then presented on a mobile app to highlight current waiting times. The digital dashboard is available to over 5,000 staff throughout the airport. Armed with real-time data, operations teams can respond immediately to situations they see unfolding on their screens. People can be reassigned to other areas of the airport to tackle queues before they build – such as when a flight arrives early for example.

The improvements have been dramatic – and fast. At Terminal 3 immigration, queues are now only eight minutes on average, rather than 14 minutes. This transformation took place in just three days.

Avoiding queues with smart solutions

Thanks to this single source of truth – senior leaders from Dubai Airports, airlines, immigration services or another organisation can now work on collaborative solutions.

For example, the team found that experienced immigration officials were doing the relatively simple job of managing the queue for their desks. Providing ‘May I Help You’ airport staff to do this job, instead freed up the immigration officials to open more desks and cut queues.

The latest version of the digital dashboard has a predictive element that uses flight data. By allocating resources before passengers arrive, the airport can ensure that queues never build up, changing passengers’ first impressions and experiences of the airport dramatically.

None of the technology is expensive, or difficult to install. With the right support, any airport could use this small, low-cost, modular technology to improve efficiency. And it can be installed and configured in a matter of weeks with the right foundation.

A cleaner experience

At DXB, sensors and feedback buttons were added to the bathrooms during a routine refit. This enables staff to monitor which washrooms are heavily used and when, and in gathering this information make the cleaning rota more efficient. Bathrooms can now be cleaned based on need and maintaining service levels, rather than simply every two hours. And when users rate a bathroom poorly for cleanliness, cleaners can be alerted straightaway, meaning passengers are less likely to encounter an untidy bathroom.

There are wider benefits too. The data helps the airport’s facilities team to negotiate a performance-based contract with the cleaning company. In addition, usage data can be fed back into the system to refine the design and placement of bathrooms in future renovation work, or to look for ways to influence behaviour – such as encouraging everyone to wash their hands.

Staff can monitor which washrooms are heavily used and when, using this information, can make the cleaning rota more efficient.

A powerful technology 

The greatest return on investment has come from applying the technology to late departures, by enabling the airport to track the reasons for delays and the effects of mitigation measures – in real time.

Cost savings have been made in other areas, too. By gathering, analysing and sharing financial information from electricity meters with its tenants, the airport operator has broken the link between rising passenger numbers and its electricity bills, which were increasing at about 10% a year.

Looking to the future, the technology could soon play a role in the conversion of DXB’s 9,500 airside vehicles to more sustainable options. Indeed it has the potential to enable the operator of any transport hub, hospital, hotel or similar facility to manage complex operations more efficiently than ever before in real time. 

The project at DXB continues to transform the airport’s operations, by using real time data to help save time, money, improve efficiency and importantly the overall passenger experience. This has raised DXB’s service quality scores in the last 18 months, demonstrating how successful the transformation has been.