Airports are no longer sterile, transactional places for waiting and passing through.
In many respects, the modern airport experience for passengers and other users is morphing into something akin to being in a city, with a diversity of places and spaces both in and around the terminal for gathering, entertainment and accessing customised personal information.
The smart airport of the future will be the centrepiece of an interconnected city region with associated smart infrastructure and smart mobility. It will be a dense, compact, mixed-use gateway that is well integrated with regional transportation.
Importantly, it will be a catalyst for aviation-related economic development, high-value employment and regional competitiveness in its hinterland.
With all these developments, can Western Sydney Airport (WSA) meet the expectations and become the centrepiece of a world-class smart airport region?
To achieve this, the planning, design and development of WSA must consider what the user and citizen of 2026 will need, expect and demand.
What will it be like to work, live, and travel there, and what steps can and should be taken now to secure it?
How will the future smart airport drive and support technology-based economic development within a surrounding smart city region?
The risk of not doing it right is that we create a bland, uncompetitive airport that quickly becomes outdated, disconnected and passenger unfriendly.
We don’t have to look far to see how the user experience bar is continually being raised.
Renowned as one of the best airports in the world, Singapore’s Changi Airport is an inspiring example of an airport that has embraced not just the traditional shop and dine offerings for passengers, but also an array of interactive entertainment and immersive activities such as movie theatres, a butterfly garden and the interactive "social tree".
Looking slightly further afield we come across Hong Kong Airport and its "in-city check-in" that forms part of Hong Kong’s MTR subway system.
Travellers can check their luggage in the city and receive their boarding pass then and there, proceeding to the airport bag-free or spend the day in the city.
Similarly, baggage reclaims outside the airport boundary, for example at railway stations or with direct services to hotels, are expected to increase.
For the future smart airport, luggage handling completely separated from the passenger is one way to make the entire process more convenient and efficient for the end -user.
As a gateway, the terminal at WSA will be the shop front— the focal point in selling the local product and providing an authentic passenger experience.
To be globally competitive, we must sell Australia, Sydney, and most importantly the WSA region as a smart, connected and digitally-enhanced place to live, work and play.
Given that Western Sydney’s population is forecast to grow more than 50 per cent to over 3 million people by the early 2030s, the planning task needs to be more than a "set and forget Airport Plan".
It should, by necessity, be iterative and integrated with the surrounding region. Done right, Western Sydney Airport will not only address our burgeoning aviation demand but also facilitate wider or regional economic benefits for future generations to come.
WSA has a unique opportunity to set the benchmark for smart airport regions around the world but it will take some innovative planning, smart technology and a focus on the citizen to make it a reality.
You can read more by downloading Arcadis’ latest report, Western Sydney Airport: creating a smart, citizen-centric airport.
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