How Big Data Can Help Improve the U.S. Airport System

big data improving airports system
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Ekaphon maneechot

United States air transportation firms have earmarked $75.7 billion for the implementation of infrastructure upgrades through the year 2019. The Airports Council International North America (ACI-NA) report “Airport Capital Development Needs: 2015-2019” outlines the necessity for the upgrades that air transportation firms have designated funding for so far.

The firms plan to use the funds to expand cargo and passenger volume, renovate existing facilities and invest in research and development. ACI-NA President Kevin Burke affirms that it’s time for American air transportation firms to invest in modernizing their existing infrastructures, citing the growing economy and increasing international competition as mitigating factors.

Air companies plan to implement the projects over the five years leading up to 2019, spending $15.1 billion annually until the proposed upgrades are completed. ACI-NA forecasts that commercial air firms will spend $62.2 billion in total, amounting to 82.1-percent of the infrastructure expenditure, and private air firms will spend $13.6 billion, accounting for the other 17.9-percent of the expense.

According to Burke, the transportation centers are upgrading their facilities in response to growing passenger and cargo demands, as well as relatively new government mandates. Burke also states that the improvements will benefit the transportation industry as a whole.

Plans Are in the Making

American Airlines welcomes the planned improvements and has signed off on an $8.5 billion investment plan. The firm has been in conflict for months with the management at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport over the current infrastructure that firm representatives believe provides an unfair advantage for its competitors.

American Airlines and other carrier representatives view the plans at O’Hare as the foundation for funding improvements at air transportation hubs across the nation. The ACI-NA states that together air transportation firms and government agencies plan on spending $100 billion through 2019 on upgrade initiatives and that many major air transportation centers are part of the plan.

Taking Air Transportation to a New High

The National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) reports that airport delays are the result of excessive passenger traffic. The planned upgrades come at a critical time when air transportation firms need to simultaneously meet rising passenger demand and comply with new government mandates, while providing service to more than 50-percent of all international travelers.

The Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) program is a Terminal Flight Data Manager (TFDM) that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is implementing to improve the terminal navigation experience for passengers and aid air traffic control. The innovation enhances information exchange, provides real time data for personnel and helps air transportation firms handle heavy passenger demand.

Big Data Emerges as Part of the Solution

In the last half decade, United States firms have generated more than 90-percent of all data ever created. However, enterprises use less than one-percent of this information to develop meaningful insights. Air transportation firms are sitting on massive amounts of data that they can use to improve operations. In addition to resolving issues such as terminal congestion, the firms can potentially develop real-time solutions for unforeseen problems as they arise.

In the future, big data engineers may develop technologies that personalize service for passengers from the terminal ingress to flight gate. This kind of innovation has real potential for coming to fruition in a competitive marketplace. As passengers traverse through the terminal, there are many touch points that air carriers and terminal operators can exploit to improve the consumer experience. By combining the power of artificial intelligence with the Internet of Things, the enterprises can develop a passenger experience that exceeds expectations.

Air transportation leaders meet at events such as the FT Business of Aerospace & Aviation Summit in London to discuss the future of the industry. During the 2017 summit, there was overwhelming harmony regarding the fact that big data technology will bring about massive growth and improvement in the air transportation industry.

Big data systems make it possible to connect with internal and external information sources to develop meaningful and actionable insights that lead to improvement, and some transportation firms are already making use of the technology.

By using big data technology to learn about and optimize business processes such as logistics management and ground crew management, air transportation firms can improve enterprise performance. There are also opportunities for operational improvements, for example, in the form of autonomous vehicle technology used for tasks such as baggage handling and security purposes. With big data technology and artificial intelligence, air transportation firms can transform the future of the flight industry.


Airports Council International – North America


New Jersey Institute of Technology

PwC Strategy

Villanova University


Ryan Ayers has consulted a number of Fortune 500 companies within multiple industries including information technology and big data. After earning his MBA in 2010, Ayers also began working with start-up companies and aspiring entrepreneurs, with a keen focus on data collection and analysis.