"Airports in the GCC are running at 92% of their capacity, which is huge. In Saudi Arabia, they are running at 130%, so there is an imminent demand to accommodate this number of passengers," he said.
As part of their effort to address this issue, governments throughout the region are spending billions of dollars to build new terminals and expand existing airports. But work on these projects will take years, so technology is being seen as a way to provide a much faster solution to boosting efficiency. "All airports in the region are looking at this," he said.
Areas of focus
The three main areas of technology that Gulf airports are focussing on are mobility, self-service, and collaborative decision making, says Boueri. Self-service initiatives were launched several years ago with the aim of allowing passengers to go through the airport without any need for personal assistance. These include kiosks at self-check-in on kiosks, self-baggage tagging and drop-off, and e-gate. Abu Dhabi International Airport is even doing a trial for self-boarding at the gate.
Mobility refers to systems that give passengers the ability to use their mobile devices for everything from check-in to boarding to tracking their bags. "This is starting with airlines first, because it's more airline related. There are not a lot of airlines doing it in the region right now but it will come quick," he noted.
In the future, Gulf airports also will be using smartphone tracking technologies to monitor passenger flow with the aim of allocating resources in a pre-emptive way to avoid congestion and reduce queues.
Another area of focus is technology that facilitates collaborative decision making. These tools, which Boueri says are being requested in 'every tender for all airports being built or extended in the region', provide a framework to ensure real-time dynamic collaboration and decision-making support across all stakeholders at an airport.
"This means that from one control room you can locate and distribute resources and people across the airport so you can facilitate the movement of people to process more flights and more passengers," he said.
One of the main challenges in implementing these new initiatives is that not all stakeholders are bound to abide by them. "There are many entities in the airport and it does not control all of them. For example, the airport cannot control or impose technology used by security people in the region. It is something that needs to be agreed at the government level," he noted.
However, while airports cannot choose the type of technology that security staff will use to screen passengers, they can implement real-time queue management applications which can flag bottlenecks early on and allow resources to be deployed quickly to avoid excessive delays in security screening areas.