Inter Airport Europe is the world’s leading airport exhibition, renowned for covering the most comprehensive range of products and services for the airports and aviation sector. It provides an exceptional opportunity for manufacturers and suppliers of airport equipment, technology, design and services to meet with specialists from around the globe. This year the main trends were digitalisation and interconnectedness. This years Inter Airport Europe included apps for passengers, facial recognition and self-boarding in the terminal and technology for predicting queue times to dynamically resource staffing.

As an Executive Search firm working alongside the sector, Inter Airport Europe is one of the events we look forward to for important insights into the world of aviation. This year was no different, and one overall trend stood out to us above the others: significant investment into airports to improve capacity. Of course, as airports grow so must their suppliers and thus the businesses attending the expo were all looking at investing in their own organisations, in order to maximise these opportunities.

Passenger numbers can grow; airports can’t

Passenger numbers are increasing, despite environmental and sustainability concerns, as air travel becomes more and more accessible. In fact, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts that the number of passengers transported by airlines will reach 8.2 billion in 2037 – representing a 3.5 per cent compound annual growth rate (CAGR).

This presents a challenge for airlines and airports to support a larger volume of passenger traffic, made even more difficult by the fact that many airports cannot expand in physical size. Furthermore, very few new airports are being built, so airlines and airports must work together to make the existing infrastructure fit for current and future purpose.

In order to meet these needs, most businesses are turning towards technological or digital solutions to improve efficiency and capability. The ultimate aim is to get as many customers through security and airport processes as efficiently possible so that (a) airlines can serve more passengers, (b) reduce delays and the time planes spend on the tarmac and (c) flyers can spend more time – and therefore, cash – in airport lounges, concessions and duty-free shops.

Technical resolutions at Inter Airport Europe

There are many steps in the passenger’s journey through the airport which could be made more efficient through the use of appropriate technology. Some live examples have already been trialled in airports globally, and were on show again this year, with other organisations eager to find out more about available tech solutions.

Across the globe we’re seeing the increasing demand for more efficient management of in-terminal activities. This is leading to a significant rise in installation of automation; in the form of airport kiosks and AI customer service. This market place is predicted to reach $5.2 billion by the end of 2029, up from an estimated $1.5 billion in 2019.

Facial recognition is also a big trend to watch, with this technology already being used by some airports around the world. In 2020, Dubai will become the first airport – and Emirates the first airline – to allow passengers to travel using just this facial recognition software (see video below). Passengers will no longer need a passport or boarding pass to journey through the airport; instead all checks will be made based on their faces. Other biometric monitoring, such as fingerprint scanning, has been tested but facial recognition tends to be more popular with government agencies, as they are much more likely to already have an individual’s photograph.

This is of particular importance in the US, where much investment into airport technology is being promoted by the government. There are countless opportunities in the US market as a result, and businesses are eager to expand their operations to meet this new demand. As the US government is so keen to encourage investment, organisations who can best align with these needs will be most likely to secure new business. This also brings back the importance of adhering to environmental policy – the more sustainable a solution, the more likely it is to win government backing.

Of course, passenger efficiency is just one part of the puzzle. British Airways are focusing on moving something else through airports as quickly as possible: luggage. The airline has recently introduced reusable RFID luggage tags which not only make it easier for passengers to check bags but also make lost luggage much less likely. Similar tags have been used by Delta since 2016, and the International Air Travel Association (IATA) voted to deploy RFID globally by 2020.

A talent solution

Much of the innovation needed to increase efficiency within airports requires outside influence and there are several steps organisations are taking to ensure they have the essential skills needed to future proof air travel. The first is to look to other sectors for talented hires who can add immediate value to the business.

Others are seeking to collaborate – both with partners external of and internal to the industry. The UK government is working with the Aerospace Growth Partnership Skills Working Group and the Aviation Industry Skills Board to ensure that the talent pipeline is continually stocked with new skills. Globally, a proposal has been made for an Industry Partnership Opportunity Pipeline (iPOP), with businesses cooperating to make sure that the talent pool is wide enough.

Whether it is through collaboration with other key players in the industry or widening the talent pool to include candidates from outside of the industry, the aviation sector will need to think seriously about the tech and talent required for innovation. While businesses are right to focus on the tech needed to develop airport efficiency and sustainability, talent will be a vital driver for growth. Organisations must consider how to source essential skills and find the value-add hires that will support long-term digital and technological innovation.


Carmichael Fisher specialise in hiring in both the aviation sector and the tech sector in the US, Europe and around the world. We understand the unique challenges facing the industry and know exactly how these can be overcome. Our expert Aerospace, Defence and Aviation team can help you widen your talent pool, to find people who will add value to your business, now and as the Fourth Industrial Revolution gathers pace. 

By Mar Llados, Consultant

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Mar Llados