The demand for air travel to Southeast Asia (SEA) has been on the rise with the thriving tourism industry of the region. The associated growth and pressure on airport infrastructure in SEA countries has been high and necessitates the uptake of smarter and sustainable solutions for its development. Many of the airports in the region have started adopting technologically advanced measures that would improve their safety and security systems, and enhance passenger experience and connectivity. Airport authorities in the region along with the governments are also planning to build a carbon-neutral footprint of airports through green initiatives. A look at the key developments at some of the existing and upcoming airports in the region…

Changi Airport, Singapore

There are some clear commitments made at Changi Airport towards smart and sustainable infrastructural developments and operations. These commitments laid the path for initiatives that curb carbon emissions and leverage technology in various aspects. Some of the plans at the airport include ensuring zero carbon growth until 2030 by capping absolute carbon emissions at the 2018 levels, reduction in overall water consumption by 5 per cent, and diversion of 11 per cent of waste from incineration at the airport. The Changi Airport Group (CAG) also plans to reduce the air-conditioning power load of the airport with the installation of solar panels near the runways.

Various digital interventions have been implemented at the airport. Sensors linked to a real-time data dashboard have been installed at the expanded drainage network of the airport by CAG. These will help in better flood risk management by creating alerts on overflow. Moreover, there are plans to deploy autonomous robots to help security personnel patrol the airport with on-ground surveillance. These robots are fitted with multiple cameras that give a 360-degree vision field, and sensors and sirens that alarm the staff about any suspicious activities.

Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur International Airport is one among other airports in Malaysia that is pioneering advanced technological developments while creating a carbon-neutral future. There are a few key steps that have been taken at the airport to ensure sustainable development including an extensive waste and water recycling programme and the use of solar energy to power some of its facilities. In May 2023, the Malaysian Aviation Group (MAG) also signed an offtake agreement with Petronas Dagangan to develop sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) on a commercial scale in Malaysia. As part of the agreement, Petronas Dagangan will be expected to make the first delivery of SAF at the airport by 2027. It will be supplying more than 230,000 tonnes of SAF to three airlines of MAG that are operational from the airport, namely, Malaysia Airlines, Firefly and MASwings.

Similarly, robust measures are being taken at the airport to enhance passenger movement and security systems. Strict safety and security protocols have been made possible by a 24-hour security surveillance system as well as comprehensive security checks for all passengers. In December 2022, Siemens Logistics and a local Malaysian company, T7 Global, were given a contract to modernise the baggage handling system (BHS) at the airport’s terminal 1. The design, installation and commissioning of the new BHS will be ensured through this development with the integration of components like VarioTray and VarioBelt technology, VarioStore early bag store and high-performance controlling software. Of these, VarioTray is a conveying technology that improves baggage throughput. It is a tray-based system with a high-speed conveyor section that allows bags to be transferred more quickly and securely between the two zones. 

Suvarnabhumi Airport, Thailand

Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok is connected to more than 120 destinations worldwide with over 100 airlines. Being one of the busiest airports in SEA, this international airport is faced with a rise in incoming passengers. Some technological interventions are underway to maintain a smooth passenger experience along with fast check-in and baggage handling procedures. This includes the planning being done by the Airport of Thailand (AoT) to tackle delays in passenger servicing time by improving the flow of services, especially during peak hours. To this end,  AoT has planned to install auto passport checkpoint channels to accommodate outbound passengers using e-passports. This will lower congestion at the passport checking areas of the airport.

In another development, AoT had selected Thai Airways to test a biometric check-in service at the airport as a pilot solution for an easier check-in process. The trial was conducted on flight TG409, which is a daily service between Bangkok and Changi Airport, in April 2023. As a part of this solution, the biometric data of passengers will be connected to a passenger validation system that will help check passenger details. This service is designed to create a smooth and seamless travel experience by reducing passenger waiting time at check-in points and boarding gates.

Long Thanh International Airport, Vietnam

The airport infrastructure in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam has been facing overloading for a long time due to the rapid growth in air traffic. The Tan Son Nhat International Airport is the only international airport and it is unable to meet the demand for air travel despite being expanded and serving at its maximum capacity. To ease the pressure on the airport, it is planned to develop the Long Thanh International Airport as a sustainable and smart airport that will serve the long-term future needs of efficient air travel.

The airport will reportedly be equipped with Technology 4.0 which provides the most advanced and modern solutions for quality services and safety standards. Some of the proposed technologies that will be included in the management and operations of the airport are the application of the internet of things (IoT) for the identification of passenger movement, the use of artificial intelligence for processes related to immigration and wireless technology infrastructure platforms. 

Bulacan Airport, Philippines

Due to the increased air traffic congestion at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, the main international airport of the Philippines, advanced planning of a new airport in Bulacan has been undertaken. The master plan for the airport envisages the incorporation of sustainable and environment-friendly features in the airport architecture. It includes preserving the natural environment by creating open spaces, parks, wider pedestrian areas, and dedicated bicycle paths in the master plan. Additionally, a 200 MW solar farm would also be constructed to meet the power requirements at the airport.

Future possibilities

While the transition towards developing green and smart airports has started taking place in many SEA countries, there is a large scope for future advancements. The use of novel technologies like remote sensing, behavioural analytics, gamification, and the use of mobile applications will push the limits of passenger facilitation and enhanced security systems. Similarly, sustainable aviation could be further promoted with increased public-private partnership, concerted and coordinated efforts of the stakeholders, collaboration across sectors, and awareness generation and climate consciousness amongst the masses and the large section of corporates that prefer air travel in the region.