Program and iPhone app helps traveler's find boarding areas, security checkpoints and deals at airport stores while the airport improves design and generates increased revenue

An aviation technology company has developed a system for tracking the Wi-Fi signals of those carrying capable devices through airports as a way of improving airport design.

Airports are busy places, with people hurrying into shops, security lines, boarding areas and luggage areas. Airports Council International reported that 2.5 billion people used airport services in 2009. With so many people coming and going in one area, airports are looking for more efficient ways to direct traffic to where they need to be, and possibly even lead a few into their stores on the way.  

The Wi-Fi tracking program, which was created by the aviation technology company SITA, is currently only tracking those with Wi-Fi devices in the Copenhagen International Airport. It was designed to help airports understand the flow of traffic and needs of those boarding and departing from their flights. 

Stephane Cheikh, the innovation manager at SITA, demonstrated the new program. On Cheikh's laptop, a series of colored dots moved about within the Copenhagen International Airport. The dots represent people within the airport with Wi-Fi detectable devices, and the dots are color coded to differentiate between those who are arriving and departing. The Wi-Fi receivers located within the airport determine a passenger's location with about 10 feet of accuracy, showing movement in real-time. It's important to note though, that the dots do not show any personal information about the people in which they represent. It is just a dot with a color. 

"We do not know who is behind an individual dot other than that it is an inbound or an outbound passenger," said Dave Bakker, senior vice president at SITA.

The dots are observed as they pass through security checkpoints, spend time in stores and restaurants, move through boarding areas, and wait for luggage. Where they go, how they get there and how much time is spent in each area are the main points of observation. This information is vital for improving overall airport design and for figuring out how to generate increased revenue to the airport.

"Concessions are a strong revenue generator," said Pauline Armbrust, president of the Airport Revenue News.  

According to the Airport Revenue News, travelers in North America spend approximately $7.65 before boarding a flight. With a new understanding of the traveler's needs, this figure could increase by $5 to $10. 

To help increase revenue and help travelers find what they're looking for within the Copenhagen International Airport, an associated iPhone application was made to aid them in the search for deals at stores and restaurants as well as find the shortest security lines and their proper boarding areas. With increased revenue from the help of the application, more airports could afford SITA's tracking program. 

So far, data shows that about 20 percent of travelers have a Wi-Fi enabled device. 

While airports could clearly benefit from the app and the tracking program, Daniel Gellert, chief executive of GateGuru, which is an app that allows air travelers to exchange experiences, has looked at how the traveler might benefit (or not benefit) from a new system like this. According to Gellert, the ability to search for shorter lines and the correct boarding area all in one app is "a huge improvement," but could eventually become annoying when marketers for the surrounding stores and restaurants constantly compete for the traveler's business by beeping their smartphones. 

Nevertheless, SITA hopes to implement the system in airports worldwide depending on how it works for Copenhagen. 

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