Airport Asset Monetization: Are we there yet?

Article by Evan Biller, Director of Business Development at CrowdVision

Airports need to better understand the value of their data and the importance that having a global mindset has when considering the impact private players have on enhancing the traveler experience and improving operations.

That quote is mine…from exactly two years ago to date as I sit in my (home) office writing and dreaming of travel. I was a wide-eyed entrepreneur in my late twenties, excited to bring transformative change and innovation to the aviation industry. I’m still wide-eyed, but with just much less hair.

After Plot, the first technology startup I helped build, and LA-based iinside joined forces, I continued eagerly down the path of airport asset (data) monetization. Leveraging our Travel Data Services API developer portal, we had quite a bit of success — working with international mobile application companies like Tripit, and a major North American airline renowned for innovation to integrate our wait time data. 

The concept of data monetization is not as novel as it was five years ago; however, the aviation industry has yet to adopt it wholeheartedly. This is particularly curious when you consider the most recent set of challenges airports and aviation organizations are facing after being hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Airports find themselves between a rock and a hard place; eager to introduce innovative solutions that promote a more fluid and contactless passenger experience, while simultaneously managing budget constraints. As we think critically about driving technological advancements during these unprecedented times, Jack Applebaum (Manager, Deloitte Consulting) hit the nail on the head, explaining: 

“Airports and other aviation stakeholders can overcome current financial constraints by leveraging value-based partnerships to effectively connect solutions, operating environments, and financing to rapidly advance technology innovation and deliver long-term value for the industry…The leaders and organizations that find creative ways to create new value will emerge at the front of the pack, and become the airport and aviation leaders of the future.”

Asset monetization is just one of four partnership models described by Jack in his superb Passenger Terminal Today article, “Accelerating technology innovation at airports in the face of budget constraints.” However, even non-profit organizations like Airports Council International (ACI), who have worked tirelessly for over a decade to convince organizations to contribute to their ACRIS portal to facilitate standardized data exchange and processing, still seem to be fighting an uphill battle. This begs the questions “Why aren’t we further along in this initiative?” and “What obstacles remain to warm airports up to the idea of generating new revenue from the data we generate for them?.”

The Chicken or the Egg: Airport Data

From the moment data monetization was first conceptualized, the question of “ownership” was a contentious issue. Frustrations would grow as both sides spiraled down the rabbit hole of who owns what and why: airports would argue that by virtue of having procured a solution, they should own all of its bi-products, while our position was that the data’s value potential was not fully realized without the right partner to develop, maintain, and grow the commercial relationships behind it.

Airports are understandably protective of their data, especially to ensure that sensitive information doesn’t get into the hands of bad actors. However, it’s crucial for them to think of co-ownership for reasons I’ll touch on later. Most importantly, it gives a company like CrowdVision the security and financial incentive to freely explore new opportunities on their behalf.

Speaking from personal experience and hundreds of conversations with airport executives, data is only “nice-to-have” without also developing the tools and solutions that support the backbone of the airport’s operation, and the products that generate commercial interest and, therefore, Return on Investment (ROI). Our airport clients understand this position and have treated CrowdVision as a valued partner, as a result.

GDPR and PII (not the apple kind)

In 2016, the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) passed European Parliament putting forth some of the most stringent data protection and privacy measures in the 21st century. 

The primary goal of GDPR was to give individuals control over their personal data, and it imposed its regulations on organizations anywhere that targeted or collected data related to people in the EU. It wasn’t surprising, then, when airports started to get cold feet whenever the subject of data monetization was brokered. In hindsight it may have been a tad tone deaf, like an airline promoting cheap vacation flights in March 2020 with the slogan “Breath deep and fly far.”

In all seriousness, there is a big difference between the capture and commercial use of general crowd analytics data versus passenger PII (personal identifiable information) data. Most notably, PII is defined as any data or information that can be used to identify a specific individual (think of a cell phone’s MAC address or facial recognition). 

CrowdVision’s solutions primarily leverage LiDAR sensors and IP Cameras. Whereas our cameras are placed overhead and do not capture faces, LiDAR is a time-of-flight technology that does not capture any type of visual information that could be correlated to someone’s identity. This makes both solutions GDPR compliant. The data we do capture is sent to a detection database where our analytics engine spits out metrics that are accessed through our API developer portal, allowing airports and third parties to facilitate improved operations, and more seamless and interactive passenger experiences. This is accomplished with the utmost adherence to GDPR regulations and privacy concerns, reinforcing the confidence and trust airports put into CrowdVision as a responsible distributor of motion analytics data.

Airports…no walk in the park

For the average passenger, they may think operating an airport is “easy”. Afterall, how hard can it be to move tens of thousands of people from Point A to Point B day after day? Many are quick to place the blame when their travels go awry and a flight or connection is lost. The truth is that airports are busy (and complicated) environments, and they can’t take their eye off the ball for one second.

It’s understandable, then, that airports can be hesitant to take on something as novel and, admittedly, complicated as asset monetization. Some airports may not have the resources (human or financial) to dedicate to creating an entirely new department, while smaller airport operators might just not see the value in it for them. 

Resource scarcity is a legitimate argument against data monetization. Airports, however, shouldn’t be entirely self-reliant when putting the puzzle pieces of monetization together. They shouldn’t be responsible for creating the product library that attracts the interest of private companies connected to their ecosystem, but rather consider the benefits of partnering with an industry expert with the knowledge, know-how, and commercial relationships to responsibly license data.

To take it one step further, without the appropriate partnership here is a brief list of what it would take for an airport to successfully monetize their data:

  • Comprehensive sensor technology expertise
  • AI and machine learning capabilities
  • Custom tools and solutions
  • Advanced API developer portal and technical support
  • Commercial sales and customer support teams
  • Human and financial resources to negotiate and maintain commercial relationships

The perceived value of the data can also discourage airports from monetizing their assets. How much is the data actually worth and what is the cost-benefit analysis before dedicating resources to it? For a single airport, they may understandably be acting within their own self interests. However, having a strictly localized mindset as it relates to data use is limiting and misguided, especially when considering the interconnectedness of airports globally and the private companies attached to the ecosystem. 

Data commercialization bridges the gap between airports and the global traveling public. National, and international, distribution requires partnering with a private company that’s motivated to develop and maintain a portfolio of customers for responsible data licensing on a global scale.

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a double-edged sword. Circling back to my friend Jack (the article is excellent!), even at a time when airports and aviation organizations globally face budget shortfalls and financial constraints, they have accelerated their “focus on technology solutions that can facilitate improved passenger flow, reduce physical contact in the airport, and enhance social distancing.”

These seemingly contradictory forces (the need to invest and innovate at a time when resources are scarce), as well as the four partnership models described in Jack’s article, should be highly compelling motivators for airports to rethink the ways that they can leverage their assets to create new non-aeronautical revenue channels and, therefore, capital injections into their airport. 

CrowdVision packages and licenses our crowd movement analytics data (e.g. wait times and SafeDistance) for airlines, hotels, travel sites, mobile apps, rideshare companies and more. You won’t see Apple going door to door buying piecemeal data from every airport, emphasizing the need for a central data repository — a one stop shop, if you will. Airports can depend on CrowdVision to responsibly license their data at scale, and negotiate long term commercial relationships that create new non-aeronautical revenue and support the airport’s innovation programs.

CrowdVision packages and licenses our crowd movement analytics data (e.g. wait times and SafeDistance) for airlines, hotels, travel sites, mobile apps, rideshare companies and more. You won’t see Apple going door to door buying piecemeal data from every airport, emphasizing the need for a central data repository — a one stop shop, if you will . Airports can depend on CrowdVision to responsibly license their data at scale, and negotiate long term commercial relationships that create new non-aeronautical revenue and support the airport’s innovation programs. 

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