Innovative Building Management Systems for Airports | Buildings IOT

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In January of 2021, while the world was still deep in the throes of the pandemic, United States airlines carried over 30 million passengers on domestic and global flights. Handling that passenger load requires not only extraordinary logistical feats, but prioritizing comfort at every opportunity.

Airports are perhaps the most complex facilities that people interact with on a regular basis. And what passengers see is only part of the story; behind the scenes, employees and technologies must work in concert to keep everything running smoothly while adapting to constantly changing conditions. That’s why innovative building management systems for airports are an invaluable asset. Today, integrating smart technologies with advanced analytics is how airports large and small can continue to evolve without missing a beat.

Airport Energy Use: By the Numbers

While every airport is different, all airports are energy-intensive enterprises. So where is this energy used? Here is a rough breakdown:

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Emergency buildings: 1.3%

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Parking: 1.6%

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Radio Navigation Systems: 4.8%

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Airfield Lighting: 6.8%

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Terminal: 77%

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Other: 8.4%

In terminals—by far the most significant sites of energy consumption—the breakdown in a typical airport is:

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Cooling: 31%

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Lighting: 15%

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Ventilation: 12%

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Computing: 8%

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Refrigeration: 7%

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Other: 25%
(this includes office use and other items that come up under 5%)

As we see, the bulk of energy use comes from HVAC, lighting, and computing systems, which must handle everything from ticketing to flight tracking to TSA and DHS operations. And these systems aren’t just about convenience—they are essential for protecting health and safety and complying with a host of regulations.

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The Challenges of Modern Airports

The amount of energy required for daily airport operations makes these enterprises costly, both financially and environmentally. At the same time, airports must meet the ever-increasing need for safety, security, and comfort. Addressing all of these challenges requires forward-thinking building management.

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Challenge #1: Increasing Efficiency & Lowering Costs

Most airports are 24/7 operations that rely on extensive networks of equipment that must perform optimally at all times. But traditional methods of maintaining comfort and safety can be expensive—and unnecessary. Running HVAC systems at full capacity and keeping the lights on in all areas of the airport, for example, can dramatically increase energy consumption, tax building systems, and expand an airport’s carbon footprint while offering few benefits. 

The challenge is to make sure that critical parts of the airport are functioning while minimizing energy use. Getting there means building management systems in airports have to get smarter.

Solution: Integrate Building Systems and Add Analytics

The most innovative building management systems for airports unify building systems, integrate a variety of IoT sensors, and add an analytics layer for deeper insight and better control. This opens up new opportunities for understanding and changing how, when, and why energy is used. 

An analytics platform with machine learning capabilities continuously monitors data from all connected systems to learn how your facilities function. Not only does this allow you to see exactly where energy consumption happens, it also helps you implement better automation strategies to achieve your goals. For example, heating and cooling functions can be triggered based on occupancy sensor data, lights can be turned on or off according to natural sunlight, and ventilation can be turned up in anticipation of peak travel times. State-of-the-art analytics platforms can also make recommendations to optimize operations and reduce energy use while maintaining occupant comfort and safety.

This kind of automation isn’t based on an arbitrary schedule that may not match real-life conditions, which means airports can offer better experiences for passengers and workers. It can also drastically reduce energy use. One study found that by updating sensors and resetting outdated controls, airports can lower HVAC energy consumption by 20%.

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Challenge #2: Maintaining Connectivity in Changing Conditions

Airports are not static enterprises, but constantly evolving spaces that must react to shifting conditions. Some of these changes are small; introducing a new restaurant, updating the bathrooms, installing better WiFi, adding charging stations. Some, however, are much larger, such as airlines changing terminals, or even airports. While all of these changes can improve the occupant experience, they can also present significant challenges for facilities managers.

Solution #2: Prioritize Open Protocols

Future-focused integration does more than unify existing systems; it makes airports more flexible. With open protocols and API connections, building management systems for airports can be ready for changing needs, making renovations, upgrades, and relocations easier and more affordable.

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Challenge #3: Safeguarding Cleanliness and Safety

Airports have taken aggressive steps to offer safer experiences during Covid-19. Sanitizing stations, clear barriers, distancing protocols, and mask requirements have become common at airports around the world. But those are just a good start. 

Meeting cleaning and air purification requirements is now more complex than ever. According  to a 2021 report from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health:

Airports are encouraged to continue the use of enhanced surface disinfection by hand, using EPA-approved cleaning agents. New systems are also being introduced and evaluated, including electrostatic spraying and ultra-violet radiation. These technologies offer regular surface disinfection of counters and tables in food courts, bars, restaurants, and stores. They might also be used to disinfect luggage bins in security screening. FAR-UV disinfection can be a complement to, but is not a replacement for, surface disinfection by approved biocides.

Implementing these recommendations isn’t easy, but there are ways to make the process easier.

Solution #3: Deploy Smarter Safety Measures

Airports have been instituting layered risk mitigation strategies since the beginning of the pandemic. But installing and operating powerful air purification and ventilation systems, germicidal UV systems, and other cutting-edge equipment can be expensive, particularly when running at full strength all the time. Systems that can adapt to the needs of occupants offer a better solution. 

A smart building management system with an integrated analytics platform makes this possible. With analytics, systems can adjust to sudden surges in activity and routine peak hours to increase airflow and filtration when needed. Of course, it’s not just the air that needs to be cleaned. While advanced technologies, such as UV radiation, are valuable, surface cleaning still requires human intervention.

New janitorial tracking systems, like BuiltSpace, are allowing facilities managers to ensure robust cleaning strategies are implemented daily. QR codes can be installed in areas that need to be cleaned (bathrooms, boarding areas, check-in areas, etc.) and scanned by maintenance crews when cleaning tasks are complete. The information is then uploaded to a user-friendly app that lets managers confirm cleaning is being performed and identify areas for potential improvement. This information can also be made visible to airport workers and passengers so they can be assured you are following, and even exceeding, all protocols.

Toward Better Building Management Systems for Airports

The challenges facing airports are serious. Reducing energy use, staying responsive to passenger and airline demands, and maintaining safe, healthy spaces are all critical to offering the best customer experiences while reducing your environmental impact and improving your bottom line.  

BuildingsIOT has the expertise to act as a master systems integrator for even the largest and most complex airports. With IOT Jetstream and onPoint, we can unify building systems and deploy advanced analytics that gives you more control and more possibilities. 

Air travel is, and always has been, about connection. But everything else is in a constant state of flux. With the right building management systems, airports can be ready for whatever the future holds.