Domestic and international air traffic, for passenger and freight, have been soaring. Whether we compare with numbers from 2019 or 2021, the burden on airports has been increasing year on year. Most of these facilities act as ultra-efficient hubs and tightly integrate with the global aviation ecosystem to function as one robust system that keeps people and goods flowing.

To keep up with changing times, airports are constantly upgrading themselves. They’re focused on delivering a better experience to customers & staff and want to leverage cutting-edge technology solutions such as artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), facial recognition, and more. As a result, it looks like the time has come for them to revisit their blueprint and find opportunities for overhauls that can deliver significant gains, in terms of technology resilience as well as sustainability.

Cisco works with major airports around the world helping them keep their IT infrastructure running optimally; and we’re seeing a new trend: there’s a strong demand for modern, cutting-edge network solutions that connects the thousands of connected devices coming online every day, in a way that saves energy, avoids waste, and reduces the overall impact on the planet.

Let’s see how one of our customers in Asia, a leading airport dealing with tens of millions of passengers and hundreds of thousands of tonnes of cargo each year, is working with us to prepare for the next generation.

Visualizing the demand for connectivity at today’s modern airport

The demand for connectivity at a modern airport is significant – we saw this at our customer’s facilities in Asia Pacific. For them, the needs of the customers walking into the various terminals, the kiosks, restaurants, shops, and the offices of private and governmental support services is top of mind – but it is just one piece of the pie.

Beyond the immediate customers, our customer had key groups who rely on connectivity to function.

Their operations team, for example, needs better connectivity as it grows and leverages the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) – in a bid to optimize how it works. The cargo teams, who run highly profitable operations and make up about one-fifth of the revenue for each of the airlines at that airport also need connectivity to power their side of the business.

There’s no debate that connectivity is critical but evolving use cases over time caused the airport to deploy individual, use-dependent networks.

Their primary airport network, for example, supported airport operations teams including check-in crew, flight operations, and so on. The business network provided transactional connectivity. The security network was independent and enabled public and private guards to monitor and manage the facility. Public announcements being critical to the functioning of an airport also operated on an independent network.

Can you imagine the physical footprint of the networking infrastructure needed to support such a facility?

Now factor in the data center needs of such a facility as well as the complex firewalls that need to be deployed to keep everything and everyone protected while they’re connected. The physical footprint as well as the power consumption were incredibly significant.

An energy-conscious, sustainable future-state enterprise

Thanks to cutting-edge switches and routers as well as modern-day software-defined access, that airport we partnered with is serving tens of millions of passengers through a single network as well as a more comprehensive data center, streamlining its overall IT infrastructure.

The micro-segmentation across enterprise and datacenter offered by our new-age solutions allows for every connectivity need to be serviced, just as each was supported previously, with just a single, streamlined network. Of course, this is easier to operate and maintain for their IT staff, but it also benefits their airport in terms of sustainability on many fronts.

A modern network reduces the rack space needs and hence, the hardware footprint. Thanks to Universal Power over Ethernet (UPoE) technology, the network cables also deliver power, reducing the cabling needs of the airport saving an enormous volume of essential metals such as copper and gold.

Because of a smaller footprint, the network solution is more energy efficient and requires less cooling. This benefit was compounded by using cutting-edge access points that enabled the airport to automatically reduce power consumption further during periods of low use.

Inching closer to a mighty sustainable story in the aviation space

On the face of it, the energy savings from a singular, more efficient network seems like a minor benefit. However, the reality is that each of these benefits add up. In the case of our client in Asia Pacific, the various sustainability benefits mentioned previously were just the start.

The deployment of the network provided reliable connectivity for their team to roll-out new technology solutions. One such example is the facial recognition-powered digital boarding passes they introduced which not only helps deliver a better experience to passengers but also reduces the consumption of paper saving thousands of trees every year.

Overall, in the first year itself, the airport is expected to eliminate up to 50,000 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions per annum – aside from delivering on a number of other goals on their sustainability agenda.

The airport is definitely future-ready thanks to the fabulous IT infrastructure it has deployed, but it is also able to deliver more in terms of sustainability with each new solution it rolls out. In the coming months, there’s a high chance this airport might be revered as the most sustainable in the aviation space. We’re proud to be part of their story, supporting and enabling their teams to do more for their customers, partners, and most importantly, for the planet.