Maria Rampa: Hi, I’m Maria Rampa and welcome to this episode of Engineering Reimagined.
For many, the chance to travel once again, experience the world beyond our borders and reconnect with family and friends is a welcome reprieve from the years of lockdowns and closures thanks to COVID-19.
However, the pandemic has had a significant impact on the global travel industry, leading to decreased staffing levels, inconsistency in travel patterns and fluctuating passenger numbers, causing uncertainty and challenges for airlines and airports, not to mention, frustration for passengers. Add to this the still very real issue of carbon emissions from aviation and the whole travel experience hangs, quite literally, under a cloud.
But what if travel could be completely seamless and sustainable - from the moment you left home through to the airport experience and eventual arrival at your destination?
What if data about your travel movements could be collected on your smart watch or phone, leveraged through technologies such as sensors, biometrics, geolocation and temporal referencing, integrated with physical infrastructure, and securely shared across all the different partners in the processing chain? And what if the carbon emissions from your journey could be reduced or depleted altogether?
In this episode of Engineering Reimagined, Erik Kriel, Aurecon’s Capability and Industry Leader, Aviation, speaks with Ryan Both, EFLyinxecutive General Manager, Aviation, at Brisbane Airport Corporation about the future of travel and how airports are being reimagined to help us to fly seamlessly and sustainably into the future.
How is Brisbane Airport planning to integrate new technology and practices to create the ultimate, human-centred, net zero carbon, future-focused travel experience, particularly in the run-up to the Olympic Games in 2032, and what can we learn from their explorations so far?
Erik Kriel: G'day Ryan. Thank you very much for joining us today. Like myself, you're an aviator, you've spent most of your career in the aviation industry. What drew you to the industry in the first place?
Ryan Both: I've always been interested in flying and aeroplanes. I really like the fact that aviation has a significant impact on society, it helps us to share scarce resources across the world, and technologies make it even easier for us to do that virtually now. But there really is no substitute for being in person and connecting with other humans. And I think in the pandemic, we've really experienced the loss of that, and an understanding of the true value of travel, and what we can live without and what we can't. It enriches our lives. I love the fact that travel can broaden each person's experience, help them see the world and see other perspectives and other cultures. It's a great industry to be part of, and a big enabler of economic activity and as we come out of the tunnel now, I hope we'll all re-emerge and regain our longing for travel and go on that first big trip. I don't know where I'm gonna go yet. But I certainly want to do one in the coming months.
Erik Kriel: Like so many of us, you've mentioned the pandemic and recently the airports came through border closures and government restrictions starting to ease up and many airports then struggled with passengers queuing out the door and bags being misplaced. Passengers have experienced long delays. Have you had the experience at Brisbane, and how have you been dealing with it?
Ryan Both: I think the whole industry's been going through a process of restarting. That's been a little bit bumpier I think than anybody would have liked. We were very fortunate that we managed the peak very closely in Brisbane. We had manageable queuing levels the whole time through the peak. In the pandemic, a lot of people left the industry and found other things to do and some had a strong desire to return and some enjoyed the other thing they went off to do and have changed their lives. And so, we have a job as an industry to attract people back into the amazing fun of working at airports and for airlines and in and around the industry. All the way through from linen services and hotels, through to cleaning services, baggage ramp, security screening, retail staff. It's not just the pilots and cabin crew that we're focused on. It's the whole workforce that really supports the industry. So that's really what you saw, it was the strain of not quite having the same level of resources. And it resulted in congestion. We're in an engineering group here. So we can talk about flow rates and bottlenecks and systemic effects of small changes. And that's really what happened.
Erik Kriel: The industry still has got a way to go. Because like you mentioned, the traffic levels are not fully where we had seen before COVID. And I'm pretty sure that's the same for you there in Brisbane.
Ryan Both: We're at about 85% of domestic on average, and about 30 to 35% of international. We have seen a strong pickup in international traffic recently, but off a very low base. New Zealand has been performing well and so has Europe. Traffic's not consistent yet, people's travel patterns haven't restored, and they may not go back to what they used to be. There's certainly going to be some adjustment. But I don't think everyone's in a rhythm yet. How often I travel and why I travel and a lot of organisations are still struggling with that too, what was good about the virtual working, remote working, flexible working, and what of that experience actually isn't good, and is harming culture or business relationships or growth. Getting through those conversations internally in every organisation and getting to the point where businesses really understand the travel rhythms and start travelling again. That's really the thing we're noticing. We don't have that same level of consistency. It's very much a story of peaks and troughs.
Erik Kriel: How are you seeing the new user of the airport, because ultimately this is about the passenger moving on a journey. How do you see the user in all of this? And why do you think a user centred approach to facilitating the passenger, and possibly designing for the passenger, might be important in the future as we recover?
Ryan Both: So, there's a couple of things happening. Firstly, we have a destabilising geopolitical environment, generally, as a macro trend, so that's an issue because it means that, in general, the security posture will be more conservative. We're in the process of upgrading security screening equipment to the CT screening standard. But look that aside, often there's a focus still on physical control points, and physical processing points. I like to think about these things as a system and think about the flow of the system in a seamless way between data and technology and mobile technology and physical world. When you have a security overlay, when you have a regulatory overlay, when you have very time critical processes that have a need for high levels of resilience, progress can be a little bit slow. We also have multiple stakeholders involved and we have passengers to educate, we have airlines to bring along the journey as well. The trend towards integrating data and data infrastructure and the sharing of data and using the power of the amazing devices that we have in our hands and pockets in the smartphone, leveraging biometrics, data geolocation, temporal referencing, and integrating that with the physical world in the airport is really the key and sharing that across all different partners in that processing chain. And that's a complex problem to solve. That's the challenge for us over the next 10 years is to really move down that spectrum and find solutions that help us to get proper biometric identification at multiple points that help us to identify when someone's behaviour is conforming to what we would expect in a predicted sequence of events and help us to really take out any of the bumps in the road and make the journey as seamless as possible.
Erik Kriel: Of all the things you've mentioned, do you spot any one specific that you think will make the biggest impact to you in the next couple of years? What's the big-ticket item in technology that you feel you need to respond to?
Ryan Both: I think the biggest issue is going to be developing a biometrics infrastructure layer. That's really the core to it all. That can then integrate across CCTV. Check in should be a thing of the past. So that's just recognition on your phone, and the fact that you're around and you're heading towards the airport. We need a modern process for that concept of check in. But yes, a seamless bag drop and awareness that a passenger is coming, that they're on their way, they're likely to make their flight. As long as we know that, then the bag comes into the system, go through screening, boarding gate should be automated. And then out the other side. The core to all of that is getting a biometrics infrastructure layer sorted out and that's not cameras. It's the infrastructure that holds the biometric data in a secure way that is appropriately deidentified. And the data is only shared in the right way, that feeds seamless passenger journeys, it feeds a reduction in operational expenses, it feeds much better journey, reduced queuing. But also, you can start to talk about things like the border with New Zealand, making progress towards a common border zone. Trusted reciprocal data sharing in a much more detailed way between nations, it really requires that trusted data infrastructure layer to make it all work.
Erik Kriel: We've seen through COVID, one of the other things that’s come to the forefront is the decarbonisation of aviation. We saw globally, the short-term impacts of lower levels of activity in manufacturing and travel. The European airports have committed to net zero targets, similar to their governments. And we've even seen legislation in European countries where, for example, short haul flights are prohibited or at least reduced. But what are Brisbane Airport Cooperation doing around this and what are your plans and strategies to respond and deal with this emerging trend and pressure?
Ryan Both: So sustainability is really important to us as an organisation. At Brisbane Airport we undertook the first sustainable aviation fuel flights in Australia. We have very ambitious sustainability agenda. We'll be making some announcements in the next couple of months, our board is just signed off on some interim target changes. We will be pushing hard on scope one and two emissions but looking well beyond that, because that's a problem we can solve. But looking well beyond that, and then focusing on scope three emissions, both the landside emissions for vehicles coming, and transport coming, to and from the airport, but also aviation emissions. We're very fortunate to have a large mangrove zone at our airport, and 186 hectares of biodiversity zone, which we intend to use for carbon removal. I think it's called blue carbon, is the term. Our intention is that when we achieve net zero, it will be genuinely net zero with no offsets. We will remove the residual carbon on the airport estate, or the adjacent mangrove system. And then we want to go much further than that and start to remove residual emissions from sustainable aviation fuel operations. The technology itself offers some great opportunities to completely change the way that people move around economic corridors. One of the reasons I joined Brisbane Airport was because this infrastructure asset sits in the middle of an economic corridor from Noosa to Byron. It's a bit like the economic corridor that's in the northeast of the US or from Southern Holland through to Stuttgart, that is pretty unique in Australia. It creates very complex transport challenges, that mass transit modes that really focus travel into particular points are only partially effective when you have that distributed corridor. And so, solutions like micro mobility with scooters, then vertical takeoff and landing, electric aircraft and then short takeoff and landing fixed wing aircraft offer a range of really interesting solutions. In addition to getting some corridors for automated buses or automated pods, moving around. So that whole spectrum of technology offers so many opportunities to change the way that people move. And as we move towards the Olympics in 2032, there's a great opportunity, pardon the pun, but a great runway for us to implement some of these technologies in a progressive way and make an impact on scope three emissions, make an impact on sustainability, and most importantly, reduce congestion and change travel journeys.
Erik Kriel: Speaking of the Olympics, I know it's probably still early, but we know that Brisbane Airport is focusing on a new terminal development in time for that. Any specific design and technology interventions that you're making right now into that process, to be sure that it's going to have environmental and sustainability performance come the day it becomes operational?
Ryan Both: We really want to push the boat out with that terminal. It needs to be cost efficient, and it needs to be appropriately developed. So we need to spend our time thinking carefully about resolved design and appropriate levels of infrastructure. That said, carbon positive and automation heavy terminal that is using the most modern of infrastructure that we can find. Western Sydney are in the process of building at the moment. To an extent they had a clean sheet of paper, but they also had government overlays and other considerations to the decision making. We've got a fantastic opportunity here to have a completely unfettered run at this. And to build a building and a system that can process travel journeys in a way that just creates an absolutely wonderful experience for everyone involved but does it in a hyper-efficient way. So we’re aiming to build between the runways to grow our precinct in a way that it can be expanded in a modular way, that thinks forward about all the interacting layers of the system, that makes sure we have appropriate landside connectivity, transitions in journeys, transitions between domestic and international journeys, all of those things. So that's a great project.
Erik Kriel: We've seen many airports now becoming like little cities, because they really are a reflection or a microcosm of society. And they've got so many other facilities than just adding passengers and bags, shops, restaurants, hotels, very much like a mini CBD of sorts. If you were to reference the airports that you've seen across the world, what would you put out there as a real good yardstick, or an example of an airport city that you can be inspired by?
Ryan Both: We certainly have a close connection with Schiphol. The philosophy of developing a corridor of adjacent developments near the terminal precinct is something that Schiphol have done very well. That philosophy of having a whole network of adjacent activities surrounding the terminal, the idea of a coworking through to permanent office spectrum that can create really efficient ways to have meetings, client engagements, through to conferences, through to staff temporarily or regularly basing themselves somewhere, through to then taking dedicated spaces. That combining with hotels, that combining with amenities, lifestyle amenities, that's part of thinking through how the airport itself and that role that we play in transition journeys between the ground and the air and the air to the ground, and allow people to connect from far away means that ideally, we're going to limit that ground journey. We make the ground journey efficient and create things right here. As part of the planning for the new terminal, we're also planning for that integrated precinct adjacent to the new terminal precinct. The other example I’d point to, which is an obvious one, so forgive me, is Jewel at Changi. That's not a development that's appropriate for us in the form they've implemented there. But it's just a wonderful example of how you can just reimagine what the experience could be. They’ve created something that is an experience that truly is Singapore and completely changes the way that the building feels. That's combined with the changes they made, for example, to the queuing for inbound immigration. You come down a void, vertical garden, no tensor barriers, sideways desks, that's less confronting. You’re processed through, and then you go through to Jewel. So that's an example of thinking through the system, not just building a project. And that's really great to see. So that's the sort of approach we want to take.
Erik Kriel: I know you've got professional experience and interest and expertise when it comes to different modes of travel. You used the words the airport is the transition point between air and ground-based modes. Traditionally people think of air mode at the airports only as the real traditional jets and turboprops taking off and landing but we are confronted with urban air mobility and vertical takeoff, EV to run all of these good things. And depending on who you listen to, some people will say that it will happen tomorrow, and others say no, it's very, very far off down the track. It's not ready. What are your general thoughts about that? Do you think it's something that will be with us soon? And what types of sub-uses might we see, what are your thoughts?
Ryan Both: The vertical takeoff and landing aircraft are much closer to final certification and commercial operations than perhaps some people may be aware. By 2025, 2026, we will see the first aircraft in commercial service, so that's not very far away. The Paris Olympics will be a showcase. The Osaka Expo will be a showcase. Clearly the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028 will also there be an important milestone and we’re already seeing California, as it usually does, really lead heavily in this area. The market potential for a transport mode that is infinitely flexible, as long as you have a vertical landing site, and can fly, as the crow flies, in 360 degrees from every vertical with very low noise, significantly higher levels of safety than a helicopter. Because it has distributed electric propulsion, the motors themselves have a lot of inbuilt redundancy, you don't have fire risk in the same way. You've got very redundant systems, advanced automation, avionics, etc. So that combination of noise and safety makes a significant difference, in addition to emissions. And then it's really a question of cost. So, the forecast industry have to commence operations at a price per seat per kilometre, the same as a chauffeured car or an Uber Black at launch. If we take a journey that might take an hour and a half in congested traffic, and it takes you 15 minutes, a segment of the market would travel privately in a car like that. It's not a large segment of the market, it's a reasonable size group, then travelling with two or three other passengers on board or hyper-efficient, really quick journey could be a very attractive proposition. As we move towards removing the pilot from the aircraft, going autonomous and maximising the capability of the aircraft, and also the battery technology continuing to improve, we get to an Uber X price per seat per kilometre. And that is completely transformative. Because it allows journeys to occur in ways that are difficult at the moment. But when you can fly 360 degrees in an infinitely flexible way, and you get the same journey time, it does completely change the way you think about moving around cities. There's an opportunity for councils, developers to put these landing sites in their community, and create the sort of stimulatory effect that an airport has, but on a micro level to encourage clusters of business and economic development.
Erik Kriel: Often I think airports, maybe the smaller ones, struggle to see what they can do today to prepare themselves for that change that is invariably coming. What do you think airports can be looking at today to ready themselves?
Ryan Both: The infrastructure on the ground is relatively straightforward, because the helipad is all that's required. And for the short takeoff and landing fixed wing electric aircraft, then it's a short runway, which again, will be infrastructure that even small strips and aero clubs will have sufficient infrastructure for that. So that's not that difficult, but it's really a question of charging, electrical infrastructure and airspace planning, and noise planning. That's the stuff that takes time. And the more stakeholders in the industry that are progressing in this area, the more landing sites that open up, the more airspace corridor planning that's done, the more noise consultation that is done, the more the industry will grow. And that's a benefit for everybody. Because this is a mode of transport that should be an aspirational purchase for everyone. For some people, it will be a regular purchase. For others, it'll be something they use occasionally, there's a fantastic opportunity for many regional airports, even airports that are primarily only serving private traffic and are in the urban fringe or in a regional fringe, within a couple of 100 kilometres of a major city.
Erik Kriel: If you were to play visionary, if you were to describe 10, 15 years from today, what do you see the airport to be looking like? Can you explain the future of a typical airport?
Ryan Both: There might be a good timeframe is arriving for the Olympics in 2032. That's close enough that we can all see it. Paris, Los Angeles, Brisbane. That's a pretty interesting sequence. We will be ready. The new terminal will be open. And hopefully we have a travel experience that is as automated and touchless as possible for the majority of passengers. And we've got a development that creates an amazing sense of place. A sustainable journey and we've got a carbon positive building and carbon removal happening on site in the mangroves. That's a wonderful picture of the future that we can all really aim towards. I was fortunate to travel for the Sydney games in 2000. And I'll always remember the energy, that was the thing that surprised me the most, is outside the venue's themselves, just the buzz and energy in that city, for that period of time was electric. I remember a moment when we're down at new Circular Quay. And there was a group of people sitting on a stone wall. And there were just people walking past. And there was so much joy in the city and energy in the city that this spontaneous clapping started. And so people started doing cartwheels, dance moves. And that's just an example of how that energy can really transform a place. And I hope that we see those sort of wonderful moments emerge in the Olympics, and it's a real springboard for Australia, to rewrite itself on the world stage. And do more than what we did after Sydney.
Erik Kriel: Ryan, our audience is composed of young engineers and emerging professionals keenly interested in where the industry is going. Can you paint a future for these young guns in the transformation?
Ryan Both: It's a very exciting future, we have an opportunity to create well resolved and sustainable developments. And to use systems thinking very deliberately to make sure that what we are delivering has the user at the centre of the design, applies Design Thinking approaches, and integrates a sense of place and good architectural principles into everything we do. The constraints themselves of needing to create well resolved and optimised designs that also address sustainability, are really empowering because they create a reason for doing what we do. That working on the materials in that column, or whatever it may be, in the detail has a purpose. It's not just designing for cost. It's designing for purposes, it's creating that that sense of place, it's creating that functionality that makes sure we have seamless journeys, it's allowing people to dwell in a space that's uncluttered visually, that creates a sense of calm in the journeys, reduces stress. And does that in a sustainable way that allows us to keep living on this wonderful planet. The last thing I'd say is that applying sophisticated AI to resolving designs and optimising things is an area that I think has significant potential. There's a whole new generation that can really bring that thinking into the design process and creating some very interesting solutions that wouldn't otherwise have been considered in linear thinking.
Erik Kriel: I could probably talk for the whole day. But thank you very much for joining us and sharing your insights with us.
Ryan Both: It's a pleasure. Thank you. Thanks a lot.
Maria Rampa: We hope you enjoyed this episode of Engineering Reimagined.
I think you’ll agree the next generation of airports is something we can all look forward to, and it’s closer than we think!
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Until next time, thanks for listening.