Can airports unlock terminal capacity without construction?

Company Ink Innovation
Date 23.10.2019

“How do we serve more passengers and continue to grow the airport without having to expand our terminal building?”

This was a question posed to me by an airport CEO during a recent visit. A question that is not at all uncommon because the challenge is well known across the industry.

Last year, IATA Chief Alexandre de Juniac warned that airport infrastructure was not keeping pace with projected passenger demand. He even went as far as stating that we were in the middle of an infrastructure crisis. With passenger growth set to nearly double to 7.8 billion by 2036 and underwhelming levels of investment planned to construct new terminals in the future, it seems the problem is only going to get worse. The pressure to do more with the same resources has never been more important.

But is there a fix that does not involve entering into lengthy terminal expansion programmes?

ACI Director General, Angela Gittens summed it up nicely in a recent article – “Given the cost and complexity of infrastructure change, airports, airlines and other stakeholders need to collaborate to make the best use of technology and advanced processes as a means of providing capacity”. Prior to putting shovels in the ground, there are various things that airports should do to support their growth plans.

Part of the answer is to instigate new, more efficient processes. However, this will likely yield only incremental improvements.

In an industry which has historically been averse to sharing information, collaboration is another piece of the jigsaw. There are many stories of airports and airlines counteracting each other. Whether it be short-sightedness of an airport unwilling to install bag drop technology, in fear of losing counter-usage revenue. Or an airline refusing to utilise a Common Use systems to avoid the integration effort. This is inevitable in the absence of a coordinated vision, with airlines and airports working together to solve the problems that they share.

In order to drive the changes needed to create new capacity, working together becomes a necessity, not a choice. This applies to organisations (airlines, airports and ground handlers) as well as technology providers. Technology and systems must be able to adapt, integrate and share information more openly than they do today.

Here are some examples:

Off-Airport Check-in 

There is a rise in the number of passengers processed away from the airport check-in hall, by delivering handling services at the earliest point of need. Since 2015, Jet2 has delivered check-in and baggage collection service across more than 250 hotels across Europe. It’s Resort Flight Check-in, using Ink Touch, has helped remove the pressure placed on check-in staff at the airport, while helping passengers to bypass the check-in hall altogether.


Many airports have adopted biometrics for multiple use cases, including immigration, check-in, security through to the departure gate. The benefits of using your biometric token across the various touchpoints are helping operators deliver an enhanced experience and service more passengers. Ink introduces this technology alongside a realistic business case to both airlines and airports of all sizes, making it a realistic alternative to building more real estate.

Mobile Departure Control

Many airports are looking at alternative ways to process more and more passengers within the available terminal space or even reduce it in favour of revenue-earning concessions. Fixed desk infrastructure has a very low ceiling of how many passengers can physically be processed, with little scope of reducing transaction speed or queue wait times. Mobile Departure Control is proven to create new capacity channels, with the added flexibility of doing so in any location. Roaming agents can either augment or totally replace existing desk infrastructure, or provide the perfect complement to self-service. Agents use Ink Touch to handle exceptions on mobile devices without requiring desks between self-service units; thereby increasing the density of installed self-service units.

Self-Service Technology

Retrofit bag drop solutions and check-in kiosks typically have a small footprint, which supports more passengers in the same terminal space when compared to traditional check-in operations. Combining this with mobile departure control also helps those who need personalised service.

In addition, solutions which deliver greater insight into predicted passenger demand (i.e. forecasting and passenger flow technologies) will enable operations to plan and manage resource levels more accurately – helping to create more capacity.

That said, technology alone is unlikely to be a “silver bullet” to unlocking terminal capacity. It will require working smarter via process improvement, better use of technology, tighter integration of systems and looking at old problems from different perspectives. All common practices amongst the worlds most efficient airports.

Have you squeezed as much as you can from your existing terminal footprint?

Interested to hear your thoughts.


Ink Innovation
Avenida Saturno, 4
03007 Alicante
  • +34 965 680 955