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3D Visualization and Air Travel: Meet the Airports Embracing Digital Twins

Airports in Vancouver, Singapore, and Amsterdam have taken off with creative applications of 3D visualization

An aerial view of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. (Photo credit: Rudy and Peter Skitterians/ Pixabay)

As international and domestic air travel ramps up to pre-pandemic levels, airports represent a ripe opportunity to become smarter and more efficient for everyone coming and going.  
That’s largely thanks to advancements in 3D visualization, particularly with digital twins  virtual and interactive models of buildings and infrastructure next brought alive through real-time data 
Here are three airports that’ve committed to 3D technology and how it’s helped their business. 

Vancouver International Airport (YVR) 

Like just about any organization around the world, the Vancouver Airport Authority had to pivot when the pandemic shut down travel in 2020. It opened up a technology testbed, partnering with the British Columbia Institute of Technology as a lab for Internet of Things initiatives (IoT) 
Other partnerships include a collaboration with Unity Technology and GeoSim Cities to create a digital twin of YVR in order to better plan for the future, according to Vancouver Airport Authority President and CEO, Tamara Vrooman.  
This work presents a broad range of future possibilities, from assessing how we could adjust terminal layouts to account for COVID-19 rapid testing, to testing the effectiveness of accessibility features and optimizing our airfield movements to reduce greenhouse gases, said Vroonman in a release.

Planes taxi at the gates of Vancouver International Airport (Photo credit: Tomas Williams/ Unsplash)

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS)

When it comes to collecting geographic information system (GIS) data, Schiphol Airport has been in the game since 1985. Using its trove of spatial and geographical data, the airport rolled out a multi-year renovation project in 2017. Part of that included a digital twin of the airport.  
“The airport’s digital asset twin provides the opportunity to run simulations on potential operational failures throughout the entire complex, which saves us both time and money,” Kees van ’t Hoog, head of the Development Operations team at Schiphol Airport, told ESRI writer Jim Baumann. 
The digital twin helps tracks more than 80,000 assets found inside and outside the airport. Sensors collect information on networks, runways, lighting systems, information booths and down to fire extinguishers.  
They’ve since built on the twin with aggregated passenger tracking data. In 2018, AMS partnered with Veovo, a tech company specializing in operations optimization to monitor indoor foot traffic. Sensors detect passengers’ wireless devices, giving them a unique I.D. that’s encrypted and time-stamped. The system then measures travel time and movement patterns to help make decisions about queue lengths and traffic flow. 

Travellers enter Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. (Photo credit: Ben Koorengevel/ Unsplash)
Singapore Changi Airport (SIN)

When you’ve built a digital twin of your entire city, building a digital twin of your airport sounds like a no-brainer.  
In 2014, Singapore’s federal government announced its plans to digitalize the entire country. The goal? To have a virtual and interactive model in 3D to aid in planning and decision makingvirtual test-bedding and experimentation, along with research and development

The city’s Changi Airport had similar ideas in mind when they teamed up with local 3D design consultancy Vouse to create a digital twin of Terminals 1 to 4. By melding architectural blueprints with data collected on site, airport authorities could test certain decisions before committing to them in real life. One example includes trialing the visibility oroad signage in a driving simulator to see how it would help visitors navigate around the airport.  
SIN’s twin now has the potential to integrate with real-time flight data and ground traffic information to help with travellers better plan their trips.  

Inside Terminal 3 of Singapore's Changi Airport. (Photo Credit: Shashivarman Kolandaveloo/ Unsplash)

How would you like to see a digital twin improve your local airport? Sound off in the comments below. 

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