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AV Tech Keeps Passengers On Track and On Time

The Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport Duty Free Store and terminals utilize audio system capable of producing paging messages, live announcements and safety alerts integrated by Ford Audio-Video Systems.
The Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport Duty Free Store and terminals utilize audio system capable of producing paging messages, live announcements and safety alerts integrated by Ford Audio-Video Systems. (Image credit: Ford AV)

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, nearly 2.8 million passengers flew into and out of U.S. airports every day in 2019. Like the commute to work that can be done practically blindfolded, most business travelers move quickly through terminal labyrinths to get to gates and baggage claim.

But the U.S. Travel Association states that 80 percent of domestic trips are for leisure purposes. That’s more than 2.2 million people every day in 2019 fumbling to remove forgotten liquids from carry-on bags, figuring out how to get the car seat onto the belt and through the scanner, then stopping once they get through the TSA line to gather the kids, look for their gate, look for food, and listen for P.A. announcements regarding flight delays or gate changes. And on the other side, they want to quickly find their bags and ground transportation to begin their vacation.

Airports are prioritizing just that, installing technology that will help move travelers through airport terminals as quickly as possible.

Recent events, unfortunately, are drastically reducing the number of people who travel by air (and sea) for both work and pleasure, though those who do find themselves in a transportation hub no doubt appreciate being able to see and hear important announcements and safety messaging, as well as being able to find their way smoothly and efficiently.

Getting to the Decision Maker

David Weibel

David Weibel

Identifying and working with key stakeholders in different vertical markets has its share of nuances, but the transportation market might be among the most nuanced. “The biggest challenge we see is getting the right information to the airport executives, and past the purchasing departments,” said David Weibel, senior division sales, Ford Audio-Video. “Most times, large capital projects require multiple RFPs, bids, and solicitations.”

The process often starts with current system operators, who may or may not be up to speed on the latest technologies and design. “They are asked, ‘What do you think we need?’ and then consultants may be brought into the mix,” said Weibel. “Many consultants are experts and major contributors to our profession.” Once a specification is offered, the level of the specification will determine the costs, and the level of quality. “Then the final question: Does the low bid win? I bet it does,” he opined.

Getting from Point A to Point B

The easer information is to obtain, the smoother things run for everyone.

At a high level, the solutions are simple. “Large, visible signage with excellent software, a large enough font to be seen at a distance, and great content in multiple locations are key,” said Weibel.

The architectural design trend that’s creating challenges in remodels and new construction of corporate buildings—bright and open—is only exacerbated in airport terminals. “Many new areas are bright with lots of windows, which can make it difficult for users to read typical electronic displays,” said Weibel. 

Builders can tame the light, shaping it for their purposes, when they pay close attention to screen placement, install displays that are bright enough, and use fonts, colors, and design that will stand up to the harsh glare of the sun.

At New York’s LaGuardia Airport, MKJ Communications implemented innovative visual messaging solutions to complement audio broadcasts.

At New York’s LaGuardia Airport, MKJ Communications implemented innovative visual messaging solutions to complement audio broadcasts. (Image credit: MKJ Communications)

Speech intelligibility is as important as visual information to ensure passengers arrive at the correct gate and on time. Massive windows not only make display choice and placement a challenge, they can render a P.A. system useless. “P.A. systems must be intelligible,” said Weibel. “In this age of large rooms with glass and hard surfaces everywhere, audio intelligibility can be very difficult and expensive to achieve, let alone keep aesthetically pleasing.” If you don’t have acoustical expertise in-house, it is important to team up with acoustical consultants that can work with project architects, engineers, and your team to ensure success.

“Digital communications allow for many more design opportunities regarding audio and video in large spaces,” said Weibel. “This allows for easier physical wiring and provision in large spaces, and almost infinite design and configuration possibilities.”

Revenue Boost

Frank Milesky

Frank Milesky

When it comes to generating new revenue at Cenero, Frank Milesky, Southeast area director, said, “We’ve gotten creative about how and what we position from a digital canvas and audiovisual perspective.” Transportation hubs and centers are actively looking for new ways to design static areas of their facilities with either revenue-generating or experiential opportunities, and Cenero has created some turnkey solutions.

“For experiential spaces, we are no longer just the ‘AV team’ that just does the ‘medium’ or the ‘technology,’” said Milesky. Cenero works closely with local digital retail ad firms, recruiting them to become affiliates so they can provide a cohesive package. “We’ve partnered and aligned with three digital content shops who help us provide the client with storyboards of how we may be able to use these spaces to provide a different experience,” he said. Including the content teams right from the beginning ensures the technology medium matches the intent of the space. “We use our partners to help comment on which technologies may best deliver the requested experience,” said Milesky.

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“We’ve heavily leveraged AVaaS and leasing to provide opex [operational expenditure] models that mirror cash out-flows for the equipment outlay, as well as cash in-flows with advertisers,” said Milesky. “We’re able to reduce the need for a client to come up with significant capital to purchase these solutions. Via leasing or AVaaS, we’re able to get them the technology they want and finance the payment over time.”

Integrating audio and visual communications solutions enhances the effectiveness of wayfinding, paging, emergency notification, and evacuation information. “Integrators who may have only offered audio-based communications can boost revenue by layering in visual messaging solutions such as digital signage,” said John Massaro, vice president engineering and operations at MKJ Communications.

MKJ is doing exactly this by adding digital signage to a Dante-compliant GLOBALCOM.IP audio communications network. Massaro added, “MKJ was able to implement innovative visual messaging solutions that complement audio broadcasts. For example, to help travelers with hearing impairments, digital signage automatically displays messages being broadcast audibly.” This same signage can be used for wayfinding applications, such as directing people to the nearest exit during an emergency.

Further Streamlining

Airports and other transportation facilities don’t have the luxury of closing while undergoing renovation; since they must remain operational, changes are implemented in phases. “One airport terminal might receive a facelift, while the remaining terminals go untouched,” said Massaro. “Consequently, newly added communications systems must be able to interface with the older, existing communications networks. Products like Dante-CobraNet interfaces can facilitate this link between old and new technologies,” he said.

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Systems with automation features help streamline the boarding process. For example, gate agents need press only one button on an automated communications station to activate prerecorded boarding information. “The boarding sequence, through parameters programmed into the communications system software, can be timed perfectly for the type of aircraft at the gate,” said Benny Ameti, senior engineer at MKJ. “The system knows how long it takes to board each group of passengers specifically for the type of aircraft at the gate. The entire process is streamlined significantly.”

Near Future

Digital signage for wayfinding has been deployed for more than a decade. It’s the transition to mobile wayfinding and information-gathering that Ford AV’s Weibel sees as the next frontier. “Mobile wayfinding will someday become generally available; however, the airport administration’s expectation that all users will be comfortable with downloading apps specific to particular airports, configuring apps, creating accounts, managing passwords, and dealing with connectivity issues may be a bit too far on the future’s edge,” said Weibel. “Until then, the simple, tried-and-true information distribution via Multi-User Flight Information Display Systems [MUFIDS] and other visual alerts, combined with high-intelligibility P.A. systems, are key for keeping passengers informed.”   •