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How digital innovation is making Gatwick fit for the future

Gatwick’s chief information officer, Cathal Corcoran discusses how the airport has undergone a major digital transformation in a bid to improve the experience for its 45 million annual passengers.

As the busiest single-runway airport in the world, Gatwick faces challenges on a daily basis operating at or near capacity most of the time. With ambitions to expand, its vital those behind the airport’s digital programme continue to embrace new opportunities to ensure the airport remains at the forefront of aviation.

Gatwick’s CIO Cathal Corcoran is the man responsible for leading the digital agenda and is just over two years into the role. He spoke to Infrastructure Intelligence about how embracing change has led to further efficiencies. “To enable our digital transformation, we have just future-proofed our entire IT network for the next decade and it can now take advantage of new, modern technologies for the benefit of airport users - including more than 250 onsite businesses, 30,000 staff and 45 million annual passengers,” he said. 

According to Corcoran, the need for change became clear when there was a realisation that the airport’s IT network was becoming dated and taking up too much staff time resolving issues. “As one of Europe’s busiest airports and a critical national infrastructure site, it was also vital that we installed a resilient, fault tolerant network that could better cope with or adapt to disruption,” the CIO said. We have a talented, international IT team at Gatwick and I want them to be delivering the latest exciting innovations instead of sorting out issues.  Our new network means they can now do that.”

   Cathal Corcoran.

A pioneering trial is set to start this summer whereby the airport will use autonomous vehicles to create the “Uber of the airfield” and as a result reduce the need for such large vehicle fleets, emissions and saving on costs. “Gatwick’s 300 airside vehicles are stationary 90% of the time – as staff attend to aircraft and passengers - however our trial of electric-powered autonomous vehicles will soon allow workers to use them on our airfield,” Corcoran explains. “We think this trial is the first of its kind for any airport in the world and - if successful and scaled up - it could lead to airfield transport needs being met from a much smaller pool of autonomous vehicles,” he says.

The process of change, while ensuring the airport remained 100% operational in just a period of 18 months, was always going to prove tricky but Corcoran has lauded collaboration between teams working on transformation. “Transitioning from old to new networks while keeping the world’s most efficient runway operating was a delicate balancing act,” he says. 

“HPE, the company that provided our new network, had a strong team embedded on site throughout the transition and they worked seamlessly with Gatwick’s IT team to avoid any impact to the day-to-day running of the airport. The importance of how well the HPE and Gatwick teams worked together cannot be stressed enough,” says Corcoran.

But while the last few years have seen various technologies embedded into the airport’s daily operations, the airport is not resting on its laurels and those behind the digital transformation programme continue to look at new opportunities available. “We are transforming the way airport information is communicated and will soon connect passengers to intelligent chat bots using Facebook Messenger, Skype, and other popular apps,” Corcoran says. 

“Other initiatives going live soon include augmented reality wayfinding and superfast Wi-Fi for passengers. Behind the scenes we are also using machine learning to bolster security and develop passenger journey mapping so gate staff can track late running passengers and send notifications via a range of apps,” he says.