Heathrow Airport

Heathrow prepares rather than reacts: uses data to deliver airport calm

Travel can be stressful, especially when flights are cancelled or plans change. Heathrow Airport is using Microsoft Power BI and Microsoft Azure to make travel less nerve-wracking for the airport’s 200,000 daily passengers. Heathrow uses Azure to pull data out of back-end business systems and push it to Power BI, which shows employees at a glance and in real time how airport passenger traffic is changing so they can prepare. By using data to understand its business better than ever before, Heathrow is transforming the travel experience.

Heathrow Airport is the United Kingdom’s gateway to the world. Every day, 200,000 people pass through Heathrow en route to parts unknown. The airport’s ambition is to deliver “happy passengers, traveling with their bags, on time.” It delivers on that promise using Microsoft Power BI to bring real-time operational data to life for 75,000 airport workers, who are better able to keep passengers moving smoothly through the airport through stormy weather, cancelled flights, and other disruptions.

Heathrow uses Microsoft Azure technologies to liberate data from operational systems—weather tracking, flight schedules, baggage tracking, cargo tracking, and others—and put it in the hands of gate agents, baggage handlers, and air traffic controllers, where it can do some good.

Power BI is the secret. It converts this back-end data into visual reports and dashboards that deliver aha! insights to airport staff and employees. Say a shift in the jet stream just delayed the landing of 20 flights, putting 6,000 extra passengers in the airport at 6:00 PM. Previously, immigration, customs, baggage handling, and food services staff wouldn’t know about those extra passengers until they materialized, leaving staff to muster through as best they could.

But today, all these staffers receive a notification one to two hours beforehand so they can add extra people, buses, French fries, and other resources to support the influx.

“With Power BI, we can very quickly connect to a wide range of data sources with very little effort and use this data to run Heathrow more smoothly than ever before,” says Stuart Birrell, Chief Information Officer at Heathrow Airport. “Every day, we experience a huge amount of variability in our business. With the Microsoft cloud, we’re getting to the point where we can anticipate passenger flow and stay ahead of disruption that causes stress for passengers and employees,” Birrell says.

Soon, Heathrow will push real-time operational data directly to passengers via an app that will let flyers know where to find their connecting gate, their favorite eatery, and their baggage.

Behind the scenes, Heathrow uses services such as Azure Data Lake Analytics, Azure Stream Analytics, and Azure SQL Database to extract, clean, and prepare real-time data about flight movement, passenger transfers, security queues, and immigration queues before sending it to Power BI. 

 “We’re pushing the boundaries of artificial intelligence and data analysis to give our passengers the best airport experience in the world,” Birrell says. “Microsoft is a critical ally in this digital transformation.”

Find out more about Heathrow Airport on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

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