How Copenhagen Airport become a big data powerhouse

People walking through the Copenhagen Aiport with their luggage
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Copenhagen Airport is colossal. Spread across multiple terminals and passenger concourses, covering an area of 4.6 square miles, the airport employs 1,700 people and there can be up to 83 operations (take-offs and landings) every hour. Some 30 million people travel through the airport each year and this is expected to increase in the coming years. To meet the growing passenger throughput, Copenhagen Airport needed to expand.

Open data

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Five steps to big data project success

Physical expansion isn’t always possible, as airports are constrained by the physical limitations of their site and planning regulations. But space isn’t always used as effectively as it could be. 

And if an airport were to operate more efficiently, it could increase this capacity. For Copenhagen Airport, the answer lay in unlocking the power of big data.

Joining disparate systems under the AIRHART project

Airports are information-dense environments, but data is spread across multiple systems and often in incompatible formats, making it difficult to gain a complete overview of what’s happening. The result is inefficiency and conflicting priorities being introduced.

“Imagine buying a car, and the only tires you could add to that car are from a specific manufacturer,” says Mehdi Motaghiani, CEO of Smarter Airports, a joint venture between Copenhagen Airport and Netcompany.

In conversation with
Mehdi Motaghiani, CEO of Smarter Airports
In conversation with
Mehdi Motaghiani

Motaghiani leads the Total Airport Management platform as CEO of Smarter Airports, delivering data-driven solutions for airports across the world. He’s occupied the role since 2021, and was previously with Netcompany for more than 13 years. 

You need to ensure that you can keep being innovative, while still having control over timelines, systems, and the stakeholder landscape.

“We wanted to be able to add in and attach multiple systems and data to one platform that would help orchestrate those processes and create one source of truth that everyone could rely on for decision-making,” he adds.

For ten years, Copenhagen Airport examined how it could combine previously incompatible digital systems into a single platform, enabling total airport management. The solutions they were initially presented with, however, didn’t fully meet expectations, so they looked into creating their own.

The AIRHART project developed a digital platform unifying all information streams. This offered improved airport traffic management, for example enabling them to better predict passenger flows and the associated baggage handling requirements. But this was no easy task. Managing multiple data streams is challenging, especially when they’re generated by specialist software.

Why it was hard to define the project scope

Airports are constantly evolving. As such, the development team was unable to lock the project scope during its three-year development. A level of flexibility was maintained in order to be able to adapt to meet shifting demands.

“You cannot lock the scope, otherwise you would need to do all your thinking up-front; but that cannot be done, because you don’t actually know the details of what you want to achieve,” says Motaghiani. “You need to ensure that you can keep being innovative, while still having control over timelines, systems, and the stakeholder landscape.”


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Airports also necessitate high-level security, which Netcompany ensured by developing AIRHART with a methodology based on security by design; they used continuous testing, authentication safeguards, and good programming practices to make AIRHART as impervious to attack as possible. AIRHART’s security was tested prior to launch by penetration testing teams.

The team then rolled out AIRHART with minimum levels of disruption thanks to the ‘shadow production’ distribution model. The existing platform and the new AIRHART were running simultaneously across the networks; by not enforcing full adoption, Copenhagen Airport enabled stakeholders to transition to the AIRHART system at their own pace. 

How the project met regulatory requirements

Airport regulators are understandably risk averse, so one AIRHART’s key challenges was meeting the strict regulatory requirements necessitated by governing bodies. A particular challenge was they were developing AIRHART according to new regulations – which hadn’t been previously mandated.

“There are a set of laws around air traffic management systems, which are new, as the systems put into production after a given date need to comply with this new set of standards and regulations. As there had not been anyone going through this process, we needed to understand that and make it tangible: what did it actually mean when it comes down to software testing and security?”

With hindsight, they'd have liked to be more involved with regulators. Greater collaboration would have let them create a platform with compliance embedded at its core. “What we tried to do was not only develop a platform but to say ‘This is what we think should be a standard’,” explains Motaghiani.

The next stage for AIRHART will be using machine learning to predict events and recommend actions. Utilizing machine learning in this way could help Copenhagen Airport further minimize disruption and improve efficiency. There are also plans in the works to offer the core functionality of AIRHART to other airports and potentially similarly complex sites, such as hospitals.