Tech Edge

Technology the backbone of world’s best airport

Changi Airport's bet on technology

Armed with iPads and mobile apps, staff at Singapore's Changi Airport hope digital wizardry will boost its kudos with the growing number of international travelers.

"Airports must continue to evolve and go beyond meeting its passengers' needs and, even more so, think a step ahead by anticipating their customers' needs," says Steve Lee, chief information officer at Changi Airport Group. "Fundamentally, our focus does not change – to provide a stress-free, personalized and positively surprising experience for all our passengers, with a huge boost with the usage of technology."

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Changi, Southeast Asia's biggest international airport, was voted the best airport in the world in a 2014 Skytrax survey of travelers from over 160 countries.

By 2017 total passenger numbers globally are expected to rise to almost four billion, up more than 30 percent from the 2.98 billion carried by global airlines in 2012, according to the International Air Transport Association.

Changi handled a record 53.7 million passengers last year as travel appetite across the region rose and Singapore became a more popular holiday destination. Its air passenger handling capacity is expected to double by the mid-2020s.

Singapore's Changi Airport.
Munshi Ahmed | Bloomberg | Getty Images

To achieve this, a fourth terminal at Changi, situated on the east end of Singapore, is currently under construction and there are plans for a fifth terminal by the mid-2020s. Airports in Malaysia, South Korea and India are also adding or expanding terminals to meeting growing demand for air travel.

(Read more: Singapore tightens grip on Southeast Asia airport crown)

Lee says that because Changi places a strong emphasis on customer service, there is a focus on technology that enables staff to provide an excellent experience.

"We are one of the early adopters of utilizing automated feedback systems at all passenger touch-points. Using a simple touch-screen interface, the Instant Feedback System (IFS) is installed at locations such as immigration counters, information counters, retail and F&B [food and beverage] outlets, and even toilets," he said.

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"We collect over 1.5 million feedback responses a month through this system alone, thousands of times more than manual methods previously used… This feedback is invaluable as it forms the backbone of the Changi Experience."

In an email, Lee described other ways in which Changi was using technology. One example was using mobile devices for routine inspections that allowed inspectors to notify staff and rectify problems immediately.

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Another was the Service Workforce Empowerment and Experience Transformation (SWEET) – an iPad application designed to allow airport staff to access real-time operational data.

"SWEET provides the latest flight information, resource planning, operational reports and even a 'chat' function, allowing real-time discussion amongst staff," Lee said.

"Changi Experience Agents who roam the terminals to assist passengers are each armed with an iPad with SWEET access, enabling them to assist passengers with queries pertaining to flight information or facility locations within the terminal on the spot," he added.

(Read more: Singapore airport visitors soar to record high)

Changi isn't alone in going all tech to improve its service. According to media reports, staff at Virgin Atlantic's business class lounge at London's Heathrow Airport have been experimenting with Google Glass headsets to inform them of the arrival of passengers.

Lee said another project in the pipeline is an indoor location service using beacons or other suitable technology, similar to GPS outdoors.

"For instance, the passenger-facing mobile app, iChangi, will allow passengers to locate specific facilities, gates, shops or restaurants within the terminals through their mobile devices, complete with step-by-step navigation directions," he added.

— By CNBC.Com's Dhara Ranasinghe; Follow her on Twitter @DharaCNBC