Abu Dhabi deploys distancing AI as airports adapt to pandemic

As a part of a new trial, select passengers traveling with Etihad Airways will be informed of the optimal time for them to arrive at Abu Dhabi International Airport, staggering passenger arrivals and reducing overcrowding. (AFP)
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Updated 15 November 2020

Abu Dhabi deploys distancing AI as airports adapt to pandemic

  • Artificial intelligence used to shorten queues, support social distancing and restore passenger confidence in air travel

LONDON: Abu Dhabi International Airport is trialing the use of artificial intelligence to shorten queues and support social distancing.

The “Smart Travel” system, developed in partnership with ConvergentAI, aims to optimize passenger traffic through the airport from check-in and immigration through to boarding.

It comes as airports and airlines worldwide try to restore passenger confidence in air travel, which has been severely damaged by a pandemic that has already claimed close to 1.4 million lives worldwide.

As a part of the trial, select passengers traveling with Etihad Airways will be informed of the optimal time for them to arrive at Abu Dhabi International Airport. By staggering passenger arrivals, the new system aims to reduce crowding, facilitate social distancing and shorten queues.

“Minimizing queuing at airports is key to safeguarding passenger health and wellbeing and streamlining operations,” said Abu Dhabi Airports Chief Information Officer John Barton.

Airports were already increasingly deploying new technology from biometrics to body scanners to help speed passengers through airports. Now such tech is increasingly being re-purposed to minimize the risk of infection.

“The pandemic has hastened trends of change that were already in motion before the pandemic,” Antoinette Nassopoulos Erickson, a senior partner at Foster and Partners, told the CAPA Live virtual aviation gathering last week.

“Technology will be essential not just for health and safety but for a smoother passenger experience.”

Abu Dhabi International Airport is also looking at integrating AI into its safety and security systems.

“AI equipped systems can be taught to detect irregular activity or objects and notify the relevant teams to address potential issues swiftly and efficiently,” the airport said in a statement.

The Middle East aviation sector has been especially hard hit by the pandemic because of the dominance of hub airports, which rely more on international long haul travel than domestic routes.

The latest data from IATA for September 2020 shows that passenger traffic levels are down by more than 88 percent from a year earlier — the weakest of all global regions. Passenger loads were just 36.5 percent, which was also lower than any other region.

US sanctions Chinese and Russian firms over Iran trade

Updated 29 November 2020

US sanctions Chinese and Russian firms over Iran trade

  • Four companies accused of ‘transferring sensitive technology and items’ to missile program

LONDON: The US has slapped economic sanctions on four Chinese and Russian companies that Washington claims helped to support Iran’s missile program.

The four were accused of “transferring sensitive technology and items to Iran’s missile program” and will be subject to restrictions on US government aid and their exports for two years, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

The sanctions, imposed on Wednesday, were against two Chinese-based companies, Chengdu Best New Materials and Zibo Elim Trade, as well as Russia’s Nilco Group and joint stock company Elecon.

“These measures are part of our response to Iran’s malign activities,” said Pompeo. “These determinations underscore the continuing need for all countries to remain vigilant to efforts by Iran to advance its missile program. We will continue to work to impede Iran’s missile development efforts and use our sanctions authorities to spotlight the foreign suppliers, such as these entities in the PRC and Russia, that provide missile-related materials and technology to Iran.”

The Trump administration has ramped up sanctions on Tehran after withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018.

Earlier this week, Pompeo met Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah, when the campaign of pressure on the Iranian regime was also discussed.

“I want to thank Kuwait for its support of the maximum pressure campaign. Together, we are denying Tehran money, resources, wealth, weapons with which they would be able to commit terror acts all across the region,” he said.

It is not yet clear how the incoming administration of Joe Biden will deal with Tehran and whether it wants to revive the nuclear deal which would be key reviving the country’s battered economy. The Iranian rial has lost about half of its value this year against the dollar, fueling inflation and deepening the damage to the economy.

Iran’s economy would grow as much as 4.4 percent next year if sanctions were lifted, the Institute of International Finance (IIF) said last week. 

The economy is expected to contract by about 6.1 percent in 2020 according to IIF estimates.