Virtual Reality and passenger experience in the airport

Amsterdam, 10 November 97 Virtual Reality is more than a game. Nimmira Juma from British Airways demonstrated at the Euro-VR Conference in Amsterdam the services this technology can add to information and passenger management at Heathrow Airport London, where a fifth terminal is being planned for the near future.

With British Airways forming a global company and Heathrow being one of the biggest hubs in Western Europe, it is hardly surprising that the ground experience constitutes an important part of the BA passenger's flying journey. Therefore, it is of great commercial interest to improve services for the customers. As many departments are involved, the understanding of their functions and communication is vital. Virtual Reality can support this.

The information can be distributed under various appearances: numbers, tables, graphs and so on. Virtual Reality is helping to visualise these types of data and moreover is able to express what the customer wants to know at every moment of his stay in the airport environment. The VR system developed by British Airways enables interaction from a passenger or an object's point of view and in the same time allows some control of the operation. Passengers can be coloured by groups which of course is not possible in the real situation. Further more, helicopter view constitutes an enormous help to cope with situations of overload.

Existing VR packages include CAD interpreters, games-animation and graphic workstations. The VR software used by British airways is PC based for reasons of easy accessibility. The portable system is both cost effective and realistic and offers excellent scenario management.

Actually, one trial is being conducted for Heathrow. For this airport, plans are being designed for a fifth terminal with a totally different infrastructure from the existing ones, which will have a large impact on the desk activities. Nimmira Juma expects the VR model demonstration to be of enormous use for the proposed terminal because it promises to guide the passenger dynamics in an efficient and orderly way. Virtual Reality indeed might become the solution for those who "ain't got time to take a fast train ..." .

Leslie Versweyveld