Is Seoul Incheon set to be the world’s most digitally advanced airport?

The capital of South Korea, Seoul, is an amalgamation of history, technology, culture and the future. Seoul Incheon Airport is no different. Replacing Seoul Gimpo Airport in 2001, Incheon was constructed to serve aviation demand with a 21st century twist and evolve as a hub in Northeast Asia.

Incheon’s uniqueness is exemplified in its amenities and the continued acclaim for its infrastructure. For example, the airport has an ice skating rink, casino, golf course, spa, private sleeping rooms, indoor gardens, and a Museum of Korean Culture.

Incheon International Airport Corporation (IIAC) has most recently pushed to evolve the facility’s digital prowess. By 2023, Incheon plans to implement the following technology-enabled services:


  • Facial recognition technology-enabled SmartPass check-in and boarding.
  • Home baggage drop-off courier service enabling passengers to have baggage items delivered to the airport and loaded onto aircraft.
  • Walkthrough tunnel-type security screening system.
  • Deployment of 14 artificial intelligence robots at passenger terminals.
  • Autonomous low and high speed shuttle bus services.
  • Automated parking valet robots.
  • Intelligent CCTV security surveillance system.
  • Unmanned duty free retail outlets using Internet of Things technology.

The Blue Swan Daily evaluates these initiatives:

Facial recognition, biometrics to be key drivers of Seoul’s digitisation

Three of the eight services to be introduced by Incheon Airport involve facial recognition, including SmartPass, its walkthrough tunnel security system and intelligent CCTV.

SmartPass is a service enabling passengers to board international services at Incheon using preregistered facial recognition and other biometric data. The information would replace boarding passes and passports and is slated for initial commissioning in early 2019, with full-scale operation expected to start in early 2020.

Paired with SmartPass is a service enabling departing passengers to have heavy baggage items delivered to Incheon Airport by a courier. The delivered baggage would be registered and loaded onto aircraft, and the system is supposedly ready for trials in 2H2018. IIAC is undertaking negotiations with Korea Customs Service to offer a similar service for arriving passengers, enabling them to have baggage items collected from aircraft, screened by customs officials and delivered to their home address.

Perhaps even more ambitious than SmartPass is Incheon’s proposed walkthrough security system. The tunnel-type system is expected to be the first of its kind globally and will be designed to enable passengers and their baggage items to be screened simultaneously, rather than separately, while walking through the tunnel. The tunnel and its associated systems, already under development by LG, are hoped to improve the efficiency of screening and thereby better the airport’s queue management for passengers.

In an added use of facial recognition, “intelligent” CCTV security surveillance systems will also be deployed at Incheon. IIAC’s idea of intelligent is a system capable of detecting abnormal behaviour, stressful body language and odd facial expressions in real time. The system is expected to enhance IIAC’s ability to respond to security threats at the airport, or perhaps identify a threat before it comes to a realisation.

Initiatives also signalling a move to more autonomous and unmanned systems

The remainder of Incheon’s initiatives all encompass autonomous systems, capable of operating with little to no human supervision.

The 14 ‘AirStar’ artificially intelligent, self-propelled, multilingual service robots were deployed at the facility in late Jul-2018. Developed by LG Electronics and LG CNS, the robots are based on data gathered from operation of first generation robots at Incheon in 2017, and they provide passengers with boarding gate directions, flight schedules and map information.

Aside from automated parking valet robots and shuttle bus services, the final digital initiative to be rolled out at Incheon is unmanned duty free retail outlets. Using Internet of Things (IoT) technology to send and receive data, travellers will be given the opportunity to make duty free purchases completely autonomously.

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