Human Systems

An airport is one of the largest and most complex systems in modern society. Since passengers are the primary customer, airports are becoming very customer focussed, in particular introducing new technology to improve the passenger’s airport experience. To determine the appropriateness and effectiveness of technology and other services in Australian airports, it is vital to investigate and fully understand what airport users currently do and interact with whilst at an airport.

Passenger activities are typically divided into two categories: processing activities and discretionary activities. Processing activities are those related to the regulatory processes involved with boarding a plane including check-in, security checks and immigration. Typically only a small proportion of the total time spent at an airport is spent in processing activities [1]. Any activity outside of necessary processing activities (such as duty-free shopping) are identified as discretionary activities.

It is also important to understand how airport personnel interact with passengers and the technology which they are trained to use.  A study from both these perspectives is therefore very important in creating an effective model of an airport as a complex system.

Research Aims

The aim of this research program is to advance knowledge and understand of human interaction (both passengers and airport personnel) with services and technology in Australian airports.  The intention is to research both passenger and airport personnel experiences and needs within the airport which will enable both perspectives to be compared and models derived to assist complex systems modelling.  It is also desired to identify and understand passengers’ movements and interaction between commerce and leisure (i.e. discretionary activities) as this has yet to receive in-depth research attention in airport environments.

Research Approach

  • Passenger interactions (and their experiences) at and between security and facilitation check-points (including border control) will be researched, analysed and coded; this will inform the human-centred design of future business operations.  Outcomes from the triangulation of qualitative research methods (observations, interviews, and focus groups) will be integrated with quantitative Complex System models, Business Process Models and agent-based models within the Airport Information Model (AIM). This will provide virtual simulation capabilities of current and future passenger activities, and will inform new design links between commerce and leisure.
  • Appropriate AIM interfaces (at the system and component level) will be researched to ensure adaptable, effective and user-centred operation (with inputs from Intelligent Surveillance and the AIM).

For more information see People and Systems (PAS) Lab.

Research Team

  • Professor Vesna Popovic (Chief Investigator)
  • Dr. Ben Kraal
  • Ali Livingstone (PhD student)
  • Phil Kirk (PhD student)
  • Andrew Cave (PhD student)
  • Anna Harrison (PhD student)
  • Levi Swann (PhD student)


  1. Takakuwa, S., & Oyama, T. (2003). Modeling people flow: simulation analysis of international-departure passenger flows in an airport terminal. In Proceedings of the 35th conference on Winter simulation: driving innovation New Orleans, Louisiana, 1627-1634.