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Demystifying the Airport Digital Twin

Planes on the tarmac of an airport with the sun rising on the horizon.

Eve Machol, Microsoft’s director of Airport and Transportation Industry Innovation, invites airport leaders to a webinar discussing the viability of digital twins to improve airport operations, the traveler experience and sustainability.

Our nation’s airports are constantly looking for new ways of enhancing the travel experience and improve operational efficiency and sustainability, particularly as U.S. travel demand is soon expected to achieve and even surpass pre-pandemic levels. With a passion for envisioning how we can leverage the latest technological capabilities to empower the aviation industry’s digital transformation, I recently hosted a Microsoft on-demand webinar with two credible industry leaders to discover — and demystify — the real possibilities of digital twin technology for airports.


It was an honor to join experts Stuart R. (Stu) Garrett, aviation technology consultant for Burns & McDonnell, and Michael Youngs, vice president of Information Technology at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), to discuss digital twins in the airport environment. In under an hour, we cover the benefits of creating comprehensive digital models of physical airport environments, processes and simulations that harness real-time data to optimize operations, reduce costs and improve the traveler experience.

With the litany of existing presentations, articles and white papers on this topic, we differentiated this webinar by delivering new insights on:

  • What’s tangible versus aspirational when it comes to digital twin technology.
  • How digital twins can enable airports to achieve their goals.
  • How to plan digital twin projects and avoid common pitfalls and risks.


Our digital twin webinar opens with introductory comments, followed by DFW’s Youngs summing up the value of this innovation: “From an airport perspective, I see [digital twin technology] as a great platform to provide [and visualize] real-time situational awareness … to drive towards operational efficiencies.”

He then explains the digital twin evolution, from functional to connected to intelligent, with the latter enabling airports to “ultimately get to a place where you can anticipate an issue before it even occurs, so you’re improving your operations and, at the same time, ideally making for a pleasant passenger experience.”

Youngs provides an overview of the “ton of use cases” for digital twins at airports — from managing airfield movement and ground transportation to passenger flow and processing, simulating emergency scenarios, automating building control systems and beyond. Calling the capability “very powerful for airports,” he highlights DFW’s work on a groundbreaking digital twin project with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. With the goals of improving energy efficiency, asset maintenance and operations, Youngs shows the project’s latest videos of DFW’s Runway 18R and Terminal D digital twins built on WillowTwin™ and powered by our trusted Microsoft Azure Digital Twins platform.


I led a free-flowing conversation on the potential of digital twin technology at airports. Youngs also shares DFW’s digital twin lessons learned and plans, noting:

  • DFW’s Capital Construction Program will fund future digital twin expansion.
  • The importance of having:
    • An integration platform for ease of maintenance as external systems are replaced or upgraded.
    • A safe-software process to convert data from multiple spatial formats into the digital twin configuration.
  • DFW has active projects underway to put sensors on escalators, moving walkways and concession locations since “everybody is talking about sensors.”
  • With more sensors coming, “we are making a big investment in comprehensive campuswide connectivity … to provide data in real time.”
  • DFW is building an asset registry to ensure “quality data, reliable data that’s being fed into our digital twin” since “success is really dependent on the quality of the data coming from those source systems.”
  • Another key element is data governance to identify “who those data stewards are and who’s responsible for various data that’s going to be fed into the twin.”


All three of us also reinforce the importance of data security in relation to digital twin technology. Garrett underscores the point by calling cybersecurity “part and parcel to the very fundamental fabric of everything that we’re doing at airports today. As a consultant and a technology designer, it has to be part of every conversation.”


With Congress passing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, there are significant digital twin opportunities to improve our nation’s transportation system and better support the almost 3 million passengers flying in and out of U.S. airports every day.[1] Please join us for Demystifying the airport digital twin to learn how this advanced technology can help unlock innovation in airport operations, the customer experience and achieving sustainability goals.

[1] Air Traffic By The Numbers (