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How digital twins are transforming large-scale airports
Jun 8, 2023|7 Min
How digital twins are transforming large-scale airports

At a time when air travel is rapidly changing, airports are looking to digital transformation as a way to evolve their operations and services and meet environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) goals.

Using digital twins – dynamic virtual copies of physical assets, processes, systems, or environments – airports can make more informed decisions and unlock significant operational efficiencies, enabling them to:

  • Accurately predict passenger flow and allocate resources where they are needed the most.
  • Avoid costly errors by testing different scenarios and making changes before implementing them in the real-world environment.
  • Optimize operations by gathering and analyzing data from multiple sources such as flight and baggage information, security wait times, and more.

Large-scale airports like Vancouver International Airport (YVR) are taking the lead in embracing digital twin technology to improve operations, meet sustainability and Reconciliation goals, and enable jobs of the future. Read on to learn more about YVR’s first-of-its-kind digital twin.

Digital twin in action: Vancouver Airport Authority

With the vision to reimagine airport operations, the team at the Vancouver Airport Authority partnered with Unity’s professional services group to build and deploy the first-to-market real-time 3D digital twin of an airport in North America.

Built as a people-first technology for the airport’s front-line workers, designers, and community, YVR’s digital twin leverages historical and real-time data and can present key information through 2D or 3D visualization, enabling better comprehension of complex operational systems, streamlined processes, and accelerated collaboration across the airport’s key stakeholders.

Beyond enhancing operations throughout the airport, YVR’s digital twin of their airfield and terminal is also working to support the airport’s climate and Reconciliation goals.

Enhanced operations
Sample live, 2D view of YVR airport activity through digital twin technology, showing a vehicle transportation alert.

As the largest building in British Columbia and one of the busiest airports in North America, YVR faces a diverse range of process considerations to ensure smooth and efficient operations around the clock. To address these considerations, the airport and Unity worked to develop a situational awareness tool that integrates with its digital twin, enabling airport staff and partners to proactively and rapidly respond to operational issues while prioritizing the safety of passengers, planes, and cargo.

“At YVR, we want our people to have the tools they need to succeed in a dynamic environment,” says Lynette DuJohn, CIO of the Vancouver Airport Authority. “The digital twin technology solves many airport-related challenges and provides an incredible layer of situational awareness for our employees.”

The situational awareness tool provides a real-time, bird’s-eye view of YVR’s terminal, and consolidates information and alerts to notify users of potential safety issues and data anomalies. This tool also enables YVR staff to make informed decisions and explore hypothetical scenarios around security, weather, and other potential concerns.

Digital twin rendering of the exterior of YVR from an aerial perspective.

To advance the industry’s decarbonization goals and as a part of its commitment to becoming the world’s greenest airport, YVR is using its digital twin to build a first-to-market calculation model and baseline measurement to visually track and analyze aircraft carbon emissions from landing to takeoff. Currently, over 95% of emissions on Sea Island, where YVR is located, are from aircraft movements, vehicle traffic, and non-airport authority buildings. By measuring GHG emissions in real-time, YVR can now better support its own climate goals, as well as those of its carrier partners.

“We’re going to be net zero by 2030 versus 2050, so we need to move our plan up by 20 years,” says DuJohn. “Being able to model all of those scenarios is going to be very powerful for us to really get our arms around efficiency and climate.”


As a part of its path to Reconciliation, YVR is committed to advancing Indigenous participation and leadership in technology and innovation. The airport has partnered with Unity to deliver a Unity training program to Musqueam Indian Band learners, who will receive a foundational 3D skill certificate to support future career placements within the digital twin and gaming industries.

YVR’s digital twin development doesn’t end with their airport. Together, Unity and YVR are working to commercialize the airport’s digital twin model for the global aviation industry, enabling other airports to advance their digital transformation.

Want to learn more about how Unity and YVR built North America’s first-to-market real-time 3D digital twin of an airport? Read the full case study.

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