The demand for flying shows no sign of abating. In fact, between now and 2036, IATA predicts that demand will soar from around four billion to an astonishing 7.8 billion passengers.
This scale of growth presents massive opportunities for the air transport industry, but also comes with real challenges. Principle among those will be the pressure it places on airport infrastructure, operations and passenger processing systems.
Finite physical space and capital limit the potential of airport expansion in the form of new terminals and new runways. Growth in passenger numbers cannot be met with equivalent growth in airport size. Airports cannot build their way out of this challenge. They will have to be smarter with their existing real estate by processing passengers faster, minimising the impact of disruption, and reducing aircraft turnaround times.
Fortunately, there are many technologies which are addressing airports’ capacity to meet unprecedented levels of demand. Some are here today, others are coming soon
What’s here now?
– Disruption management
As demand for air travel continues to grow exponentially, ﬂight disruptions and the resulting operational inefficiencies have become one of the core challenges airlines and airports face on a regular basis.
Current efforts are focused on disruption management initiatives to improve recovery, in particular resolving the impact of disruption on the efficiency of operations. Technology is the critical element here. To enhance their capabilities, airlines are turning to common or well-integrated systems to improve the quality of their data and their ability to share it internally.
While these actions are an essential part of the response to any kind of disruption, they relate to managing disruption as and when it happens. What’s also needed is more time to allow airlines and airports to plan ahead. They need to be able to anticipate and predict disruption before it even happens.
A small number of airports are already using predictive technology to minimise disruptions. However, by 2020, almost 60% of the world’s airports expect to be using integrated systems to predict potential disruptions and their impact before they occur, while more than half are looking to implement automated predictive alerts before flight disruption events.
All of these initiatives depend on ready access to high quality data – and the tools to interpret and deliver relevant information which can be used to avoid disruption or to manage it so that there is minimal impact. Technology is critical to unlock the value of data but so, too, is the process used to provide optimal results.
– Self-service and single token travel
From check-in to bag-drop, right through to security and boarding the plane, the self-service revolution has well and truly taken off at airports. But the most exciting technology making self-service a reality and driving efficiency along the entire airport journey is biometric-enabled single token travel.
The arrival and acceptance of biometrics has huge potential for passenger processing, with common-use single token travel set to transform the way passengers move through the airport.
SITA has worked with JetBlue and the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) using biometrics to trial paperless and device less self-boarding at Boston Logan International Airport.
The technology uses facial recognition to verify customers’ identity at the gate. It’s a very simple process. Passengers just look into the camera and wait for the signal to board. There’s no need to show passports or boarding passes. Behind the scenes, the camera station connects to the CBP to instantly match the image to the passport, visa or immigration photos held by the CBP, and verifies the flight details. Early results show that the majority of passengers opt into the new service.
A senior CBP official also recently cited the success of the SITA/JetBlue trial as the reason behind the decision to further explore potential use of facial recognition in other areas of the airport. With confirmation of the passenger’s identity said to take between two and three seconds, it is clear why it’s being considered for every ID checkpoint at the airport.
This option is being explored in other parts of the world, too. Our end-to-end single token travel solution, Smart Path, is being trialled at several major airports around the world, including Brisbane Airport, where adding biometrics into existing check-in and boarding processes has created a secure and seamless passenger journey, based on a single facial scan.
Air New Zealand passengers at the airport can now board their flights with a single glance at a camera – no more tickets to scan, no more passports to show. All that’s required is a simple enrolment process that takes less than a minute to complete.
– Internet of things, big data, and business intelligence
In airports, the Internet of things (IoT) can be used to track assets, resources and queue status. Using that data, and ideally sharing it, airport managers can streamline all sorts of processes including passenger processing, resource allocation, boarding, baggage handling and aircraft turnaround times.
And this is just the beginning. IoT can be used to track baggage to know where bags are at all times. Intelligent machines, which are a cross-over of IoT and artificial intelligence, can do basic tasks that make the passenger journey better, such as the use of personal locator beacons so the relevant teams and equipment are ready at the gate the second an aircraft arrives at it, reducing the potential of delays.
A better awareness of real-time flight information thanks to Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM) can also cut minutes off aircraft turnaround times. It might not sound like much in isolation, but multiplied out, it makes a huge difference to airport capacity.
– Airport connectivity
Airports are the centre of the air transport industry’s communications and are becoming ever more connected. By 2030, whopping 18,000 airline communication connections will be needed at the world’s airports. The challenge the industry faces is to have reliable, secure, high performance communications – consistently across the world’s airports – for airlines, ground handlers, maintenance companies, other airport tenants and the airports themselves.
SITA AirportHub, now available at more than 400 airports around the world, enables this at all airport destinations ranging from remote and regional destinations serving less than a million passengers, to the largest international hubs of the world, which together manage hundreds of millions of passengers every year.
What can we expect in the future?
– Artificial intelligence
Airlines and airports are looking to Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help minimise the impact of disruption on the passenger experience and their business. Using cognitive computing, predictive analytics and other progressive technical capabilities, airlines and airports can predict and, therefore, mitigate the impact of any disruptions. That’s good for business and good for passengers.
They are also investigating AI-driven chatbots, to give passengers access to more information in a very simple way. Chatbots already exist but AI will take them to a new level, pre-empting passengers’ questions.
Flight Information Displays will be able to recognise the passenger, based on their biometric data, and provide the exact information you need at that exact moment, for example your gate number and how long it will take to walk there.
SITA has been trialling the potential of robotics, exploring various use cases to see what area can be most improved by our robot friends.
KATE is our intelligent check-in kiosk – a robot – that takes itself to congested areas in the airport, using data that already exists to solve the problem of long check-in queues. It improves the passenger experience by reducing check-in times. It also removes staff from being part of the check-in process, so they can focus more on customer relationship management.
A trial which recently started at Kansai International Airport in Japan should give us some concrete data on KATE’s performance and the impact a check-in robot can have on dealing with ever-increasing capacity.
KATE follows in the footsteps of LEO, our fully autonomous, self-propelling baggage robot. LEO is currently touring airports around the world showcasing the potential of robots in air transport.
It’s no secret blockchain has the potential to drive efficiencies in almost every industry in the world. Air transport is certainly no exception. Like all emerging technologies, it’s a matter of figuring out which areas of the industry benefit most acutely.
To begin the process of figuring that out, we worked with British Airways, Heathrow, Geneva Airport and Miami International Airport to investigate how blockchain technology can make the air transport industry more efficient and secure.
The subject of the trial was flight data because it is an obvious use case. When there is a delay, there are often differences between the information provided by passenger apps, airport flight information displays and airline agents.
If everyone has access to the same data, passengers can be given accurate and consistent information, and operations can be streamlined. And the beauty of blockchain is that the data is accessible for all parties involved while each party retains control over their own data.
While we are several years away from blockchain/distributed ledger technology becoming a mainstream enterprise technology, it’s becoming very clear that it will have an opportunity to make a significant difference to data sharing. And the more data is shared across the industry, the better the decision-making and therefore the more efficient the operations.
Which technology delivers the best results?
Each technology contributes in its own right, but the true power of these technologies is when they work together. And the collaborative power of technologies can only be truly realised if they’re integrated into the airport’s existing infrastructure. No technology is an island. At least, it shouldn’t be.