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IT Last modified on April 9, 2019

Investing in innovation

IT can help airports keep pace with rising demand and meet growing passenger expectations, writes Bruno Spada, head of airport IT at Amadeus.

The airport as we know it is evolving in response to a continually changing operating environment where more demands than ever before are being placed on them to up their game.

Firstly, passenger numbers continue to rise year-on-year, placing increased pressure on airport infrastructure.

It is estimated that in 2018, the world’s airlines carried 4.3 billion passengers on scheduled flights, up 200 million on 2017 alone. This is particularly challenging for airports that are inhibited from expanding infrastructure due to finances, regulation or simply by a lack of space.

Secondly, the world’s airports are entering an especially competitive era. Downward pressure on landing fees are forcing them to look to ancillary services, such as retail and other non-aeronautical options, to drive and bolster revenues.

This is true of many airports, from the smaller ones catering to regional traffic to the mega-hubs that connect the globe.

And lastly, airports are not immune from wider technological trends reshaping how people work, spend their leisure time and interact with family and friends.

New technologies that people use in their everyday lives to communicate and find information have increased passenger expectations of air travel. For example, the transformation of the retail and hospitality sectors mean that queues and long delays are seen as belonging to another era. The question for airports is, how to respond.

Technology can unlock greater operational effectiveness and advanced passenger processing

As always, change provides both significant challenges and opportunities to airports. By investing in technology, airports are able to build more compelling offers to airlines, differentiating themselves from competition and delivering value in terms of operational effectiveness and passenger processing.

Investment in technological innovation also allows airports to meet rising passenger expectations in terms of personalisation, speed of transit and access to information during times of disruption.

In the past, the modernisation of technology systems required a fundamental rip and replace of systems, long migration times and severe upheaval for airports. However, the emergence of cloud technology means that airports are able to upgrade their technology infrastructure and capabilities with relative ease.

Cloud technology frees airports from legacy constraints

Much of the transportation sector has often approached technology and innovation with caution. Understandably, considering systems are supporting mission critical processes that keep travellers moving.

However, all too often legacy technology has been a barrier to innovation and agility. For airports that need to attract airlines, as well as passengers, it is no longer an option to be left behind. This is where cloud technology comes in.

The cloud is highly agile, allowing airports to scale up and down operations depending on demand. It affords greater security and a higher level of resilience with its third-party data centre staffed by hundreds of dedicated professionals.

It also gives much more flexibility to the airlines, drastically cutting the length of time it takes to open new routes, from months to days. This is a crucial innovation when it comes to attracting and retaining airlines in a highly competitive market.

Increasing capacity by implementing off-airport solutions

Typically, the most common cause of long airport queues are capacity issues in the check-in and security control lanes.

There are, of course, a number of factors that can put constraints on capacity. An unexpected surge at check-in due to the early arrival of large groups or other events can overload available check-in desks, even when airports are fully staffed. The inflexibility of legacy IT can leave airports unable to respond effectively to such surges.

This is where modern cloud-based technology can have a major impact. It makes it easy to switch on new portable check-in terminals and kiosks to meet spikes in demand.

At the same time, capacity constraints in the terminal can be addressed by thinking beyond the terminal. Innovative companies such as OACIS (Off Airport Check In Solutions) have built their services around the cloud, pioneering the use of ‘pop-up’ check-in desks, which can be deployed anywhere with a basic internet connection, such as at cruise terminals, conference centres, hotels or at major sporting events.

Pop-up check-in desks can effectively remove congestion from the airport, ensuring that passengers and their baggage are processed before they arrive at the airport.

Not only does this allow airports to better manage and increase their capacity but eases the passenger experience, allowing more time for relaxation and leisure.

Meeting rising passenger expectations with biometrics

We are also seeing technology innovation transform the airport terminal. In the same way that technological disruption is transforming the world of work and leisure, the same is happening in travel.

What unites airports, airlines and ground handlers is the passenger, which is why it makes sense to look at how technology can be deployed to benefit the passenger, and in turn the industry at large.

One area which offers significant benefits to both the passenger and the industry is biometrics. For passengers, lengthy queues at check-in, immigration or at the boarding gate can be some of the most frustrating aspects of travel. Biometrics has the potential to remove these frustrations.

A recent trial by Lufthansa at Los Angeles International Airport saw the airline board 350 passengers onto an A380 in just twenty minutes. Working with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), we were able to ensure passengers could be processed at the self-boarding gates in real-time.

Within the next 5-10 years, biometrics will have a transformative effect on passenger processing, making a tangible difference to the experience of passengers. At Amadeus, we can imagine an airport free from friction points and one that makes passports and boarding passes a thing of the past.

Seamless passenger processing will not only improve the passenger experience, but help airports capitalise on ancillary services by encouraging greater leisure time in the airport.

Building airports fit for the 21st century

While change presents airports with challenges, it also provides them with opportunities to innovate and rethink processes and approaches to passenger processing.

The adoption of cloud technology and the removal of legacy systems, for example, offers airports the chance to step into the future.

Embracing innovation also provides airports with the opportunity to lead the industry and reshape the experience of air travel for passengers.

IT really is the great enabler that is already removing some of the common pain points on our journeys and will lead the way in restoring the romance and excitement of travel!

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