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IT Last modified on October 23, 2019

Winds of change

Airports have a reputation for caution when it comes to adopting cloud technology, but Baku in Azerbaijan is defying expectations, writes Yannick Beunardeau, Amadeus’ vice president for airport IT.

In June this year, Baku’s Heydar Aliyev International Airport did what no airport in history has done before and moved its entire operations to the cloud.

The decision was timely, as the ‘City of Winds’ establishes itself as a thriving destination for global business. A world class airport, complementing intelligent design with cutting-edge technology, will play an essential part in the city’s future.

As critical infrastructure providers, airports have naturally been slower to embrace new technology than industries like retailing and even banking. From audio streaming platforms to email to the core financial ledgers that keep track of people’s bank balances, the cloud has become part of our every day. However, the tendency for airports to value the tried and tested over the new and innovative, means that they are comparative latecomers to the cloud but, as the Baku example shows, this reputation for caution is changing fast.

Passenger numbers are on the rise

A significant factor driving this is the rising global demand for air travel. According to IATA, passenger numbers are expected to double over the next twenty years, with emerging markets in Asia, Africa and South America driving growth.

At Baku, passenger numbers are growing at a rate above the international average of 7.4%, increasing by 8.4% between 2017-2018 alone.

Rising passenger numbers present a challenge for airports. Under legacy technology systems, increases can add constraints when it comes to passenger processing. One way to increase capacity is to physically expand. However, cloud technology ensures that passenger processing is streamlined while making the most of existing physical infrastructure.

Baku’s investment in cloud-based infrastructure to service passengers from check-in to boarding was made to ensure its capacity can be increased where and whenever necessary. The airport will be able to take advantage of innovations such as off-airport check-in, which helps to reduce airport congestion, handling passengers anywhere with an internet connection.

This includes sporting events, conferences and outside the airport terminal itself. The airport will transcend the constraints of physical space.

Changing passenger expectations

A second factor is the changing expectations of travellers. The ‘on-demand’ economy enabled by digital technology is one characterised by efficiency and ease, and also makes the transition through the airport seamless, enabling innovations like automated bag-drop and biometrics.

Airports investing in cloud-based digital technology are well-placed to deliver this. In addition, Azerbaijan Airlines’ upgraded passenger service system (PSS) personalises the passenger experience, providing passengers with the airline’s unique ancillary services such as extra legroom and catering options.

It’s not just the airport that stands to benefit from the cloud. Azerbaijan Airlines, the country’s flagship airline, carries two million passengers annually across the region, the Middle East and Europe.

As Baku’s largest airline partner its decision to adopt cloud technology means data is more synchronised and closely integrated between the airline and its hub airport, helping to deliver improved situational awareness for all and better on-time performance.

A number of airports globally are embracing the cloud for their core operations. For instance, the Amadeus common use solution ACUS is already in use across numerous airports.

Nevertheless, Baku’s decision to trust its entire operations to the cloud represents a significant industry milestone. It proves airports are ready to take full advantage of cloud technology and indicates an acceleration in cloud adoption across the industry.

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