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PASSENGER SERVICES Last modified on December 8, 2013

Power to the people

Alaistair Deacon discusses the importance of enhancing the passenger experience through collaborative decision making.

Passenger experience is the great differentiator of the current aviation landscape. It doesn’t matter if you’re an airport,
airline, global hub or regional carrier, the race to create a premier passenger experience is well and truly on.

The key to an improved passenger experience is collaboration between the airport and its various stakeholders: airlines, security, customs, retail and so on.

If collaboration is so critical, then why is the aircraft turnaround process the only key part mapped out to a consistent standard via Collaborative Decision Making (CDM)?

If the passenger experience was placed front and centre in the CDM process, the operational, commercial and competitive benefits would be self-evident.


Traditional CDM

Across the aviation industry, the term CDM is thrown around in the same way that the IT industry uses ‘Cloud’, ‘Big Data’ and ‘Mobile’. Key themes and ideas that are critical for the advancement of that particular industry, but poorly defined, understood and implemented in practice.

More often than not, CDM is used with reference limited to air traffic control and aircraft turnaround times. To the European airports and airlines, CDM means ‘A-CDM” (Airport-CDM) as clearly defined by EUROCONTROL and its European partners.

This gives a common reference model for the aircraft turnaround process upon which everyone can agree. Importantly, this standardisation of milestones allows the different stakeholders to agree on what constitutes the key turnaround processes.

However, it’s more than a little troubling that the costs for achieving A-CDM’s goals – to improve aircraft turnaround performance and feed into the Air Traffic Control (ATC) network operations optimisation, for example – are often picked up by the airport.

Crossing the Atlantic, CDM, in the context of the FAA NextGen initiatives, is about sharing a view of the National Airspace System (NAS). Again, though, this takes a very Air Traffic Flow Management view of the operation.

For the rest of the world, they’re left to adopt the pieces of A-CDM and NextGen that are seen as applicable and beneficial to their operation.

How does all of this contribute to a smoother, more enjoyable experience for the passenger and, critically, bring about a clear and major commercial upside for the airports?


Show me the passenger

Looking across the complete range of airport processes – check-in, security, immigration, baggage, retail – there is so much more to the passenger experience than just the aircraft turnaround and the efficiency of airline arrivals and departures.

In fact, limiting the passenger process to a single milestone in the A-CDM model (11- Boarding) should be a point of concern for most operators.

There is no point in airports and airlines collaborating to improve turnaround if a lack of security staff or blockage on the airport approach road means that passengers aren’t getting to the gate on time.

This key change in mindset could in fact lead to improved passenger experience, and greater cost efficiency across the airport.

Awareness of the limited impact of the A-CDM milestones on the passenger experience led my company, the Amor Group, to coin the phrase ‘T-CDM’ (Terminal-CDM) with its customers.

In a passenger-centric view of the airport process, T-CDM requires an absolute need to focus more on passenger experience.

To support T-CDM, we created the ACDB (the Airport Collaboration Database), which is basically the ‘passenger process’ cousin to the more traditional Airport Operational Database (AODB).

The ACDB relies on the development and deployment of passenger tracking and service delivery measurement technologies, which are becoming more prevalent across many airports. This in turn feeds the milestones and KPIs that measure the efficiency of the T-CDM model.

Great. So that’s us capturing the passenger in the CDM process, but we’ve also involved the airport operator, the airlines, ATC, handling agents and – on some rare occasions – the security services and government agencies.

How about making the passenger an active participant in the CDM process?


Arise, P-CDM

Whether it’s a frequent flyer or occasional holidaymaker, the need to integrate passengers across all profiles, demographics and experience into the process has never been greater.

We like to label this involvement Passenger-CDM or P-CDM. P-CDM, as an effective concept, will eventually and inevitably come through the extension of a greater number of services onto passengers’ mobile devices.

The enabling technology is for the mobile devices to be both location and context aware, so that passengers are fully informed on their journey, with their progress fed back into the overall airport collaboration process.

I can’t be alone in wanting to decide on my airport experience by collaborating with the airport and my airline in a single portal, and not multiple apps on my smartphone.

If the airline and airport can give me a common, joined-up view of my experience though the complete journey, I’ll happily share my status information back with them.

In return, the airport gets process updates, ensuring I, as the passenger, am progressing with my journey to the gate. Concurrently, the airline receives real-time status updates on, for example, any potential late-arriving transfer passengers delaying departure.

This can be started, even with today’s mobile technology, and good progress can be achieved. Indeed, the key to providing a credible final solution is:

  • Sharing (key) passenger information between the various stakeholders
  • Increasing in the location awareness of mobile devices (even within the airport)
  • The widespread use of mobile apps by passengers

As a multitude of studies have shown, all of these are progressing rapidly and will mature significantly over the short three to five year horizon. However, until the airports and airlines can share key passenger information, and provide each and every passenger with all the information at the point of need, we’ll just remain a passive participant in our journeys.


Passenger-CDM in practice

Consider a consolidated mobile application that provides the passenger with a joined-up view of their complete journey, improving the overall experience.

One that plays the role of train or car park ticket, check-in platform and boarding pass, passenger flow and behaviour analysis tool, e-wallet, frequent flyer card, luggage tracker, flight information screen, ancillary service booking platform, discount card for retail outlets and so on.

The underlying benefits for the airport are massive, and by gaining a more complete understanding of passenger behaviour, airports can ensure the provision of appropriate products and services and more streamlined operations.


Retail revenues

Non-aeronautical revenues are key when it comes to determining the profitability of an airport. For the most part, aeronautical activities, and their subsequent revenues, tend to be fixed, and provide little scope for immediate, short-term growth.

With this in mind, airports must be proactive in generating maximum return from their non-aeronautical operations.

Retail contributes approximately 40% of typical airport revenue, offering up the most extensive possibilities for growth. It is widely acknowledged that an increased airside dwell time will lead to increased retail spend, so placing a greater emphasis on the role of the passenger in the overall process is imperative.

True P-CDM would help airports fully understand the impact of passenger demographics, behaviours and flow, store choices, layouts and advertising offers on retail revenue.

If information is available to share from a mobile device, airport retail outlets could also benefit from the ability to map out customer spend, right down to what any given ‘type’ of passenger is buying and when.

If you consider that an airport will lose approximately €1 in retail revenue for every minute a passenger spends in a security queue, integrating the passenger into an end-to-end view of CDM starts to make increasingly simple financial sense.


Operational efficiency

This concept of personalised services could reach even further. Location-based services could allow airports to pinpoint the whereabouts of a mobile device (and therefore the distance of the passenger from their gate), and allow for the provision of personalised information to the passenger and improved decision making for aircraft turnaround.

Transfer passengers with a short connection could automatically be identified and routed to the fast track lane; frequent flyers the same. Security and anonymity of the information is of course crucial, but with appropriate measures in place, the potential commercial benefits are clear.

Fully-fledged, automated Passenger CDM is undoubtedly the future, but let’s not view P-CDM as some far-off concept.

Some of the world’s leading operators are already putting the passenger front and centre as they aim to become the premier airport of choice in their respective markets.

Dubai is leading the way in the Middle East with the world’s largest airport service measurement progamme. Toronto Pearson sees guest experience as the key enabler of its strategy to become North America’s number one international airport. Meanwhile, Oslo and Copenhagen – perennial winners of the most efficient airports in Europe – are placing passenger-centric initiatives at the heart of their operations.

It’s been said that A-CDM reads like a first step to operational excellence for an airport. Clearly all that it is missing is the focus on the terminal and passenger within.

Now, the aviation supply chain is filling the gap and providing a roadmap to achieving that ultimate aim, which is to deliver a truly excellent end-to-end passenger experience.

Welcome, P-CDM. We’ve been waiting for you.


About the author

Alaistair Deacon, chief aviation technologist at the Amor Group.


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