SITA Americas’ head of technology, Sherry Stein, explains how the travel trends of tomorrow are shaping airport IT agendas today.
SITA recently released two pieces of research giving a glimpse into the transformational change taking place or expected in the air transport industry. While the topics and timelines of these reports differed, clear lines connect the trends.
SITA’s Air Transport IT Insights 2022 shed light on the key investment priorities for airports and airlines in the next few years, while the Meet the Megatrends report looked at the underlying macro trends driving changing travel behaviour with a longer lens of 10 years.
The automation and emergence of smart airports, digital travel, multimodal travel, and technology to support sustainable travel dominate current investment trends and correlate to macro societal shifts.
Smart automation for industry recovery
A swifter-than-expected recovery of demand has confronted aviation CIOs with increased disruptions, baggage mountains, and staff shortages. While traffic volumes in 2022 rose to about 90% of 2019 levels, passenger traffic has been characterised by much higher volatility, with spikes during key holiday periods such as Easter and summer.
As airlines and airports sought to adapt to these spikes with reduced workforce and resources, operational challenges arose in many different areas, including baggage.
SITA’s management system for mishandled baggage, WorldTracer, recorded three times more mishandled bag reports for January to March 2022 compared to the previous-year period. From April to June 2022, the system showed five times more mishandled bag reports than in the second quarter of 2021.
The pandemic decimated workforces globally, and the air transport industry was particularly hard hit, with 62 million travel and tourism jobs lost in 2020. Despite strong recovery and growth over the last year, millions of jobs remain unfilled. This will continue to be a challenge throughout the remainder of 2023.
The volatility has led to airlines and airports looking to key technology solutions to fortify their operations against disruption while automating the passenger experience to achieve more with less.
Airlines and airports want to use IT tools to be more adaptable to disruptions and irregular operations, even amid staff shortages.
CIOs want to take a proactive approach to disruption, with 90% of airlines investing in disruption warning systems. Proactive communication with passengers is a priority, with 67% of airlines planning to provide real-time information such as flight status, wait-times, and baggage tracking info to passengers by 2025. Half of the airports are planning automated predictive alerts before flight disruption events.
Airlines and airports are investing in key technologies to smooth the passenger experience across every step of the journey, with biometrics and self-service seeing major emphasis.
Self-service technologies remained airlines’ top IT investment priority in 2022, with touchless solutions and biometric ID management following closely.
Airports’ implementation of a secure single biometric token across all touchpoints has surged from just 3% in 2021 to 39% in 2022, with over half planning implementation by 2025.
Zooming in on this last point, the surging implementation of a single secure biometric token across all touchpoints signals a strong commitment from airports and airlines to the next-generation travel experience where passengers can breeze through the airport using their face as their boarding pass.
The call for digital identity is not new, and we strongly support it. We are encouraged by the momentum from governments globally around digital identities, particularly as this relates to travel.
In fact, we see the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) progressing swiftly towards a digital identity standard that will, in the coming years, result in the dematerialisation of physical documents such as passports, visas, or health forms.
Digital identities mean we will be able to travel from anywhere to everywhere – by air, land, or sea – without needing to show our physical travel documents.
And as the technology underpinning these digital identities mature, the benefits are enormous. For one, it gives the travelling public more control over what information they share and with whom. This is privacy by design. Also, this move supports an era of digital borders where the immigration checkpoint is pushed to the point of departure.
Passengers can provide all the documentation for a trip – visa, passport, and flight details – well in advance and arrive at the airport, rail station, or port ready to travel. That means a quick scan of your face or mobile phone is all that will be needed.
Travel and tourism are fundamental pillars of rebuilding economies globally. Therefore, we should make the passage of travel as easy and safe as possible. Digital identity is the cornerstone of that experience. Digital travel will also greatly ease the operational strains on airport congestion and create a smooth passenger journey.
There will be a push for more connected journeys with sustainable operations and new collaboration models using trusted data exchange for the broader end-to-end travel ecosystem. We will move from a community of 40+ players to take care of a single flight offer from A to B, towards an ecosystem of hundreds of active contributors to deliver a door-to-door experience.
As travel becomes more connected and intermodal, having unified digital systems that simplify the passenger journey across land, sea, and air will become increasingly important.
The challenge ahead is to create seamless, near-walkthrough digital experiences in a multimodal context, combining Air&Rail, Air&Cruise (or even Air&Events) to help the ‘connected travel’ concept become a reality.
Building a trusted framework for sharing data in an ecosystem of hundreds of travel and related industries is critical for this to become successful. Collaboration is key.
The 2022 UN Climate Change Conference (COP 27) saw a renewed commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Passengers’ growing awareness is one of the most significant shifts in recent years.
According to SITA’s 2022 Passenger IT Insights survey, almost all passengers are ready to pay to offset the carbon emissions generated by their flights. More than 9 out of 10 passengers stated they would be willing to pay to offset emissions.
Operational improvements are a primary measure to enable the industry to directly and more immediately reduce its emissions by up to 10% – efficiencies that can be achieved through today’s technology.
For example, airports can process passengers swiftly, even enabling remote check-in before arrival, by deploying passenger processing and self-service technology. This enables airports to maximise their existing investment without having to invest to expand their physical footprint.
Using technology to harness data for greater situational awareness and more informed decision-making is also key to realising efficiencies and emission reductions. For example, SITA is trialling a new emission management capability as part of our Airport Management solution to enable Palermo Airport to improve the measurement and optimisation of emissions in and around the airport.
Airlines are investing in solutions to improve situational awareness and reduce fuel burn, emissions, and costs while building climate resilience by integrating solutions such as the eWAS Pilot and OptiFlight applications.
The results are immediate and concrete. Climb fuel savings of 5% are possible for each flight without affecting passenger safety or comfort.
Improvements in aircraft design, fuel efficiency, engines, and materials will significantly affect efficiency and sustainability and will be a key focus for airlines. Sustainable Aviation Fuels will become ubiquitous and substantially cheaper than they are today, while hydrogen and electric engines for commercial use promise even more efficiency when these technologies mature in the following decades.
As eVTOLs and vertiports come to maturity and meet regulatory approvals, we’ll see a growing shift in short-haul traffic. Urban Air Mobility (UAM) will offer a new form of sustainable aviation with multiple mobility options to cities worldwide.
If there is one positive thing to emerge from the COVID pandemic, it’s that it has spurred the air transport industry to think differently. The trends, both near and long-term, show airports and airlines are not afraid to try new ways to solve old problems and invest in smarter, more resilient, and agile operations to prepare for an uncertain future.
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