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Outlook 2020: Technology has never been as critical to transform air travel

Outlook 2020: Technology has never been as critical to transform air travel
16 Jan, 2020

The future of air transport will be driven by big technology trends and practices that will underpin the digital transformation of the industry globally. The role of technology has never been as critical in transforming air travel as it has become today and will provide real value in helping the industry navigate the future.

With the aviation industry being on a high growth trajectory, the Asia Pacific region is leading the tremendous growth in the air travel industry. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) revealed that present trends in air transport suggest passenger numbers could double to 8.2 billion in 2037. By 2036, the Asia -Pacific region is expected to handle over 4.1 billion passengers -- more than half of the world’s passenger traffic. India is expected to become the third largest market in terms of passengers by 2024.  

With this growth come challenges and stresses on infrastructure, processes, and operations at an airport. The only way to manage such unprecedented growth is through the adoption of innovative, cutting edge and newer technology which has the potential to create a journey that’s secure, smooth and seamless, from end-to-end not just for the passengers but for the crew as well. The SITA Air Transport IT Insights 2018 revealed that today’s passenger increasingly prefers self-service, automated and mobile technologies over assisted ones. 

In a hugely inter-dependent aviation ecosystem, the time has truly come to embrace technology to connect stakeholders and assets in unparalleled ways. New innovative technologies will bring profound transformation by not just connecting the assets but also their audience in a more effective and seamless manner. 

The fact is that smart use of technology ranging from mixed reality, AI (artificial intelligence), robotics, IoT (internet of things), machine learning, biometrics and blockchain are only going to help manage the challenges of rising passenger numbers, limited infrastructure and increased complexity with ease.

All these technologies can easily be integrated into the existing infrastructure, eventually leading to reduced costs and smooth functioning. 

Biometrics is becoming more commonplace at airports around the world and delivering secure, seamless travel from check-in to boarding. It has the potential to decrease wait time and make the journey paperless. These solutions have already been operating worldwide in countries such as Australia, USA, Mexico and the Middle East. Again, as per SITA’s Air transport IT Insights 2018, 77% of airports have set their sights on biometric ID management solutions. These include self-boarding gates using biometrics and ID documents, while 59% of airports have implementations and/or plans by 2021. 

Orlando International Airport received positive results from the deployment of biometrics. British Airways and the US Custom and Border Protection (CBP) used Smart Path to complete a US government exit and an airline boarding check in one step. British Airways’ passengers had the option of biometric boarding at the gate, on flights from Orlando to London Gatwick, with almost 100% take-up, which helped board international flights with 240 passengers in around 10 minutes.

By embracing IoT and connecting everything across the industry we will produce more data which can be used with AI to create valuable insights and expose new ways of working. Intelligent machines which are crossovers of IoT and AI can do basic tasks that make the passenger’s journey better. 

Over the next 20 years, use of digital technologies to improve service, operations and efficiency will have profound effects on the air transport industry. AI will enhance airport and aircraft planning and administrative processes. 

One of the major challenges for Changi Airport, Singapore, was limited visibility on arrivals. They got the information only 30-60 minutes before the flight touchdown. SITA resolved the issue by using deep learning technology that gave accurate predictions -- to within 15 minutes of the flight arrival time -- for around 80% of flights, which was a full six hours before the touchdown.

AI has the potential to take things to another level by pre-empting passenger questions based on their biometric data. Mixed reality can empower airport authorities to operate from a virtual command centre to analyse passenger and airport information real time and operate it smoothly without being physically present there. Autonomous vehicles and the potential use of robotics is another field of development which can automate processes even further. 

With so much happening in ICT for the aviation industry, 2020 is a real turning point for the industry as airlines have already begun unlocking the potential of technology, preparing themselves for the future and moving towards true digital transformation. The future of this industry promises even more significant improvements in operations. This in turn will reduce costs and improve passenger experience, a transformation that will be welcomed by everyone.

Maneesh Jaikrishna

Maneesh Jaikrishna

Maneesh Jaikrishna is vice president, Indian subcontinent, Dubai, Eastern & Southern Africa, at SITA. The views in this article are his own.