SINGAPORE – The health crisis is pushing airport and airlines to adopt new technology at a faster pace in a bid to ensure a safe return to air travel and reap cost efficiencies.
The overhaul in air travel could involve passenger processes moving exclusively to mobile phones, new health screening at borders, digitally-connected aircrafts and increased data privacy measures, according to SITA, which provides communications and IT to the aviation industry.
SITA monitors about 60% of the exchange of information within the aviation industry, including airlines, airports and government bodies.
One of the key concerns is to reduce or eliminate the amount of physical contact that passengers have at various airport checkpoints.
“Relationships with customers in Asia Pacific have become increasingly focused on the way in which journeys can become 'touchless',” said Sumesh Patel, president Asia Pacific at SITA.
“Customers are looking for contactless, self-service technologies at every step of the journey to facilitate passenger flow, cut queues and ensure social distancing-friendly passenger experience,” he said.
Some airports have already deployed biometric solutions where passengers use their face to verify their identity, thus reducing the amount of physical contact at various airport checkpoints. This eliminates the need to verify physical documents, touching of shared devices or close interaction with staff.
These systems are in place at airports such as Beijing Capital International Airport, Hamad International Airport in Qatar and Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia.
Airports are considering a next step to enable passengers to check-in on their mobile devices even before arriving at the airport, which will completely remove the need to come into any contact with physical kiosks.
In the future, remote 'on the move' iris scanning may be used as an alternate to facial recognition, said Patel.
This means that passengers arriving at the airport who have not pre-registered through mobile can be enrolled in seconds using a biometric enabled kiosk or self-bag drop unit and similarly move through the airport checkpoints to the aircraft without the need for physical contact.
For airlines, investment in technology has been focused on enabling remote operations and scaling back costs.
SITA has worked with airlines to implement cloud-based solutions to facilitate its staff to work remotely. It has managed such large-scale transitions for airlines in a matter of a few days.
Another emerging trend is the move towards newer aircraft with IT systems, which are expected to deliver improvements in turnaround times, plot fuel-efficient flight routes and on-time performance, and the phasing out of older aircraft.
According to SITA, there were 18,000 connected aircraft before the crisis. It expects this number will ramp up in the coming months, as older aircraft are retired and replaced with newer models.
Newer aircraft are expected to deliver greater efficiency in the medium to long term and will be crucial as airlines continue to drive sustainability efforts.