AviationSITA’s Sumesh Patel looks at what's causing air travel chaos elsewhere – and what can be done to improve passenger experience and airport operations.

Would Asia see the travel chaos of Europe?

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Even though the skies are open and people want to travel, many airports are facing major issues due to manpower shortage.
Even though the skies are open and people want to travel, many airports are facing major issues due to manpower shortage. Photo Credit: GettyImages/cookelma

In an exclusive interview with Travel Weekly Asia, Sumesh Patel, president of SITA in Asia Pacific, looks at the root causes of the current chaos in the skies and the solutions of how air travel can not only just regain normality, but also advance several steps further than what it used to be.

Here's what he has to say: 

Sumesh Patel, president, Asia Pacific, SITA
Sumesh Patel, president, Asia Pacific, SITA

Sumesh is a global leader in the air transport industry with decades of experience working with airports and airlines across the world. He is responsible for guiding teams in the design and implementation of major IT initiatives to meet the needs of Asia Pacific’s airlines and airports.

The difference between European and Asian airports

Asia is in a better space for three reasons. Firstly, if you look at Europe, they’ve reached almost 80% recovery of international traffic, while in Asia we’re currently seeing a recovery level of around 45%, thus Asia airports have not yet experienced that amount of traffic yet.

Secondly, airports in Asia started recruiting staff much further in advance to conduct training and get their employees up to speed, instead of hiring on the go which will lead to either manpower shortage or untrained staff mishandling operations.

Thirdly, and most importantly, airports in Asia are looking at technology. Most of the airports in Asia are working with us [SITA] on a few solutions. There’s a much better baggage solution where it not only tracks the bag, it also allows you to home in on the luggage of a passenger who may be late or have not boarded the flight. That luggage can then be offloaded within 20 to 30 minutes for it to be transported onto the next flight with the passenger who may have missed that initial connecting flight they were supposed to be on.

Our world tracer baggage solution helps you track the baggage irrespective of the airport, airline or destination. In addition, under the circumstances of a lost luggage, travellers need not wait hours looking for a counter staff to file a complain and fill up a form, they can simply do it themselves on their own device. They can then check the status on an app and track the luggage through the app once it’s found.

Slow and steady wins the race

SITA’s self-bag-drop system allows travellers to swiftly and efficiency check in their luggage without having to queue for manual processing.
SITA’s self-bag-drop system allows travellers to swiftly and efficiency check in their luggage without having to queue for manual processing. Photo Credit: SITA

The true test for Changi Airport and others in Asia would be once China’s flood gates open. We may find ourselves in a similar situation with Europe.

Changi Airport’s successful reopening and efficient operations with minimal disruptions can be attributed to a lot of proactive planning. They engaged SITA for automated check-in kiosks and baggage systems to lessen the load on ground staff. Additionally, they very accurately predicted how the traffic flow would return to time the incremental reopening of their terminals.

China’s closed borders also play a part. China had previously contributed a large portion of passengers. The true test for Changi Airport and others in Asia would be once China’s flood gates open. We may find ourselves in a similar situation with Europe. But for the most part, Asia airports still have the advantage of reopening with a gradual increase in traffic instead of a huge spike, and they are observing and learning from what is happening in Europe right now.

Seamless and automated airport experience

Biometric gantries can be implemented on a wide scale all across the airport to automate immigration checks and other fast track other touch points.
Biometric gantries can be implemented on a wide scale all across the airport to automate immigration checks and other fast track other touch points. Photo Credit: SITA

In SITA’s Passenger IT Insights 2022, 80% of passengers say that they are willing to share their personal information to have a better airport experience as long as they know what kind of data is being collected, how long it’s going to be kept and how it will be used.

For example, if travellers don’t have to stand in a queue for 90 minutes at immigration and they can do it in a matter of seconds via an automated gantry that checks their passport and biometrics against the information collected previously at the self-check-in kiosk, they would prefer to do that.

This technology has already been implemented at several airports even before Covid-19. The Beijing Capital International Airport had previously implemented a fully automated system from start to finish at seven touchpoints with 600 devices. From the moment a traveller checks in, to the bag drop, to the immigration, to the lounge, to the gate and to boarding the plane, all they have to do is walk through gantries that will scan their faces and provide them access.

The pandemic is only accelerating the demand for this technological adoption. The next airport that will see an implementation of this scale is Bangkok, where it should be going live in September.

We can work with pre-existing devices and add on features to those in order to lessen the costs. We’re working very closely with the airports and airlines to help them go through these difficult times and of course also help the adoption of new technologies to drive efficiency and better serve passengers.

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