Travel TechnologyFrom digital health passes to blockchain, six air travel tech trends to watch in 2021.

Future of air travel is going high tech

The pace of technology adoption across the air transport industry has accelerated in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The pace of technology adoption across the air transport industry has accelerated in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo Credit: Getty Images/metamorworks

2020 will go down in the history books as the air transport industry’s most turbulent year to date, but it was also a year of accelerated technology adoption across the air transport industry in solving crucial Covid-19 challenges.

David Lavorel, CEO of SITA At Airports And Borders, predicts six technology trends underpinning the transformation of the aviation industry into a smarter, safe and more sustainable one in 2021.

1. Advanced self service and biometrics

Automation and biometrics through facial recognition and touchless technologies, embedded in various self-service devices, will become the norm rather than the exception at leading airports globally in the next few years.

The use of SITA Smart Path self-service biometric and mobile technology has automated the outbound passenger journey at several airports, including Beijing and Miami, allowing passengers to simply use their face as their boarding pass and walk from the taxi to the plane in a fluid and seamless fashion.

Once airborne, passengers are increasingly being offered services via Wi-Fi or 4G networks to avoid any non-personal touchpoints (such as seat-back inflight entertainment screens) and respect social distancing – boosting confidence onboard as a result.

2. Internet of things, artificial intelligence and machine learning

The convergence of 5G, maturing Artificial Intelligence (AI) programmes, and the ubiquity of sensors embedded into cheaper hardware is bringing the Internet of Things (IoT) vision to life, creating a network of data-producing devices and assets that converse and increase efficiency across the airport.

The increased use of real-time data to intelligently handle turbulence and shifting weather patterns is enabling crews to avoid the avoidable and create more economic, intelligent and flexible flight plans.

AI algorithms will be key to efficiency, as airports will use visually-enabled analysis supported by AI-based recommendations to bring real-time 3D simulations of operations to life for all stakeholders, improving operational efficiency, and enhancing the passenger experience.

3. Digital identity for air travel

In the coming years, the development of a digital identity is expected to replace the traditional passport. One approach is a Digital Travel Credential, currently being explored and progressed by key industry bodies like ICAO.

Another potential solution is self-sovereign identity, a form of digital identity giving travellers control over how their personal data is shared and used. It adds a layer of security and flexibility, allowing the identity holder to reveal only the data required for any given transaction or interaction in various fields, including travel, healthcare, banking, IoT, and voter fraud.

4. Health passes

Health ETAs allow governments to receive the information they need to help reduce the risk of infection from travel and tourism. Travellers are required to provide information on their health status – potentially including PCR test results that indicate the presence of Covid-19 antigens – and are informed of that assessment’s outcome in advance of travel. This will give travellers the confidence before they start that they will be allowed to complete their journey.

Advance Passenger Processing (APP) brings the ability to assess the risk, including health risks, and allow or deny travel at check-in. When coupled with the implementation of a Health ETA service, it enables real-time checks to be performed to confirm that each traveller has completed the required health checks and is eligible to travel.

5. Passenger flow management

It is a necessity for airports to understand and manage passenger movement throughout the premise to pro-actively manage crowd density and social distancing during daily operations, as well as longer-term planning.

Innovation in software defined networks (SDN) is also enabling more resilient and agile airport operations that can respond to the changing demands of travel during and post-pandemic. For example, SITA’s SDN portfolio allows multiple airlines, ground handlers, and other tenants to access the same virtualised infrastructure in the cloud, delivering more scalable and agile connectivity.

6. Blockchain savings

Blockchain is about sharing information safely among different industry players, providing one truth at a given point to facilitate workflow and the exchange of data. This trusted network is tailor-made to address some key challenges of Covid-19 without compromising passenger experience or data privacy.

From a passenger perspective, customs processes are another area where blockchain can solve challenges. Airports, airlines, and governments can share baggage content information to pre-clear bags at arrival, hence avoiding the need to recheck bags in transit. Improving efficiency in this department, and further reducing the chances of baggage mishandling on arrival, is good news for passengers.

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