Flight Plan

Air travel@technology.com

Ashwini Phadnis | Updated on: Apr 17, 2018
Osaka, Japan - October 29, 2016: Entrance area around Terminal 1 of  Kansai International Airport (KIX), Osaka, Japan. Kansai Airport is one of the busiest airports in Japan and an Asian hub, with 780 weekly flights to Asia and Australasia.

Osaka, Japan - October 29, 2016: Entrance area around Terminal 1 of Kansai International Airport (KIX), Osaka, Japan. Kansai Airport is one of the busiest airports in Japan and an Asian hub, with 780 weekly flights to Asia and Australasia.

Be it ensuring a smooth check-in or bump-free flights, through the use of robots and apps, SITA research is on track. Ashwini Phadnis captures the action

There is a new machine that is making its way around Kansai airport in Japan – KATE.

KATE is SITA Lab’s intelligent robotic check-in kiosk which is undergoing trials at the airport and showing how it can autonomously move to congested areas and help in reducing check-in queues. KATE has already been tried out in Geneva, Miami and Istanbul.

Says Kevin O Sullivan, Engineer, SITA Lab, “It is like a normal check-in, so when you check in you still have to go and manage your own bags and take them to the bag drop.”

Besides making life a little easier for flyers, KATE also provides a permanent solution to another major problem — having expensive check-in kiosks at airports. According to Sullivan, KATE is “airline agnostic” in the sense that it can check in passengers flying different airlines. At SITA Lab, the idea for KATE was triggered after talking to airports and having internal discussions for a “logical research project.” When the Lab thought of the movable kiosk and discussed it with airports, they found it to be a very valuable idea if it could be made to work and so the Lab started work on KATE; it was eventually rolled out in 2017 .

Ensuring a bump-free flight

KATE, however, is just one of the many areas where SITA Lab is stimulating technological innovations in the air transport industry (ATI) and bringing emerging technologies into SITA’s portfolio. SITA Lab innovates in collaboration with airlines, airports and technology specialists globally. The Lab is also investing in emerging technologies and investigating the enhancements that these can bring to the flying experience of passengers and crew members.

eWAS is a part of the SITAONAIR portfolio that the Lab is working on which will ensure just this. A pilot-centric app, eWAS offers real-time NOWCAST and Forecast — graphically optimised views of significant weather from the best-in-class weather providers.

One of the main aims of eWAS is ensuring a bump-free flight. “A weather radar is something on the aircraft which helps you get the actual weather for a certain radius or distance or hours. In this application we are integrating all of that so that pilots can get real-time weather reports,” says a senior SITA official, when asked as to how this system is different from what Honeywell has on AirIndia’s aircraft.

All Singapore Airlines pilots have eWAS and its trials are also going on in India. Pilots use it actively to try and avoid turbulence on a flight.

The need for this equipment comes in the backdrop of a study by Reading University which predicts that turbulence is going to increase due to global warming. According to the study, by 2050, the chances of transatlantic flights entering significant turbulence will increase between 40 per cent and 170 per cent while the average intensity of turbulence forecast is expected to increase between 10 per cent and 40 per cent.



Establishing identities

Then there is also the self-sovereign identity programme that SITA Lab is working on which will allow passengers to have improved control over their own data and who it is shared with. The future of identity on the blockchain will enable seamless travel across airports, airlines and governments.

In many ways, the self-sovereign identity programme is enlarging a project that began in June 2017 when the low-cost American airline JetBlue collaborated with SITA and the Customs and Border Protection for a trial of the world’s first biometric boarding system using just a facial scan to board passengers while also completing the US customs and border exit checks.

In the same year, Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL) did a trial for an e-boarding process which was based on real-time biometric identification of passengers using their Aadhaar cards.

In the first phase of this programme, passengers boarding domestic flights in Bengaluru completed all airport processes using a contact-less fingerprint scanner. Besides reducing queues and giving passengers a hassle-free experience, BIAL believes that the use of this technology will also help airlines benefit from improved on-time performance, predictability and real-time business intelligence. Further, security agencies and airport operators will achieve enhanced security, operational efficiencies and optimised use of resources.

SITA Lab is also looking at opportunities to approach the Indian government for its self-sovereign identity programme.

“India has the advantage that people have a digital identity, so there is already a level of trust. What we would love to do is bring India and Indian destinations in that pie,” Gustavo Pina, Director, SITA Lab, told the Hindu BusinessLine .

Asked what the Indian government will have to do, Pina says, “just participate in the discussion. The biggest obstacle is trust and privacy but with biometrics, governments are making sure that the security aspects are met. We think there is an opportunity there.”

SITA is currently connected with the Customs and Border Patrol in the US and is starting a conversation with the UK government. “It is just trying to build the network,” Pina adds.

But if the network is built and if KATE finds more takers across the globe, it will mean dramatic changes in our flying experience.

(This Correspondent attended the SITA Summit at the invitation of SITA)

Published on April 17, 2018

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