Flight Plan

Walking through a new airport experience

Sumesh Patel | Updated on August 22, 2021

Touch and go: Mobile devices will feature prominently in the contactless passenger experience   -  ISTOCK.COM

Automation and biometrics will be the norm rather than the exception at leading airports in the pandemic world

Our world and our industry are facing exceptional challenges. It would be an understatement to say that Covid-19 has radically shifted priorities for airlines, airports and governments. The industry is continuously facing the challenge of managing the development of air travel efficiently, safely and sustainably. Nonetheless, there are reasons to be hopeful for the remainder of 2021 and beyond.

Despite being synonymous with stalled economies, the pandemic-struck period has proven itself to be the starting point of accelerated technology adoption across the air transport industry. There is a rising interest in terms of pursuing new technology-enabled solutions to cater to passenger concerns around health measures such as distancing, hygiene and sanitation, and passenger health control. Significant technology-led trends are already in place to shape the future of air travel and make the travel experience safe and efficient.

Mobile devices feature prominently in the contactless passenger experience. The combination of a cloud platform, mobile self-service and automated solutions, both on-site and off-site, can create the seamless passenger flow the industry needs. The approach will move us from the traditional queue-heavy passenger journey to the digital passenger journey, with ‘mobile as your remote control for travel’, where mobile devices can be used at touchless kiosks and gates, bag tagging, personal guidance, digital boarding pass stamps at security screening, and more.

Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport introduced nearly 50 mobile-enabled kiosks, becoming one of the first airports in India to deliver a contactless way for passengers to check-in. The technology allows passengers to use their mobile devices to interact with kiosks. This reduces the need to touch surfaces in the airport and meets the Ministry of Civil Aviation’s passenger processing guidelines aimed at reducing the risk of Covid-19 infections.

Automation and biometrics will become the norm rather than the exception at leading airports globally in the next few years. These solutions will deliver a ‘walk-through’ airport experience, where passengers can use their face as the boarding pass and walk from the taxi to the plane in a seamless fashion. Passengers are increasingly being offered services via Wi-Fi or 4G networks to avoid any non-personal touchpoints (such as seat-back in-flight entertainment screens), once airborne, and respect social distancing — boosting confidence onboard.

There is a huge opportunity to increase efficiency and safety for airport and airline crew using facial recognition technology to identify and authenticate crew members, allowing them to complete check-in procedures and mandatory pre-flight safety and security questions digitally via their own mobile devices.

The Internet of Things has held great promise for some time but the convergence of 5G, maturing Artificial Intelligence (AI) programmes, and the ubiquity of sensors embedded into cheaper hardware is bringing this vision to life. AI algorithms will be key to efficiency, with AI becoming the secret sauce for airports. 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.

Digital identity

We expect that the development of digital identity will replace the traditional passport. In fact, the Airports Authority of India plans to invest nearly ₹25,000 crore towards the expansion or development of existing as well as new terminals of various airports using modern technology.

A testament to the growing popularity of digital identity solutions can be seen in the number of airports introducing such technologie. Comprehensive whole-journey identity management solutions are being implemented increasingly to easily integrate biometrics into existing common-use airport infrastructure and airline systems.

The writer is President, Asia Pacific, SITA

Published on August 22, 2021

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