Innovation is in the air

Innovation is in the air

Airlines are poised to make more investment in innovation, says the latest Airline IT Trends Survey.

Airline tech chiefs are eyeballing more futuristic IT to get a head start on the next generation of travelers. It follows results from the 2016 Airline IT Trends Survey that show IT spend on innovation is on the rise at airlines, reaching 36% of total IT budgets, compared to 32% in the 2015 survey.

A large proportion is on software development. Nigel Pickford, SITA Director of Market Insight, believes this will translate into new services for passengers that will help bring back some of the excitement to air travel.


“Consumer mobile technologies have opened the door on a completely new way for businesses to interact with people, and not surprisingly airlines are accelerating their innovation efforts to tap into this potential.

“They are starting to experiment with technologies that could make a difference to travelers over the next five to ten years, and beyond,” he says.

Smart tech

Among emerging technologies receiving attention are smart glasses and smart watches with 39% of airlines planning trials over the next five years developing new services for passenger wearables. A similar number of airlines (40%) will undertake R&D projects or trials of wearables technology for staff.

Airlines are also taking a first look at the single travel token. This aims to smooth passage through the airport by creating a single digital record using the passenger’s biometrics and travel information.

Thereafter, the token is used to identify the passenger at each step in the journey saving the need to produce a passport and boarding card each time.

According to the Airline IT Trends Survey, just over half of airlines (54%) plan to evaluate the technology over the next ten years.

Widespread use of smart electronic bag tags, which would allow passengers to track their check-in bags in the way they are able to track parcels, is still some way off, but 60% of airlines are laying the groundwork for their introduction with research projects or trials over the next three years.

Everything connected

As Pickford points out, there’s a common theme driving much of airline innovation.

“A lot of the R&D being done by airlines – whether that’s technologies like smart tags, digital tokens, or wearables –  will all be part of a connected ecosystem of objects and people that will eventually contribute to making frictionless travel a reality for passengers,” he explains.

Given the interest in the Internet of Things, it’s no surprise that attention in gateway technologies like beacons and sensors has grown sharply over the last twelve months.

This is going to produce a vast quantity of new data that will provide the industry with new intelligence, insight and better predictability for operations. In fact, over 90% of airlines have plans to extract business intelligence from this data over the next three years.

Good for passengers

Passengers will also benefit, says Pickford. “Beacons can trigger notifications or services on a passenger’s mobile device when they pass within range, providing all sorts of ‘live’ information, such as flight and gate updates, bag collection details, and time and distance to the gate.

“Two-thirds of airlines are going in this direction over the next three years, so we can expect this type of real-time data through mobile apps to become commonplace in the years that follow.”

Up in the skies

It’s not just on the ground airline CIOs are looking to the future. Aircraft with advanced communication capabilities are starting to enter the fleet. Today, just over one-third of airlines (37%) operate connected aircraft, but this will grow to 66% within the next three years.

“Connected aircraft open the door to better aircraft utilization through efficiency improvements,” says Pickford. “But the most exciting changes will be for passengers, particularly in the way they can stay entertained onboard the aircraft.

“Around half of airlines are planning to rollout Wi-Fi onboard their fleet over the next three years with a further 30% conducting smaller scale initiatives over the same period,” he adds.

“Airlines are attaching growing importance to providing connectivity and entertainment through the passenger’s own device. In fact, by the end of 2019, nearly three-quarters (74%) of airlines will provide wireless internet access to passengers and 70% will provide multi-media streaming to the passenger’s own device.”

Just the start

Having the bandwidth to focus budget resources on innovative projects reflects the positive mood airline IT chiefs are currently in. The majority forecast an increase in their IT spend over the next year suggesting a further pick-up in the pace of IT-led innovation is possible. Tech-savvy travelers will certainly hope so.