New technologies are transforming the world of air travel, connecting passengers, aircraft and ‘things’ like never before. As ever greater connectivity encroaches, it’s shining an intensive spotlight on critical areas within the community.

As the connected world of travel becomes a reality, we’re witnessing a heightened focus on critical areas like cyber security and the Internet of Things (IoT), along with significant levels of investment to make the passenger experience and services smarter.

The community’s move into the digital age is also giving rise to emerging approaches to identity management, such as single token travel, as more and more people’s transactions are managed and verified digitally – whether on mobile devices or online.

Game-changers

So says the recently released SITA Airline IT Trends 2016 Survey. In this issue of ‘Air Transport IT Review’, we dedicate articles to some of these game-changing technologies and trends as they evolve to cater for a more travel connected world. We look at:

A cyber quest

“Airlines are investing in areas which will promote a connected world of travel for the benefit of passengers and the workforce," says Nigel Pickford, Director Market Insight, SITA.

“We see new priorities attracting more investment, with cyber security and electronic flight bag solutions coming to the fore in this year’s research.”

According to the Airline IT Trends Survey, one of the biggest quests in cyberspace is indeed assurance of the utmost security. As many as 91% of airlines said they plan to invest in cyber security programs over the next three years. That’s up from fewer than half of airlines (47%) three years ago.

All things connected

The focus on cyber security reflects the emergence of the IoT, which will see vast numbers of physical objects connected to the internet. By enabling tracking, data collection, analysis and control, the IoT clearly necessitates more security.

The IoT has an overarching influence, according to Pickford. “The Internet of Things simply means things are communicating with each other. They communicate with us only to take instructions and report results.”

An overwhelming majority of airlines (68%) are investing in IoT programs in the next three years, up from 57% this time last year, says the survey.

Initiatives to realize the IoT include smart bag tagging to enable continuous tracking, which is planned by 61% of airlines by 2019. Nearly half (47%) of airlines are also planning IT programs for single token travel for passenger identification.      

Over the next three years big increases in services are expected via mobile apps, with more than half of airlines planning to provide destination services and duty-free shopping apps, while 70% plan to provide multi-media file streaming on passenger devices.

A key area of IoT investment is in connecting aircraft to the complete ecosystem: today 37% of airlines operate connected aircraft and this will jump to two thirds by 2019.

For 46% of airlines a better passenger experience is the driver: for example, ’internet via passenger devices’ is offered or planned by 33% of airlines today – and 74% by 2019.

So ‘internet via passenger devices’ is the service offered or planned by most airlines (33%), followed by file-streaming (24%), with mobile phone connectivity running third (21%). For others, connectivity is driven by a range of operational benefits, including maintenance, aircraft health monitoring and cockpit/cabin services.

Smart and mobile

The IoT primarily depends for connectivity on everything that’s smart and mobile – and providing passenger services via smartphones continues to be a core area of airline investment: 79% are planning major investment over the next three years while a further 17% are planning a pilot program or R&D in this area.

Services to passengers on tablets will also see significant investment with 71% of airlines planning major programs for these devices (up from 63% in 2015). Airlines are using social media activity and physical location to tailor personalized offers to passengers, with three quarters planning to do this by 2019.

There’s ample evidence of the growth in connectivity: 99% of airlines offer web check-in, compared to 78% in 2015. Mobile check-in is offered by 78% of airlines compared to about 50% last year.

Three-quarters of airlines now use mobile boarding passes, up from approx. 45% in 2015 – and 91% plan to offer them by 2019. Also by 2019, 70% of airlines expect to be using mobile for location-based notifications (14% now), and 72% for missing baggage communication (12% now).

Smartwatches are in the mix, too, with 27% of airlines already offering mobile boarding passes using the technology – and 47% expecting to do so by 2019 – while 38% will offer located-based notifications (5% now).

This move to mobility and self-service on the part of passengers was strongly underlined in SITA’s 2016 Passenger IT Trends Survey: “Passengers are showing a strong preference to use their own technology, where they have the option. This gives them the freedom to complete tasks and prepare for travel at their own pace”.

Not surprisingly, the Passenger IT Trends Survey indicates the highest levels of satisfaction are attained in the early stages of the journey, such as flight booking and check-in where personal technology usage is most prevalent.

Beacons facilitate

‘Connectedness’ for airlines, passengers and airports is also facilitated by rampant growth in the use of beacon technology: see ‘Our Digital and Physical Worlds Collide’ and ‘Info on the Go’.

By 2019, more than 60% of airports will be using beacons to offer wayfinding, baggage collection, flight/gate info, and walk to gate time – compared to as little as 34% in 2018.

Futurists

Innovations based on the IoT are equally on the radar for both airlines and their passengers. Asked when they first anticipate trialing a range of new and emerging technologies, airlines demonstrated a range of visionary ideas.

For example, despite the withdrawal of Google Glass, 40% of airlines expect to trial wearables for staff (either smartwatch or smart glasses) within the next five years – and 51% in the next 10 years.

Similar results were returned for specific wearable-enabled services for passengers: 39% trialed in the next five years, 53% in the next 10 years.

One in five airlines expect to be trialing virtual reality services for both passengers and staff within the next five years – with almost two in five doing so within 10 years.

If the world had 100 travelers infographic

Accelerating change

The speed of change continues to accelerate and shows no signs of slowing, fed by an appetite from passengers and airlines for technology that improves services, offers a more cost-effective package and simplifies the complexities of crossing continents.

This is being driven by the ability to create seamless connections from curb to curb – between passengers, airlines and airports, powered by the Internet of Things and the ubiquity of mobile connectivity.

And while the incidence, complexity and risks of malicious and criminal cyber attacks has increased at the same exponential speed, the evidence of this year’s Airline IT Trends Survey is that the industry is fully engaged at all levels in delivering the benefits of this technology, as this issue of Air Transport IT Review shows.

Hear our experts

Christelle Laverriere, Research Expert, Market Insight, asks, "Do today’s airline passengers prefer tech to people?"

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