In its quest to develop smart airports for the future, Zambian airport operator ZACL places Information and Communications Technology (ICT) at the center of its ambitions. “ICT is critical to the future success of our airports,” says Agness Chaila, the state-owned operator’s Director of Airports Services.
We see it as a business enabler that’s helping us strive towards our vision of being a leading provider of world class airports, based on the concept of ‘intelligent or smart airports’. Effective technology means we can improve efficiency, productivity, competiveness and quality of service delivery.”
The embrace of ICT in developing the country’s airports is clear from recent development activities. “We’re making massive project investments across the airports we operate,” says Chaila.
That includes major investment programs to develop the International Airports of Kenneth Kaunda (Lusaka), Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula (Livingstone), Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe (Ndola), and Mfuwe, as well as the provision of air navigation services throughout Zambia.
Driving the ambitious programs is Zambia’s travel and tourism industry. Rising at around 5% of GDP, it ranks as one of the fastest growing tourism markets in the world, as visitors flock to the country’s natural wonders such as the Victoria Falls, the River Zambezi and safaris on its great plains.
To support tourism development, the country’s airport infrastructure has been undergoing a far reaching modernization program – including refurbishment, rehabilitation, replacement and new construction – to enable more flights and offer travelers a better service.
Chaila cites the role of ICT in these programs, as “making airport operations and dealings with passengers a lot ‘smarter’ than they were before, with processes that have become faster and more efficient, while helping to add capacity and enhance service.”
“We’re seeing the payoffs every day,” she adds. “Check-in is quicker. Self-service check-in is available to avoid queues. Electronic readers scan passports more easily. Scanners and metal detectors stop illegal items passing through security checkpoints; and display screens offer flight information metrics around the airports.
“So we can now handle increased traffic efficiently and generate more revenue for the airport. Customer satisfaction about our service delivery is evident from the very few complaints we receive.”
One of ZACL’s flagship projects was the modernization of Livingstone’s Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula International Airport, giving it the capacities and efficiencies to cope with the country's thriving tourism market.
It involved developing the airport with a new terminal, runway, apron and lights – to increase capacity at the airport from 250,000 to 1 million passengers annually. The airport operator chose to work with SITA, because as Chaila says, “SITA was the only expert partner who could deliver all the technology upgrades our new airport terminal needed on time.”
Under pressure to deliver against the tight deadline of a pending UN World Tourism Organization event, ZACL needed new terminal construction work and IT systems to be completed quickly in tandem with construction.
Master System Integration
“With our airports relying on technology, we knew the importance of preparing early for IT in our new terminal construction. So the project involved planning for IT at the outset, which required Master System Integration (MSI) with SITA.”
This upfront planning for IT has never been so critical in airport developments, given technology’s all-pervasive role in creating intelligent airports. Not just for the short and medium-term but as a way of future-proofing new airport environments so they can cope with ever rising passenger numbers and expectations.
SITA was contracted to provide MSI on all aspects of technology deployment – leveraging its own technology with best-of-breed third party systems.
That included responsibility for the production, design, supply, delivery and integration of special airport systems in the new terminal – comprising systems specific to an airport construction program, addressing passenger processing, baggage management, airport management, security and airport infrastructure management.
Chaila again: “I’d say our newly constructed international arrival and departure passenger terminal building at the Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport has been one of our biggest achievements so far.
“Built on the smart airport concept, it uses ICT to enhance tenant satisfaction and create new revenue opportunities. Importantly, as with any smart airport, it facilitates collaboration among tenants and stakeholders, thanks to complete migration from our former independent systems to a common ICT platform for all.
“Building on that success, we’re providing fast and reliable Internet and Voice services to all tenants, which will enhance efficiencies and passenger experience but will also be a source of revenue for our corporation.”
“We’re carrying the same smart airport principles across all our airports, ensuring an integrated ICT framework approach to implement systems effectively.
Another example is ZACL’s priority to invest in SITA’s Airport Hub shared communications infrastructure at the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka. “This will be linked to all the other airports through our in-house network dubbed the aeronautical telecommunications network. Connectivity for all is a business imperative,” adds Chaila.
So what other trends and innovations have been catching the attention of ZACL? The use of social media,” says Chaila, “offering the ability to communicate with and get feedback from passengers, as another evolving way to be ‘smarter at every step.’
“The ultimate objective is the use of ICT to achieve smarter interactions between stakeholders and with passengers, delivering best passenger experiences and quality of services, with easier and faster passenger handling throughout our airports,” she concludes.