Disruptive technologies promise to help us meet the challenge of the unprecedented growth predicted for air travel over the next two decades. But as we heard in our workshop at the recently held SITA Innovation Forum, if we’re to seize the great opportunity to positively disrupt how we do things in the airport community, then we’ll need to create collaborative harmony among stakeholders as we embrace new technologies.
As one of the leaders of the workshop (called ‘Collaborating to enable the airport of the future’), it became only too clear to me that only by working ever more closely together can we increase efficiencies and redesign processes and practices across our industry.
Not only is there ample opportunity for more collaboration across the airport ecosystem, but in my view, there’s also the chance to embrace the right tools and technologies to achieve a state of holistic collaboration. This is a state that would interconnect so many more aspects of the airport’s operation, airside and landside, to drive greater efficiencies for operators and deliver a vastly better passenger experience.
Our collaborative efforts remain siloed
To be fair, collaboration has been at the heart of – and a necessity for – air transport operations for a long time. I can think of many airport systems today that are already shared, of course. Passenger processing, for example, along with all sorts of operational systems such as baggage and flight information.
Yet much of our collaborative effort remains siloed. Think of the real advances achieved in terminal airport management systems. Think also of the moves to improve the management of airside operations, including airspace and aircraft slots between airports, via initiatives like Eurocontrol’s Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM) standard. Collaboration has increased within these two domains, but, significantly, not across them.
As we heard in our workshop, we can start to break down these collaborative silos by connecting landside and airside operational systems, which is part of the concept of Total Airport Management (TAM) 1. Importantly, this deeper collaboration doesn’t have to be limited to one airport.
In the TAM scenario, we’d not only achieve very integrated and optimized use of the airport’s terminal and airside operations, we’d also attain another level of integration and optimization across different airports. For example, airports within a country or region will be capable of operating in more efficient ways by sharing data that’s not shared today.
Greater orders of efficiency
Inviting more organizations to join the collaborative data exchange would drive greater orders of efficiency within the airport ecosystem. An excellent opportunity is aircraft turnaround, where multiple organizations are responsible for aircraft refueling, availability of equipment on the ramp, catering and cleaning – all of which must be accomplished in a very timely manner.
We can envisage a future in which there’s much more data exchanged: beginning with the tracking of expensive ramp assets using the Internet of Things (IoT), for example, such as fuel trucks, push-back vehicles, baggage tugs/trolleys and so on.
Knowing where these assets are at all times, and enabling the right entity to use them as efficiently as possible, will provide greater cost efficiencies, along with smoother and more rapid aircraft turnarounds overall.
Let me provide another example. It’s the use of the IoT in terminal automation, in relation to passenger flow, CCTV, bag drop, and passport and boarding gates. These can all be monitored for efficient planning, forecasting and cross-organization resource allocation among airlines, handlers, security, border agencies and airport management.
Overcoming barriers to sharing: more standards and trust
Of course, there are barriers to overcome. In some instances, a lack of defined standards can make the cost of data sharing prohibitive, because of customized and non-reusable systems and solutions. However, I am sure that the continued development of industry standards for data exchange, and increased use of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), can help to overcome this hurdle, enabling digital services to access the features of another app or system.
The simple trust of other parties or companies can be another barrier. So it’s essential to provide solutions in which entities can share the data they’re willing to share, in a controlled way, with no risk of sharing more. In response, SITA is developing a Trust Framework for data sharing across our solutions, enabling parties to share the data they wish to share while explicitly not sharing that which is private.
Distributed ledger technologies, which include blockchain, offer potential as collaboration enablers. The concept behind them is to provide different entities with the ability to share what they wish, and only what they wish, in a way that is tamper-proof and for which a distributed consensus of the truth exists. Ultimately, expectations are that collaboration enablers such as blockchain may provide greater advantages over building sharing systems or solutions with more traditional technologies.
But again, no matter what new and emerging technologies we embrace, it’s clear to me that if we’re going to forge the digital air transport industry of tomorrow, we must relentlessly pursue better ways of working together. While technologies will help us, collaborative harmony in embracing these technologies is the key to creating radically new operational efficiencies and the passenger journey of the future.
Learn more about The Aviation Blockchain Sandbox, a SITA Lab initiative to accelerate the understanding of blockchain technology in the air transport industry.
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Read more about SITA’s Airport Management solution.
1TAM is a dynamic hub that uses new technologies, innovation and collaborative approaches to process flights, passengers and bags efficiently. A TAM solution should aggregate data, share real-time information to the stakeholders, help them generate an action plan, and monitor its progress.