As we move towards a digital society, we can look forward to a world that’s hyper-connected, mobile and personalized. The changes we’ll see in air travel will be revolutionary, as the passenger journey becomes an entirely seamless self-service experience, driven by the huge growth in passenger numbers and the demands of tech-savvy travelers.
What won’t be so obvious are the platforms that will underpin this vision of a completely automated, mobile, walkthrough passenger journey. And that’s a vital point. As the air transport industry plans for the next digital decade, choosing and putting into place the right platforms on which to build the journey of the future is a vital consideration.
Quickly evolving passenger expectations
Increasingly, travelers want to breeze through the airport, recognized by their mobile devices using digital ID such as facial recognition and fingerprints. They see it as both simple and safe. And they see passwords as passé!
As they traverse the steps of the journey, travelers want to be served up relevant information in real-time – straight to their mobile devices, the ‘remote control for their lives’. In this way, they can control their journey: constantly informed, anticipating flight delays, seeing connection changes and tracking their bags. These are essential ingredients to the smooth, stress-free journey that passengers are increasingly demanding.
They want technology to join up the steps of the journey, so they can seamlessly pass through touchpoints at the airport, just walking through to get on the plane and only being stopped if there’s a problem. Sadly, we all know that the truth about flying today can be quite different. The processes passengers must go through to verify themselves are cumbersome. There are touchpoints, but in most cases, there’s the need to stop at every step of the way, from check-in to boarding.
Self-service travel: the way forward
More and more, passengers see interacting with manual processes and people as time-consuming and unnecessary. They want to make interactions from their own, safe and secure environment with apps that they know – on their mobile.
Many mobile app services are becoming universal when it comes to mobile check-in and mobile boarding services. SITA’s latest Air Transport IT Insights research shows that mobile app services were provided by more than 8 out of 10 airlines in 2019. The research says that the provision of services via passengers’ mobile devices is key for the digital transformation of airports.
The desire for ultimate control, self-service and seamlessness is the same behavior that’s driving the success of the Amazon Go check-out free experience and McDonald’s self-service ordering apps. At SITA we recognize that passengers want the same experience in air travel as they’re becoming used to elsewhere in life.
They want their interactions to be through self-service, with all the processes behind the scenes, such as check-in and border gates, all running smoothly and securely. That’s why self-service, wherever it may be in the world, is central to SITA’s Platform services.
The power of the cloud, enabling apps to be accessible from anywhere, is making this possible. Again, SITA’s Insights research shows that airline and airport CIOs are focusing their IT strategies on digital transformation, with cloud services being one of the greatest areas for investment by 2022.
New technologies such as 5G, Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) will increasingly connect people and objects. Future airports will be a mesh of end-to-end connected devices interacting with each other to create the ultimate, autonomous, self-service environment.
AI will improve operational efficiencies by allowing airports and airlines to predict and manage disruptions, for example. It can then serve up relevant, contextual information to passengers’ mobile devices in real-time.
Air transport industry platforms must unite industry processes and operations
Until now the passenger journey has been fragmented. When passengers check-in with an airline, for example, the airport doesn’t know they’re there. After they’ve checked in, the airline doesn’t know where they are in the airport.
Choosing the right platform will address these issues by breaking down information silos, enabling collaboration, sharing and a single source of truth. The right industry platform will allow airlines and airports to share relevant information to make for a seamless passenger journey.
The vision of a 100% mobile, walkthrough passenger journey needs to bring together airport operations, baggage processing, passenger processing, border management, and business intelligence. The approach must consolidate data for airlines, airports and other stakeholders.
SITA’s own platform and data services span all of these areas. Accessible at the airport, they connect to the cloud, digitizing and sharing information between the airport, airlines and other players.
What’s important to consider is the use of edge and fog computing to process time-sensitive or security-sensitive information locally at the airport. This is essential to deal with huge volumes of data, such as live camera feeds for facial recognition and to meet country-specific regulatory issues.
Blockchain technology will likely play a key role too, allowing information to be shared between players securely without an intermediary, so airports can rely on it to share payment and other sensitive information.
Building an open API ecosystem
We live in a shared world and, much like Android opened up its platform to any application developers as well as several hardware manufacturers, SITA believes that anyone should be able to develop applications for air transport industry platforms. That’s why SITA is pioneering an open API platform.
If the air transport industry is to unlock data across its many processes, it’s essential to build around open APIs so that airports and airlines can create secure, innovative apps for many different business cases and emerging technologies in the future.
SITA’s own approach encourages this and owing to an industry footprint of 550+ pre-connected airports in over 220 countries and territories, we’re able to ensure standard mobile self-service anywhere, making for an extremely powerful force in delivering a seamless and mobile future for air travel.
New levels of networking: begin implementing now
Any future industry platform must transform hardware-based networking into software-defined networking (SDN). This will increase agility, scalability, flexibility and security. SDN basically separates the control of the network from the hardware allowing for greater control, visibility of the entire network and automated provisioning.
Again, our own approach connects airlines and others at the airport to SDN with SITA Connect SDN. (We do this through our global SITA AirportHub™ shared platform). SITA Connect SDN uses virtual functions and provides software on-demand while leveraging secure, high internet bandwidth connectivity.
This is hugely cost-effective and delivers whole new levels of performance. In the future, if an airline wants to add a new application, such as baggage software, they’ll simply drag and drop an icon from a console. SDN activities will provision the software to the right location and provide the associated network with the right level of security and acceleration for the application. It’s fast, simple, secure and without any need for additional hardware investment.
An exciting ecosystem is emerging
The signs for air transport are promising. A cloud-based SDN-enabled platform will open up great opportunities for the walkthrough passenger experience as well as far greater operational efficiencies.
The right industry platform will shape the journey of the future. A large North American airport is already reporting on the advantages of using SITA Flex, our new cloud-based common-use, open API, platform, and several others are testing the platform.
As we look to the future, our industry platform will make fixed assets in airports a thing of the past. We’ll see mobile kiosks on autonomous vehicles, for example. What’s certain is that in this connected, digital ecosystem, we’ll be able to share information across all players and with passengers securely. All assets will be controllable, remotely, making optimum use of airline resources and airport space.
The platform on which the industry is built will determine the capabilities of this exciting ecosystem, as the foundation for tomorrow’s self-service and the walkthrough passenger experience. At the same time, the cloud will bring sustainability, addressing two elements of greener IT: energy efficiency and resource efficiency.
Of course, for this to work, the air transport industry must be more open-minded and think in terms of agility and collaboration.