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The impact of COVID-19 has tipped the air transport industry into turmoil with planes grounded for much of 2020 and significant economic and operational challenges to solve.

The industry has moved quickly to find new solutions to meet the new health measures required by the pandemic. From head-mounted thermal scanners to social distancing technology, an accelerated rate of technology adoption reassures passengers that their flight will be safe. 

At the start of the pandemic, airline operations helped ensure the delivery of cargo planes containing critical supplies for countries most at risk and facilitated the repatriation of citizens. This work required airport and airline staff to work through the peaks of infection.

Now as many countries in Western Europe strap into their second lockdown, we are excited to be trialing a new solution that addresses some safety concerns of crew members. 

Working with a trusted partner like Etihad Airways at Abu Dhabi Airport we were able to apply our next-generation biometric technology to address key concerns for crew members and boost the airline's efficiency. The objective was to create a better system for entry and exit to the restricted Crew Briefing Center (CBC). Our challenges were clear:

  • Reduce lining up and speed up the crew check-in process at the CBC, reduce flight preparations stress and in turn improve crew morale and energy levels
  • Enable a low touch process to mitigate COVID-19 risk by using facial recognition technology
  • Integrate ‘biometrics on-the-go’ convenience for the crew to use their smartphones
  • Enable an automated flight roster retrieval and roll call using facial recognition cameras

Having implemented SITA Smart Path, our low touch passenger solution at leading airports globally including Miami Airport and Beijing Capital International Airport  BCIA, and having a good understanding of how mobile-solutions can turn a passenger’s phone into their remote control for travel, we felt equipped to address these challenges.

Layers of complexity were added by the strict security regulations required. Making the technology accessible and intuitive for staff was also a high priority. Bring your own device (BYOD) was a key element of the project and why we developed a crew iPhone check-in app.

The face recognition uses Apple’s True Depth camera technology and there is also a shared iPad check-in app that allows the crew to answer regulatory compliance security and safety questions. Should there be any issue with a crew member’s mobile phone, several iPads have also been deployed at the CBC which the crew can use if they need to. A supervisor web portal enables monitoring of this activity and visibility on crew status.

We’re excited to partner with Etihad to trial the facial biometric services as part of the airline’s digitalization strategy.

Captain Sulaiman Yaqoobi, Vice President Flight Operations, Etihad Aviation Group said: “Etihad is constantly on the lookout for innovative solutions that will drive improvements in the airline’s operations and enhance the experience for guests and employees. We believe that facial recognition technology has the potential to enhance the efficiency and security of airline operations and are happy to be partners with SITA in this trial.”

Although this is a Proof of Concept running until late February 2021, we are hopeful the findings will lead to a broader solution for the industry at a time when crew and passenger safety is under the microscope.

Concepts from SITA’s innovation team have a successful track record of becoming commercial solutions. One example of a productized project is SITA’s CrewTab, a powerful yet easy-to-use tablet dashboard that digitizes cabin crew activities before, during and post-flight, to increase operational efficiency, empower crews and personalize service excellence.

SITA's strategic technology research team stimulate technological innovation in the air transport industry and bring emerging technologies into SITA's portfolio. The team innovates in collaboration with airlines, airports, and technology specialists globally.


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