London was the venue for PTE 2019 and what a week to have it! There was so much to experience both inside and outside the exhibition at this historic “Brexit” time that as I began to write I wondered how I could summarize my recent visit.
For me, PTE was three days of non-stop opportunities to meet with many of our customers, the best part of my job. Around the event the biggest focus I noticed was on the passenger journey and how the industry can work together to make it better. Of course, the efficient operations of the airport are also vital and so cutting-edge technology combined with, again, a focus on working together was also a highlight.
Giving passengers what they want
We’re all passengers and we all know the one thing we want is fewer queues in the airport. That means we want fast and efficient check-in, security and boarding. We want the aircraft to leave on time and we want our bags to arrive at the right airport at the right time.
Walking around, I saw many stands featuring the seamless journey, based around biometrics and self-service technology, SITA’s included.
Self-service makes a significant difference and it’s now sufficiently widespread and reaching maturity. The latest self-service technology is enabling passengers to track their own bags. The percentage of passengers using their mobile devices to receive status updates on their baggage at arrival nearly doubled last year. Those who use this service report higher satisfaction rates. Giving passengers control makes sense.
Biometrics are currently being trialed at airports around the world. By around 2021, we should expect to see widespread deployment, often building on existing hardware and common-use environments for higher efficiencies. We know that people like using biometrics for easy travel, when given a choice, over 90% of travelers typically opt in. But as with all new technology, a key factor determining roll-out will be regulation. Some authorities, notably the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, have been pushing hard to make biometrics a reality, we will see how others follow.
My prediction is that the combination of self-service and biometrics is going to make the seamless passenger journey a reality. We are seeing pockets of success and widespread adoption will really give passengers what they want.
Getting it right behind the scenes
As an industry, we’re operating more flights and load factors are high. Increasing passenger numbers is a great problem to have, but it is a problem. We simply don’t have the capacity at airports. EUROCONTROL has reported on-time performance for only two thirds of flights during the summer of 2018. That’s not good. We need to improve aircraft turnaround times and passenger flows. And we need to manage resources better.
There are plenty of tools available to do that. At PTE, I had many discussions on Airport Operational Databases (AODB) and about Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM). Fundamentally, what we’re actually talking about is how best to collect, collate and analyze data from across the entire airport.
Done properly, we can get smart and use predictive analytics. First, we have a view of what has happened at the airport in the past and what is happening in real-time. Then we use all the data available and layer artificial intelligence to predict what will happen in the future. With these predictions we can manage operations more efficiently and avoid disruption before it even happens.
This is not something for tomorrow, we have the technology today to harness data from multiple sources to deliver real insights. One of the best examples of this on display at PTE was SITA FlightPredictor. OK I might be biased! But in reality, FlightPredictor takes data from multiple sources and dramatically improves the predictability of flight movements so that airlines and airports can better plan the allocation of assets and resources to serve flights during the day of operation.
Getting it right behind the scenes is easier said than done but that’s the way we’re going to improve airports’ operations, move passengers and aircraft more efficiently, and reduce the number of delayed flights.
No man is an island…
The only way we can make this happen is by working together. We can only realize the full potential of the latest technologies when airports, airlines, government agencies and other stakeholders collaborate with their technology partners to put solutions in place.
Accessing all the data we need to drive more efficient operations means everyone at the airport needs to share their relevant information, including airports, airlines, ground handlers, retailers, security agencies and so on. How the data is brought together is important, it needs to be done securely and to the benefit of all. At SITA, we are exploring how blockchain could be the facilitating technology our industry needs. Together with British Airways, and Heathrow, Geneva and Miami airports, we tested blockchain for capturing the single source of the truth for flight data. It worked well and we continue investigations in this area.
The intent to share is the starting point, alongside the acknowledgement of the importance of data. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. Airports and airlines have always worked together – they don’t have a choice! - but at PTE last week, I got the sense that more and more are looking at how they can use data better for everyone’s benefit.
So, what did I miss?
Well, artificial intelligence (AI) was less visible than expected on the stands with very few vendors talking about it. SITA’s FlightPredictor was one of the very few demos of AI in action. There is a huge amount of work happening across the world and so much the industry can do with the various forms of AI including machine learning, natural language processing, robotics, etc. and it was surprising not to see more applications in London last week.
In conclusion, it was great to hear lots of talk about the seamless journey and improving operations. I am optimistic we can continue handling the industry’s growing passenger numbers as we drive efficiencies together. And I know, there is lots in store with more technologies such as AI that are still maturing and will drive the next evolution in our industry in the years to come.