Put the passenger first

Melbourne Airport, Interview

Self-service is transforming the passenger experience at Australia’s Melbourne Airport as it focuses on innovations to facilitate growth. We talked to Bryan Thompson, General Manager for Planning, Strategy and Development.

What’s the strategy for your airport?

In terms of information and communications technology, a key part of our strategy is to focus on the ‘virtual traveler’, putting passengers first in our thinking. We know that as passengers pass through Melbourne Airport, they’ll be increasingly active in their use of IT to help them on their travels.

More and more, they’ll want information to flow to them through their mobile devices, for example. This will give back time to our passengers as they progress more smoothly, and it will allow them to move through our building more flexibly, in a way that they would like to rather than being forced through specific processes at any one time.

Our strategy will help us meet the continued rapid growth of Melbourne Airport, particularly in our international markets, so we’re looking to transform our infrastructure as well as our processes and technology to improve service.

That’s why over the next two years we’re investing $1 billion in a development plan which includes the transformation of our international terminal.

Working with SITA we want to use technology in new ways to enhance our processes and efficiencies to make the journey smoother for passengers and the airlines that serve them.

Tell us about the solutions you’re delivering.

We’re delivering a solution at Melbourne Airport that looks at a two stage Common-Use Self-Service (CUSS) and bag drop solution.

We’re pleased to be one of the first airports in the world to introduce international CUSS bag drops. It provides self-service units so passengers can ‘tag and drop’ their bags without queuing for a traditional check in desk where you wait to be served by a staff member. The bag drops are proving to be very successful with more than 90,000 bags self-checked by passengers since implementation. This process now takes passengers an average of only thirty seconds.

We’ve achieved this through working with our technology partners, SITA and the BCS Group.  The platform complements the six steps of the IATA Fast Travel initiative, which is designed to improve passenger processing and the overall passenger experience through innovation, automation and processing efficiency. The delivery of CUSS check-in is part of this.

What are the main benefits?

As I say, we’ve greatly reduced the time it takes for passenger to complete the check-in process. What we’re doing is eradicating waiting times and making the process far friendlier for passengers so they no longer have to wait in long queues. They’ve been given their time back to go and utilize it the way that they see fit.

Self-service bag tagging has moved the passenger away from having to crowd around the check in space while bags are being tagged, and it’s freed up infrastructure to allow processes to be more efficient.

Overall our move to CUSS has allowed the airport to reduce the footprint it requires to accommodate check in within the terminal. This has had a huge impact on reducing the cost of operations for airlines, but it also allows for greater service delivery in constrained environments.

What feedback have you had?

Passenger feedback on self service as well the bag drop has been very positive. They no longer have to wait in queues. And airlines are closing out flights earlier and are running on time far more often.

What future innovations are you considering?

Melbourne Airport is embracing innovation so that we can build an airport of the future. We’re utilizing technology and technology partners such as SITA and BCS to set out a roadmap to deliver this within the next two years.  The roadmap looks, not just at self-service, but also at more innovation to impact the entire passenger experience.

I would say one of the biggest IT innovation challenges airports face right now is big data. Integration and integration bus-type technology is valuable in order to get a common picture throughout the airport of what is happening. Airports must embrace it. I also see bag drop as being integral to innovation at airports; it’s only starting to creep in now but will get better over time.

Of course, business intelligence and analytics will prove beneficial to airports, enabling them to be predictive. We’ll focus on analytics to be sure we’re predictive and able to allocate resources to the right stage of the process, at the right time.

So we’ll know when passengers are moving through the terminal, where they are, and what resources we have to make available at any one time.

This will also prove very valuable from a security perspective, because predictive technology enables you to pinpoint unusual behavior and take actions before an event takes place.

Of course, that relates to one of the biggest changes at airports, Collaborative Decision Making: the ability to get a common set of data that allows airports to collaborate with their partners in making decisions around day to day processes.

What’s your biggest achievement so far?

To date, it’s CUSS and bag drop in our international building. We have the benefit of a domestic market which is sophisticated in terms of self service, with Qantas and Virgin offering it. But now we will free up huge amounts of capacity by making this move in our international precinct.

How important is collaboration?

Collaboration is fundamental to airports. We have to make sure that we deliver customized services to our passenger and airline customers. This requires strong collaboration. So we need to make sure we work together with our stakeholders on finding common solutions that work for all of us.

There’s also the benefit of collaboration with our technology partners, such as SITA and BCS. That has come to fruition through our bag drop and CUSS initiative. It’s been a great experience working with groups of people with got a common goal of achieving excellent customer service through self-service.

Looking ahead, collaboration and partnerships will be vital as technology continues to make a massive impact on passengers and airports as a key driver of innovation and change.

Melbourne transformation

SITA is delivering technology advances to Melbourne Airport’s passengers as the airport switches all of its passenger services to SITA’s common-use platform. The airport’s switch follows the recent successful implementation of SITA’s common-use passenger self-service kiosks and automated bag drop.

SITA’s AirportConnect Open common-use platform will now power all 275 workstations, including check-in counters and boarding gates, throughout the airport’s international terminal.

The investment in SITA’s technology will allow the airport operator to maximize the use of its terminal facilities and enhance the experience for the 25 international airlines and 30 million passengers who currently use the airport.

The new facilities are  part of Melbourne Airport’s biggest transformation since it opened more than 40 years ago, which will see up to $10 billion invested over 20 years and passenger numbers doubling to 60 million by 2030.

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