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Insights into our future

Published on  04 October by Matthys Serfontein , President, Air Travel Solutions, SITA
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Last week I attended the SITA EURO IT Summit in the charming city of Budapest and this week I am lucky to be in Athens at the IATA Global Airport and Passenger Symposium. It too is a wonderful city steeped in history but looking to the future.

At both events I had the chance to connect with many senior executives from airports, airlines and ground handlers who are our customers, along with representatives from tech start-ups, international associations (including ACI and IATA) and various governments. In these two separate countries, at these two separate events, the message was clear: air travel is growing, passenger numbers are rising and the biggest challenge facing all the stakeholders is how can we best manage this growth?

Technology promises to solve many of the pressing issues faced by the industry and airlines and airports are investing across the board to harness it. But which technologies will really work? Are airlines, airports and all the other stakeholders moving in the same direction? Or, will we see some technology favoured by one or the other?

We’ve got the answers…well some of them!

Every year, SITA undertakes extensive research into which technologies airlines and airports across the world are making investments for strategic and operational benefits. We’ve just published the results in the 2018 Air Transport IT Insights. Those of you who worked with us on this will have already received the full results and analysis but I wanted to call out a number of insights that caught my attention.

How much investment and where is it going?

Overall, investment in technology is rising. Today airlines spend US$ 30 billion on IT and this is set to rise in 2018 reaching a total of 3.67% of their revenues, up from 3.14% in 2017. Airports too are spending more on IT, rising from 4.39% of revenues to an expected 5.69% in 2018. This equates to US$ 10 billion up from US$ 8.6 billion in 2017. The strength in investment is encouraging and reflects the digital transformation and growing reliance on technology across the board. Full details of the split across operating and capital IT spend is explored in the 2018 Air Transport IT Insights.

Total IT spend growth for airports and airlines


It is no surprise that there are some differences in how airlines and airports will spend their IT budgets, but the 2018 Air Transport IT Insights also clearly pinpoints areas of common interest:

  • Biometrics to deliver secure and easy travel for passengers with 77% of airports and 71% airlines planning major programs or R&D.
  • Cybersecurity is a major program for 89% of airlines and 95% of airports.

Emerging tech – which one is for me?

To get a sense of which technologies are set to challenge the status quo across the industry, I looked at the results of the 2018 Air Transport IT Insights to see which will begin driving change in the near future. Again, there is a common thread across investments in emerging technologies. Both airlines and airports are investing in artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain. The vast majority are planning major programs or R&D in these technologies by 2021.

What is interesting to note is that airlines and airports are looking at these emerging technologies for different uses. When it comes to AI, airlines are investing in virtual agents and chatbots to service customers while airports are investing in predictive analytics to better manage operations.

Both have a keen interest in exploring how blockchain could be used for passenger identification.

Emerging tech priorities: Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Collaborative Innovation

The 2018 Air Transport IT Insights research also highlights how airlines and airports are partnering for innovation. Nearly half of airlines (43%) already contract with an innovation partner and this is set to jump to 76% over the next three years. Airports are doing the same with 30% now contracting with innovation partners and 61% expecting to do so by 2021.

At SITA, our technology research team works with airlines and airports testing new technology, pushing it to the limits and seeing if it can work in, and bring benefits to, our industry. Take, for example, mixed reality. Using Microsoft HoloLens we worked with Helsinki Airport and explored the ability to digitally recreate an airport layout and layer large quantities of data in an easy-to-use format. While mixed reality is promising and offers a new way to manage data, we learned that the hardware on the market is not yet quite ready for industrial use. This type of collaborative innovation and partnering benefits the industry as a whole.

In today’s fast-moving world, where technological disruption is the norm, keeping up-to-date with emerging technology and industry trends is a necessity. The 2018 SITA Air Transport IT Insights are packed with details on where the industry is focusing its technology spend. They are an invaluable source of information.


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