“The gradual return of growth and the industry’s digital shift will take aviation towards new horizons, shaping a whole new journey for passengers and creating smarter, data-driven and more sustainable industry operations.”
“We maintained focus, to help our customers through recovery, to help get passengers back into the air, to prepare the industry for its digital future, and to make business viable again.”
“SITA is committed to helping aviation to be more sustainable through meeting its carbon reduction objectives. Our approach includes providing solutions that help our customers reduce and better manage their emissions.”
“Our strategy drives portfolio developments and innovations to digitalize industry processes, giving aviation organizations agility in their businesses, greater operational and cost efficiencies, and a frictionless journey.”
“We see community innovation as a critical role for SITA, particularly in challenging times, which is why we explore technologies collaboratively with our airline, airport and border customers, as well as industry bodies.”
Towards new horizons
We are on a firm footing for growth
Let me first say what a great honor and privilege it is for me to have been chosen to lead SITA at this crucial time in our organization’s evolution. SITA's people all over the world are industry experts with a great passion for aviation and I am proud to be at the helm of that global team.
I have long held the firm belief that SITA plays a crucial role in supporting the growth and development of our industry. We will continue to do so in the years ahead, as together with our members, customers and industry bodies we do everything we can to help bring about the industry's recovery.
I am hopeful about that recovery, and about SITA’s future, in spite of the dramatic setbacks experienced by aviation. IATA puts 2021’s airline net losses at around US$52 billion. But across most regions, we see a trend towards increasing passenger and flight volumes. Notwithstanding the impact of the Ukraine crisis, and the prospect of more emerging variants, IATA still expects overall traveler numbers to reach 4.0 billion in 2024, exceeding pre-COVID-19 levels (103% of the 2019 total).
As aviation comes to terms with its new operating environment, we see an accelerated focus on streamlining the travel process, making operations more efficient, and striving towards the industry’s sustainability goals. Results from SITA’s latest 'Air Transport IT Insights' survey show the vast majority of airlines and airports planning to invest the same or more in digitalization and sustainability over the next three years.
Digitalization initiatives include more self-service, biometrics and touchless passenger processing technologies. At the same time, 56% of airlines are investing in technology to improve sustainability, through more efficient flights and operations, while 41% of airports are undertaking initiatives to promote energy savings.
The gradual return of growth and the industry’s digital shift will take aviation towards new horizons, shaping a whole new journey for passengers and creating smarter, data-driven and more sustainable industry operations.
As the industry undergoes this process of digitalization, throughout 2021 we continued to work closely with our members and customers. Our efforts brought sound results in another challenging year, supported by cost control and savings initiatives first launched in 2020.
SITA’s total 2021 revenue reached US$1,343 million, up slightly by 0.4% on the previous year, as explained in our consolidated financials for the year (available as a complementary publication to this Activity Report). Our Net Promoter Score (NPS) reached around 40%, a rise from 31% four years ago, and our EBITDA, at US$150 million, came in US$21 million above 2020's figure.
This has been helped by initiatives to simplify and enhance the relevance of SITA’s portfolio since 2017, which was further accelerated during the pandemic. Our results place us on a firm footing for the years ahead, as we return to long-term growth, in line with our ambition to exceed SITA’s pre-pandemic revenue figure of US$1,826 million in 2019.
We are serving the community through recovery and beyond
When the pandemic struck, SITA underlined its role as a community player at the core of the air transport industry, with a focus on keeping the industry’s operations up and running, in every corner of the globe. We reacted with speed to meet aviation’s urgent needs for seamless, touchless journeys and digital, agile, cost-effective operations, introducing eight new solutions specifically to meet industry requirements changed by COVID.
In 2021, despite the challenges, we maintained that focus, to help our customers through recovery, to help get passengers back into the air, to prepare the industry for its digital future, and to make business viable again – and able to deal with more demanding processes as a result of COVID. Throughout the year, we launched 26 new products, helped 490 million passengers get to their destination, and delivered 2.1 million mishandled bags to their destination.
Thanks to our portfolio developments and innovations, we are helping our members and customers to tackle the requirements for ‘frictionless healthy journeys’. We introduced SITA’s Health Protect, for example, enabling the industry to make quick informed decisions ahead of check-in about whether a passenger can travel. It includes an industry verification service to seamlessly integrate the many different health check schemes – bridging the gaps between governments, airlines and airports, so they can digitally and securely verify and validate traveler health information.
Another example is our global biometrics partnership with NEC, to develop solutions for secure near-walk-through travel at airports. The focus is on next-generation biometric, mobile-enabled and touchless passenger processing. We were delighted to sign Star Alliance as the first NEC-SITA customer, which will accelerate the availability of biometric self-service touch-points powered by SITA Smart Path. Passengers of Star Alliance airlines will be able to use their biometric identity on their mobile at each step of the journey across any participating airline at any participating airport. These are just two of the examples of how we responded to the crisis to serve the air transport community as it navigates the recovery of travel.
We helped the industry embark on its carbon net-zero journey
In addition to accelerating digitalization, the industry’s technology leaders intensified their focus on sustainability during 2021, placing it high on their agendas as they plan IT investments over the next three years, as evidenced by SITA’s latest 'Air Transport IT Insights' report. More and more airlines are adopting new technologies to improve sustainability, and most airports have put into place sustainability programs and initiatives to promote energy savings.
SITA is committed to helping aviation to be more sustainable through meeting its carbon reduction objectives. Our approach is to provide solutions that help our customers reduce and better manage their emissions; to collaborate in industry partnerships on sustainable aviation initiatives; and to make our own technology greener, so we do not add to our customers’ emissions.
We continue to evolve our portfolio to enhance airline, airport and aircraft operational efficiencies and sustainability. With 7-10% of the industry’s more immediate carbon emission savings expected to come from improving operations and infrastructure (Waypoint 2050: Aviation: Beyond Borders), our solutions are available now, to support our customers as they work towards their carbon reduction goals and gain competitive advantage.
In 2021, for example, we acquired Safety Line. The combination of OptiFlight and eWAS solutions reduces fuel burn and associated emissions. These solutions enable more sustainable flying thanks to direct and efficient flight paths, and the management of disruption from weather impacts to reduce delays. As the President statement says, our solutions can achieve climb fuel savings. For one airline customer, OptiFlight has delivered annual savings of around 70 tons of fuel and 223 tons of CO2, for each aircraft tail.
For our SITA Airport Management portfolio, we introduced Emissions Manager – with a trial at Palermo Airport – to measure and manage Scope 3 emissions from aircraft and airside vehicles. This is all part of our efforts to enable tracking of environmental KPIs and to reduce emissions through optimizing airport operations. We await figures from the trial but our simulations are positive, indicating that in an airport the size of Palermo’s emissions could be reduced by anything between 5-15%.
On top of that we are entering partnerships with industry bodies and other technology organizations to tackle aviation sustainability. In 2021, for instance, we partnered with Envision Digital to develop net-zero technology to help decarbonize airports. Working with Envision, we are able to deploy artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things technologies enabling organizations to accelerate and scale their journeys to net-zero, with digital solutions. This includes real-time data flows to optimize airport operations, reduce local emissions, and optimize infrastructure-related energy consumption. The collaboration aims to create the world's first integrated net zero carbon airport offering.
Our greener technology includes our industry-leading biometric-enabled TS6 Smart Path kiosk, introduced in 2021. Designed for upgrading and low power consumption, it features passive cooling, and utilizes sustainable, modular design, for example, for SITA's self-service kiosks, gates and bag drops. Frankfurt Airport became one of the latest adopters in 2021, selecting 87 of these kiosks across its Terminals 1 and 2 to improve the passenger experience.
Of course, we are very serious about our own sustainability efforts too. Following CarbonNeutral® certification in 2021 – thanks to our Planet+ carbon neutrality program – we took an ambitious new step in our journey to reduce our climate impact by publicly committing to setting science-based targets aligned with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) Net-Zero Standard. In doing this, we will be joining companies worldwide who are taking climate action at the pace and scale required by climate science.
I am proud to say that SITA won the World Finance Sustainability Awards Program as ‘Most Sustainable Company in the Aviation Communication Technology Industry – 2021’. Our Planet+ program has also been identified as an outstanding example of UN SDG Good Practice by the United Nations (UN SDG 13 climate action). See the 'SITA CSR Report 2021' for more.
We continue to develop and innovate
With aviation accelerating towards its digital future, SITA remains an industry partner in that transformation. Our strategy drives portfolio developments and innovations to digitalize industry processes, giving aviation organizations agility in their businesses, greater operational and cost efficiencies, and a safe (healthy) frictionless journey.
We continue to invest in our core portfolio – in areas where we hold a dominant market share or have a unique offering, and which remain highly valued by our members and customers. They include our passenger, border, baggage, and unified aircraft communications solutions, all of which saw many key successes in 2021.
For passenger processing, for example, our Smart Path biometrics self-service and mobile-enabled platform is now used at airports globally, delivering ‘Your face is your boarding pass’ travel experiences, with one of the latest customers in 2021 being Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa Bole International Airport. We continue to digitalize identity and health management solutions. On the borders front, the year saw several new government customers – now totaling more than 70 – including the adoption by Jamaica of SITA’s Digital Travel Declaration solution, which allows travelers to submit all health, immigration, and customs documentation through one easy platform.
Exciting baggage developments included the launch of WorldTracer Lost and Found Property, which uses AI to quickly return items left behind on aircraft or in airports to their owners. And for aircraft communications, where SITA clearly leads the industry, we were delighted that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) selected SITA’s FANS-1/A based datalink solution to manage the United States’ vast oceanic airspace.
Our core portfolio also includes solutions for Software Defined Networking (SDN), cloud, data and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), which are imperative to the industry’s digital transformation. SITA’s SDN platform supports migration of applications to the cloud, offering faster, more resilient, and agile connectivity, with on-demand bandwidth. When Cathay Pacific adopted SITA’s SDN technologies, the airline began realizing a 30% saving in its network operation costs and a 40% increase in available bandwidth.
Our SITA Flex platform, in the meantime, uses APIs and the cloud to extract and manage journey data, giving passengers a mobile, self-service and automated journey experience both on-site and off-site. In 2021, Spring Airlines developed the first native SITA Flex app with initial deployment at Taipei International Airport. As we move towards our vision of Flex as the API-enabled platform of choice, we will transform traditional touchpoints, increasingly introducing ‘Your mobile as your remote control for travel’, with touchless bag tagging, digital boarding pass stamps at security screening, and more.
All of these solutions underpin digital transformation. Added to that, our core portfolio includes Operations at Airports and Cabin Connectivity, which again notched up important 2021 successes. SITA Airport Management, for example, helps airlines, airports and ground handlers to run operations collaboratively and efficiently based on real-time data, delivering efficiencies and reduced taxiing times. Building on this in 2021 we introduced AMS Mobile to support better planning and operations. La Guardia, Athens, Luton and Bahrain airports are among the nearly 190 customers now using SITA Airport Management.
For crew, we launched FlightFolder to digitalize pilot briefings and improve situational awareness for pilots and dispatchers. The year saw a retail module introduced for SITA's CrewTab, which extends the touchless and convenient passenger experience, as a tablet application that digitalizes paper-based cabin crew working documents, such as passenger requirements and seating plans. CrewTab Retail facilitates end-to-end digital in-flight sales management, from on-the-ground inventory administration to post-flight sales analysis.
These are all among the many core portfolio solutions well regarded and well used by our airline, airport, aircraft, ground-handler, government and other customers around the world, as they digitally transform. Another area is cargo. We became the sole owner of SITA subsidiary and air cargo software provider CHAMP Cargosystems after buying the stake owned by Cargolux Airlines. The air cargo industry is ripe for increasing digitalization of its processes, and our full ownership of CHAMP gives us flexibility and the potential to drive synergies with SITA to meet the industry’s future digital requirements.
On top of our portfolio developments we are, of course, committed to our innovation programs, and despite the crisis, I am proud to say that we maintained similar levels of investment in innovation. We see community innovation as a critical role for SITA, particularly in challenging times, which is why we explore technologies collaboratively with our airline, airport and border customers, as well as industry bodies. In this way we can be sure we tackle genuine industry needs, addressing costs, efficiencies, operational hurdles, aviation sustainability and the passenger experience.
This includes Proofs-of-Concept, trials and pilot projects, looking at new and emerging technologies across the journey, supply chains and operations, among them biometrics and other technologies for digital identity, AI, Computer Vision, Machine Learning, blockchain, digital health credentials, and more.
Other key areas of innovation now being explored by SITA include Maintenance and Repair Organizations (MRO) and blockchain/data collaboration, an Aircraft Data Platform, turnaround optimization, and green airport and aircraft offerings. By the close of 2021, SITA had been granted around 350 patents, with almost 220 patent applications pending. See the ‘Business Review’ section for more on SITA’s portfolio and innovation.
Preparing SITA for the years ahead
Clearly, innovation helps to prepare SITA and the travel industry for the years ahead. But so too does our focus on new horizons for SITA, where we can offer our renowned industry expertise and IT to new customers, such as for domestic flight operations, regional airports, and low-cost carriers. This will enable us to deliver greater digitalization of operations and target common industry challenges.
Similarly, we are evolving services for Air Traffic Control (ATC) and Digital Day of Operations. Environmental constraints and the rise of Urban Air Mobility will force changes upon ATC, particularly around navigation. We will provide customers with digital solutions for ATC as well as for more efficient and sustainable operations around the aircraft, such as turnaround management, fuel dashboarding, and data management.
And in another exciting development, as mentioned at last year’s Annual General Assembly, SITA is now offering its expertise to the wider travel industry – including cruise hubs, ports, railway terminals, and major sporting and religious events, which require a seamless journey whatever the mode of travel.
Across the travel industry we all face common issues and there is a need to tackle these together through best practices, common approaches and shared technologies. With a collaborative approach to meeting industry-wide requirements, we see great potential in driving better passenger processing and operations across the entire global travel industry, and for moving towards increasingly seamless intermodal travel.
We continue to transform SITA
Our focus on innovation and on addressing the wider travel market are driving SITA’s transformation and growth, preparing SITA for the years ahead, while maintaining our strengths, resilience and relevance in extremely challenging and changing times. We have now put into place an Acceleration program to achieve further growth for SITA.
I am delighted that one of our other transformational programs, SimplySITA, was endorsed at a Special General Assembly in October 2021. SimplySITA is all about embracing new horizons and securing SITA’s future, by simplifying and streamlining our business. It is a critical enabler of SITA’s Long-Term Business Strategy, with the aim of building a financially sustainable organization for the benefit of our member shareholders. See the 'Chair’s statement' for more.
But as we transform SITA for the future, it is our people who take center stage. We have helped them through company-wide health and support initiatives during the pandemic, backed by a strong focus on nurturing skills and developing our people, along with talent retention and acquisition. As the Chair statement says, IT skills and knowledge remain in scare supply in the air transport industry, so SITA represents a valuable center of expertise for the community. The year saw continued investment in our managers and leaders, who are crucial to SITA’s performance. We met our target of 50% of people managers trained through our ‘Unleash’ management development program by year end.
We also kept a close eye on project delivery and quality, to drive customer satisfaction. We delivered 84% of our projects on time, against our 2021 target of 78%, and our Defect Removal Efficiency metric reached 75% for the year, against a target of 74%.
In addition, cybersecurity remains at the forefront of our corporate programs. As the Chair statement says, we launched our Enterprise Security Improvement Program-Plus (ESIP+) in 2021. ESIP+ is enhancing the robustness and resilience of SITA’s IT security and response capabilities. We recognize it is vital to have in place such a rigorous approach to cybersecurity. I strongly believe cybersecurity demands attention at the highest level of the organization, which is why SITA’s Chief Information Security Office and Data Protection Office now report directly into the CEO. In 2021, we contained a highly sophisticated cyber-attack, acting swiftly to initiate protective measures and contact affected customers (see the 'Chair statement').
Looking forward – together
Before I conclude, I would like to thank the SITA Board and Council for their insights and guidance during 2021, yet another tough year for air transport, and a year in which together, we needed to manage complex data security challenges and to deliver SimplySITA. We are very grateful for the dedication and expertise of our Board Directors and Council Representatives throughout these demanding times.
Let me also thank SITA’s Executive Leadership Team and all of SITA’s people for driving SITA’s success in the face of many challenges, placing us on a strong footing for the future. On behalf of the entire organization, let me also thank my predecessor Barbara Dalibard, who as SITA CEO led the company through extraordinary years, relentlessly focusing on our organization’s future and our people.
I believe the years ahead hold a wealth of opportunities for SITA, our members and our customers. As we embrace new horizons, SITA is determined to grow its business, and to effect positive change for the air transport community through increasing innovation, industry partnerships and ventures. In doing this, we will harness the unique digital expertise of SITA’s people, and their passion for, and knowledge of, the community. This is, and has always been, SITA’s raison d’etre: to work for the benefit and prosperity of the air transport community.