“One of the consequences of the pandemic is the air transport industry’s prioritization of investment in digital transformation.”
“The aviation industry’s commitment is to be net-zero by 2050. Through digitalization we can significantly contribute to these targets today, by tackling operational inefficiencies.”
“It is important to have a collaborative industry IT organization like SITA to help us navigate the demands of the recovery, to embrace collective opportunities and address pressing priorities.”
“SITA’s membership – collectively representing aviation through more than 400 air transport organizations all around the world – continues to be a barometer of industry activity.”
“There are no better examples of SITA’s response to industry needs than those provided by the SITA Council Awards for innovation and support to SITA members and customers.”
Another extraordinary, challenging year
First of all, I would like to say what a privilege it is for me to serve as SITA Council President after Kerry Peirse of Cathay Pacific Airways stepped down from the role in December 2021. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Kerry for her service to the Council.
From our experiences on the Council, we know that SITA’s members and customers faced yet another extraordinary and challenging year in 2021. The impact of the pandemic runs deep, as shown by the statistics in the Chair and CEO statements, and while the effects are still being felt, the industry is now also facing the impact of the crisis in Ukraine.
One of the consequences of the pandemic is the air transport industry’s prioritization of investment in digital transformation, as we see in SITA’s ‘Air Transport IT Insights’ survey. This will make journeys more streamlined and safer in terms of health, from processing passengers at the airport, to easily moving through borders and onto aircraft. On top of this, the pandemic has shone a spotlight onto the need for our industry’s operations to be more efficient and cost-effective, and on our need to explore new revenue generation opportunities.
So clearly, digitalization is showing the way forward, and SITA is facilitating that for the industry, as seen in SITA’s portfolio developments during 2020 and 2021 (see the 'CEO Report'). But this is a trend accompanied by another major evolution, and that is the unprecedented pressure to decarbonize the industry.
The aviation industry’s commitment is to be net-zero by 2050. Through digitalization we can significantly contribute to these targets today, by tackling operational inefficiencies. SITA has been making important strides in this area, with solutions to reduce fuel burn and emissions from flights, as well as airport management tools to streamline operations, reduce taxiing times and track emissions. See the ‘SITA CSR Report’ for more.
That is why it is important to have a collaborative industry IT organization like SITA to help us navigate the demands of the recovery, to embrace collective opportunities and address pressing priorities for the travel industry as we prepare for the future.
Collaborating on community needs
Throughout 2021, the Council continued to work closely with SITA, as the representative body of SITA’s membership. That membership – collectively representing aviation through more than 400 air transport organizations all around the world – continued to be a barometer of industry activity.
The Council provides real industry insights and is a unique asset to SITA and our community. All of us on the Council work for the greater good of the community – committed to its needs and to SITA’s ability to meet those needs. Collaborating with the community via the Board, Council and SITA’s members is what distinguishes SITA as a community player in the air transport industry, able to truly understand our global IT needs.
The Council supports SITA’s community purpose and collaborative ways of working, both through its governance and practice. And we must combine that with the ability of SITA to evolve as an agile organization. That includes the Council’s review of SITA’s direction for next three years and beyond, as articulated in SITA’s Three Year Business Plan 2022-2024. It also included the SimplySITA transformation program, which I will come back to.
Rising to the challenges
During 2021, the Council helped to inform SITA as it rose to the challenge of developing and delivering IT capabilities to support industry recovery, as cited in the 'Chair statement'. The industry has never before had such a need to harness data and strive to digitalize processes to help it move forwards, to bring about the return of passengers, re-open borders, better manage health, and drive cost savings and efficiencies.
The Council is well informed about the technologies and portfolio developments that SITA is pursuing and exploring to help us keep journeys streamlined, convenient, stress-free and safe; to keep operations cost-effective, and to support the viability of business.
This is vital to the future of not just air travel but also the wider travel industry, such as the cruise and rail industries, the requirements for which SITA is evaluating too. It includes SITA’s continued pursuit of biometric and touchless technologies, passenger processing automation and self-service, global services for tracking and handling mishandled baggage, optimized and sustainable operations and infrastructure, the ability to create new revenue models, and more.
SITA Council Awards – innovation and industry support
The Council has been pleased to see some excellent examples of rising to the challenges. There are no better examples of SITA’s response to industry needs than those provided by the SITA Council Awards for innovation and support to SITA members and customers.
Under the category of ‘Getting ready for recovery’, we received almost 30 entries in 2021. These entries represent the continuous delivery of solutions and service to customers in tough times, as well as being shining examples of portfolio development and innovation despite the pandemic, and excellence in customer support and service – across all parts of the world.
The entries were so impressive that choosing a winner became extremely difficult, as each entry exhibited great dedication, expertise and innovation. They included massive airport infrastructure upgrades across India, as well as major implementations of SITA Smart Path, end-to-end passenger processing, baggage solutions, SITA Flex, mobile resource, and airport management solutions in airports globally, including Bahrain, Cambodia, Frankfurt, London Luton, Newark Liberty, Prague, Rome Fiumicino, and others.
In addition to national border management contracts for a number of governments to help keep borders agile and open, we evaluated entries for significant high priority common-use and self-service implementations for airlines around the world, including JetBlue and Ethiopian, to encourage the return to the skies.
And we saw entries for Proofs of Concept, trials and innovations such as SITA’s trusted traveler credential trial with the government of Aruba; the breakthrough development of a blockchain-based ICAO Electronic Pilot License enabling offline verification; and a proposed passenger density management solution by SITA’s Data Science Center of Excellence.
These are all great examples of how SITA solutions help airlines, airports and governments to tackle the challenges facing them. Six entries were eventually shortlisted for closer Council review, out of which we selected one winner and three runners up.
Our winner was a project delivering an EcoApp for Bombardier business jets using SITA’s eWAS Pilot with OptiFlight. The EcoApp represents a first for aviation in being line-fitted to business jets, ensuring greater situational weather awareness, optimizing flight plans and reducing fuel burn. This opens an exciting market for SITA to achieve further growth in the years ahead. Our data shows that by using modules of OptiFlight, each flight can realize climb fuel savings of around 5% without affecting passenger safety or comfort. Our estimates are that 5.6 million tons of CO2 could be avoided if all airlines in the world were to take this approach to the climb-out phase.
Our three runners up included SITA’s Digital Travel Declaration (DTD), as I mentioned earlier. This came in response to the need to encourage travel recovery and grapple with issues such as manual processes, paperwork, bottlenecks and siloes. DTD enables governments to safely allow international travel, making it easy for travelers – in just a few quick steps – to provide the required information to the destination government prior to travel.
Another runner up was a project for a major airline in the Middle East, to provide advanced data analytics for cabin connectivity. SITA created an Advanced Business Analytics service to track and adjust the connectivity service performance to deliver maximum ROI and value. This allows the monitoring and optimizing of service uptake, as well as revenue and margin.
For aviation, it represents a breakthrough by enabling revenue generation during the pandemic, through an in-flight internet connectivity service usually regarded as a cost center to airlines. The solution identified routes with higher frequencies, enabling the design of route-based plans to increase revenues, by as much as 30% in one case. Using features to minimize bandwidth congestion, the solution also generated data savings of up to 15% on high consumption routes, directly contributing to airline’s bottom line.
Our other runner up, a SITA Smart Path trial by United Airlines at San Francisco International Airport, was designed to help facilitate the return of domestic travel in the US. The trial marked a world-first as biometric boarding had before only been integrated with the US Customs and Border Protection’s Traveler Verification System.
It enabled a biometrically-driven, low-touch passenger experience to be extended to domestic travelers by incorporating passenger driver license IDs. Using SITA Smart Path, participating passengers were able to link their driver’s license to their facial image at check-in, then complete bag drop and boarding by simply scanning their face at each touchpoint.
The trial set numerous KPIs, including measuring the efficiency of the process. It found that the ‘scan license and take photo’ step added fewer than 10 seconds to the airline check-in process, yet significantly reduced processing time at bag-drop and boarding. It cited the ability of biometric boarding for international flights to help reduce boarding times by 30%, an advantage which the trial brought to domestic travelers.
Initiatives for Council collaboration in 2021
The Council played a significant role in reviewing and approving SITA’s governance changes and SimplySITA during 2021. We fully appreciate the criticality of SimplySITA to SITA’s Long-Term Business Plan and the achievement of a sustainable SITA for future years. The member shareholder endorsement of SimplySITA in the final quarter of last year was a landmark moment for SITA.
We believe that the changes in SITA’s governance, and in the Council’s structure and composition, support enhanced collaborative working as well as the drive for SITA to evolve and better respond to travel community requirements. With changes to SITA’s Articles of Association and other governance documents, including the introduction of the new Council Charter, we agreed some changes to the role and composition of the Council.
As said, SimplySITA ensures SITA’s sustainability as a company and business in the years to come, which the Chair and CEO make clear in their reports. But let me outline the purpose of the new Council Charter, which formally defines the Council’s role.
As a member-representative body that addresses community interests, the Council will maintain its role of representing and safeguarding the interests of the company’s membership in an advisory capacity.
In redefining the role of the Council, a clear imperative was to ensure it continues to leverage the expertise of Council Representatives. For that reason, the Council will focus strongly on the evolution of SITA’s portfolio. Our Representatives have great industry and IT knowledge and are able to contribute to how air transport industry solutions should evolve, for the benefit of our global community, and to ensure SITA’s long-term sustainability.
Council role and responsibilities
By contributing to the development of SITA’s portfolio of air transport industry products and solutions – through involvement in SITA’s Long-Term Business Strategy, with a focus on the portfolio – the Council will continue to play a key role.
As laid out in our new Charter, the Council will also make recommendations to the SITA Board on membership matters, and will identify and support community initiatives, while providing input and guidance on issues of importance to shareholders. The Council will also be responsible for appointing its own Council Representatives, along with the President and Deputy President.
By the time of the SITA Annual General Assembly in June 2022, the new composition of the Council will have been identified, with up to 20 Representatives elected to serve on the Council. These Representatives will represent 10 Geographic Member Groups, with each Group having two seats on the Council.
The new Council Charter addresses points that were impacted by the change in Belgian Corporate law and it also includes changes due to recommendations from a governance review process conducted by the SITA Board and Council. The SITA Council approved the Council Charter prior to its endorsement by SITA members at SITA’s Special General Assembly in October 2021, along with other governance documents.
This is a hugely important next step for the Council and for SITA. We believe it clarifies lines of responsibility and enhances the effectiveness and efficiency of the Board and Council – and therefore benefits SITA. Critically, it underlines the importance of maintaining the voice of the shareholder. The Council will continue its key role of representing the interests of SITA’s members, focusing on areas where the know-how and expertise of its Representatives can be best leveraged.
Thank you, goodbye and welcome
Before I close, allow me to thank the SITA Board and all of our Representatives on the SITA Council, for their unwavering commitment and dedication to SITA as advisors during the most difficult of times for all of us. My thanks also to SITA’s management and staff across the world, all of whom have risen to the tasks put before them in our second challenging year of the pandemic. Their determination and tenacity cannot be underestimated.
My appreciations would be incomplete if I did not also thank SITA’s previous CEO, Barbara Dalibard, who stepped down at the end of 2021. Barbara led SITA through some unprecedented times. But equally, with Barbara at the helm, the past five years have been successful and rewarding for SITA. There can be no doubt that she leaves SITA well positioned for more success in the future and I warmly welcome SITA’s new CEO, David Lavorel, who has been chosen to take on the mantle for SITA in the next chapter of its life.
Looking ahead to recovery
Let me say a few final words. Every one of us on the Council has been privileged to contribute to preparing SITA for the future. We have worked closely with the SITA Board and Executive Leadership Team to support SITA's evolution, providing constructive challenge and insights to help build a stronger SITA, and a more relevant company for SITA’s members and customers.
We still have a way to go before a full return to travel. But we have achieved a great deal, and IT is proving to be a way forward, preparing us for the next generation of the air transport industry. Like all of our Representatives on the SITA Council, I look forward to continuing to work with SITA as we strive towards our industry’s full recovery and a brighter future.
We offer grateful thanks to those whose term on the Council ended in 2021 – and we welcome all those Representatives who join our new Council. You can see who they are here.