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The invisible network connecting the global air travel industry   

Maya Chbeir, Portfolio Director, SITA Connect, explains the need for flexible and highly secure connectivity options as new technologies merge to create an increasingly touchless passenger experience for airlines and airports worldwide.

What is your background and time at SITA?  

Most of my professional journey has been with SITA – I was fresh out of college when I took a six-month internship with SITA, and SITA subsequently offered me a permanent position. What continues to captivate me about working for the travel industry is its sense of adventure, coupled with being able to do things that have a tangible impact on passengers and those working there.  

The air transport industry is also exciting because it’s truly global, so you work with people worldwide, but it’s still very small. SITA itself has about 4,700 employees, everybody knows everyone, and people can have an impact as individuals.  

What interesting shifts are you seeing in the air transport industry at the moment? 

There is a growing need for airlines to adapt quickly. After the pandemic, the surge in demand for leisure travel prompted airlines to explore adding both new routes and seasonal routes. This led to increased demand for connectivity in new areas which were seeing a significant rise in passenger traffic.  

The increased use of technology like biometrics for passenger processing and the extensive use of data impose greater demands on the underlying network infrastructure. These systems are very bandwidth-hungry; most of the time, the applications don’t reside in the airport but in the cloud.  

This is why we prioritize the delivery of diverse and adaptable connectivity options, concurrently safeguarding our network through the implementation of robust encryption protocols and advanced security mechanisms to ensure a secure operational environment.  

What is the major focus of SITA Connect? 

We cover all network connectivity services, including cloud applications, both within and outside the airport. Our main customers are airlines, but we also provide connectivity services to airports, air transport stakeholders and even non-air transport entities like shipping lines – be it site-to-site or site-to-cloud application connectivity.  

We also cater to ministries of foreign affairs and the United Nations, often operating in remote locations worldwide, who require seamless connectivity. We achieve this by using diverse technologies, including WiFi, mobile and satellite, which enables us to switch to alternative solutions if one proves insufficient for a specific location. 

What are the challenges to rolling out the level of connectivity the industry now requires? 

Airports pose unique challenges due to their closed environments. It’s very hard to get into it and set up the necessary infrastructure or find space to put the equipment needed to get connections. You need lots of licenses and approvals, so it’s not easy like having a connection in an office or a private location. Fortunately, SITA has existing infrastructure in over 750 airports, so it’s just a matter of configuration when it comes to connectivity. If an airline wants to fly to a particular airport, we just configure and give them access to the existing infrastructure. 

SITA Connect Go launched in October 2022. What are the benefits of software-defined networking? 

SITA Connect Go is an example of how we innovate and leverage new technologies that keep the quality of service high and optimize bandwidth use. It allows our customers to control the network through software and application programming interfaces and gives them the flexibility to use different access methods like a mobile, a private network or the intranet, and then to manage the routing. Post-pandemic, the increase in the leisure market means that airlines are looking to open new routes quickly while managing the need for more bandwidth in locations experiencing an influx of passengers. That’s where the flexibility of SITA Connect Go comes in. 

Today, we don’t receive requests for a network that comes without asking for SD-WAN or the possibility to evolve to SD-WAN.  

Are there any other exciting developments on the horizon? 

Our focus remains on enhancing flexibility for our customers, such as allowing airlines to subscribe for shorter durations. Due to seasonal demand, some airlines do not want to pay for a full-year membership for destinations to Santorini or Mykonos, where they need three months during the year. We also want to empower our customers with the possibility of co-managing aspects of the network to give them greater control and flexibility.  

We are also doing more around the cloud, including cloud connectivity. Lots of applications are in the public cloud, but due to political and sometimes security constraints, customers want a mixture of keeping some data in-house or in private spaces and some things in public. Accommodating this hybrid approach to data storage requires increased interconnectivity, which we are looking to support starting with our recently launched multi-cloud service.  

Finally, the third aspect is security. We launched the first version of an integrated security multi-layer suite, SITA Connect GO Secure Service Edge (SSE) – enable users to securely access their applications from anywhere - a testament to our ongoing commitment to staying at the forefront of industry advancements.  

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