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As common use evolves across the air transport industry into something that’s increasingly managed by travelers themselves, using their own mobile devices, we talk to David Kershaw, SITA’s Director of Passenger Solution Specialists.

Before we hear about your vision, moving forward, can you give us a bit of background about the evolution of common use to date?

Common use terminal equipment – CUTE – was first introduced in Los Angeles, to increase airport capacity ahead of the 1984 Summer Olympics. So it’s got quite a history, going back almost forty years now. Originally it was simply a way of allowing desk-based agents from different airlines to share check-in terminals. Over time it expanded to include common use self-service (CUSS) and ultimately morphed into common use passenger processing systems (CUPPS) – covering not just check-in, but bag drop, boarding and biometrics as well.

Now we’re starting to see common use being managed from mobile devices, both in the hands of airline agents and passengers too. As I see it, this is really the future of common use – a world where individual airline processes come together with multi-user infrastructure.

What does this mean for airports and airlines as the industry recovers – and accelerates – post-covid?

I think many people were surprised by the sheer magnitude of the resurgence in passenger demand over the past twelve months or so. With fewer staff and limited resources, this hasn’t been easy for providers in the ecosystem to manage – and the last thing the industry wants or needs now is to have to resort to passenger caps at airports or flight cancelations. As we all know, when a traveler has a good experience, they tell someone else; but when they have a bad experience, they tell everyone – often using social media.

We need to dynamically address these challenges. But progress in this regard isn’t made easier by siloed and often outdated technology systems which are still widely used in our sector, and which limit innovation and restrict agility.

The key is going to be smart new mobile and online platforms that fully leverage the power of devices which are already in the hands of travelers and staff.

So what is common use, in 2023?

Common use today is really anything that’s touched or used by more than one entity. That could be anything from physical spaces like aircraft stands or gates; check-in and boarding infrastructure; taking care of passengers with reduced mobility; or electric vehicle charging stations, either landside or airside. It can include biometric controls, mobile devices, on-ramp autonomous vehicles, and even connectivity and networks – again, both landside and airside.

So perhaps the new definition of common use needs to center around ‘infrastructure’ in its broadest sense. What does the airport-airline-handling agent ecosystem, together with our regulator and immigration / security partners, need to do to get passengers and bags through the various touchpoints safely and with the minimum of fuss, making the journey digital, door-to-door?

And what’s common use going to look like, in the near future?

I think we’ll be seeing both passengers and agents using mobile devices, biometric tokens and QR codes to interact with new and exciting airport hardware. This will be built on open APIs that have been used to create new apps that revolutionize not just passenger processing, but many other processes across the airport environment as well.

This won’t mean just leveraging new technologies; it will also be a question of changing mindsets. Historically, our industry has been somewhat slow to adopt new ideas, but there’s a real drive now for digital transformation across the board, and API-based passenger processing is a crucial part of that.

And the benefits will be tremendous. By leveraging the Internet of Things, the cloud, and open, non-proprietary APIs, you can use end-to-end mobility to transform agent-facing processes, above and below-the-wing and deliver self-service right across the common use ecosystem. And operations can be scaled up or down – on- or off-airport – as needed, to manage fluctuations in demand.

Is ‘common use’ still the most appropriate terminology, given its legacy connotations?

It’s a good question, and one I’ve wrestled with for a long time. Other terms such as ‘shared use’ or ‘multi-user’ are also used, but I think it’s now more about the transition to ubiquitous applications and infrastructure that can be used anywhere and everywhere, by anyone or everyone. Almost everything can be adapted to common use, and traditional touch points such as desks and agents in the future will only be needed for help and for exceptions. I think airports will look and feel very different in the future. As the physical spaces evolve, passengers and staff should all enjoy a better experience.

So what should the industry – and specifically airports – be focusing on now?

Many of the key focus areas are the same as they’ve always been: maintaining and improving operational efficiency; increasing capacity and revenue; improving passenger processing and the whole passenger experience; and, of course, sustainability.

All of this will be helped by digital transformation, and leveraging the power of cloud-native features, which deliver the ability to develop new apps more quickly, avoiding long and complicated industry certification processes. This isn’t about simply moving today’s processing capabilities to the cloud; this is a fundamentally different vision for the passenger experience of the future. All stakeholders should be free to innovate and differentiate at their own pace.

It’s also important to ensure operational continuity. You need to be able to guarantee backward compatibility as new passenger processing systems come into being, because different ecosystem partners will migrate to newer cloud-based applications at varying speeds.

And finally, what’s SITA doing to help?

We’re rethinking the fundamental architecture of airports and the role of the passenger. We want to encourage airports to activate their spaces, trial new devices and facilitate efficient passenger flow – both on- and off-airport, and we’re helping airports around the world do just that.

We’re also helping airlines, as they broaden out their focus and move away from purely on-airport applications, as well as ground-handling agents working increasingly on off-airport logistics processes.

By speeding up innovation and helping to manage fluctuating demand, we can also help reduce costs and enhance operational efficiency.

We’re ready to step in and deliver solutions that help customers on their digital transformation journey, wherever they operate, and at the pace they want to go.

Here at SITA we have a simple mantra in terms of our common use evolution: every airline, every aircraft, every departure, every passenger, every time!

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