ARINC’s (Asia Pacific Division) Managing Director Jim L Martin analyses technological changes in the airport industry.
The aviation industry has undergone a dynamic transformation within the space of two decades. During this time, many new and innovative programmes have been introduced to enhance the way people travel and the way airports perceive passenger processing. One of the major changes began in the mid-1990s when airlines began to realise that in order to elevate passenger travel experiences to the next level, there was a need to find ways of reducing waiting times at the airport effectively, such as empowering passengers to do self check-in.
To this end, the first Common Use Self Service (CUSS) kiosk was deployed at Vancouver International Airport in 2002, marking a new era for self-service. A single CUSS kiosk allows the passenger to access multiple airline check-in applications, thus delivering time savings and enhancing the passenger’s experience. This marked a significant milestone for technology’s role as a key contributor to airport operations in the new millennium.
The introduction of CUSS helped improve airports’ daily operational processes while handling the steady rise in passenger volumes. With common use kiosks, airports were able to alleviate passenger congestion at the terminals and reduce the number of additional check-in counters required.
CUSS is just one of the many technologies that have helped facilitate passenger traffic at airports. In 2004, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) launched the Simplifying the Business (StB) programme that was developed to lower industry cost and improve passenger service in the aviation industry with the help of technology. The programme targeted five aspects of air travel: ticketing, check-in, baggage handling, fast travel and 2D Barcode Boarding Passes. Subsequently, new technologies – such as remote and mobile check-in applications, as well as mobile boarding passes – were introduced to help airports deliver an improved travel experience for passengers. Security solutions, such as Passenger Reconciliation Systems, were also created to validate the authenticity of 2D Barcode Boarding Passes.
As reported in the 2010 IATA Annual Report, the StB programme has the potential to help the industry save up to $16.8 million a year while increasing operational efficiency and simplifying travel processes for passengers. It was also noted in a recent report by the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) that there has been a solid growth in the number of international passengers in Asia and these are expected to increase. This means that airport systems need to be robust and reliable enough to support the rising passenger volumes. Hence, technology has become a vital factor in ensuring that airports are able to sustain the huge passenger capacity.
One good example is Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport. In October 2010, the airport began work to install its passenger processing and baggage messaging systems in its new international terminal, anticipated to handle over 90 million passengers per year. The government also aims to position Haneda airport as a new Asian air hub for business travellers. To meet these demands, more than 200 passenger check-in and departure workstations, as well as over 40 common-use passenger kiosks, were installed in the new terminal.
With the new common-use passenger technology, international airlines are able to share the available counter space and make the most efficient use of the new terminal facilities. The kiosks will be able to support the diverse check-in applications of the growing number of carriers at the terminal as the number of passengers increase.
In addition, airports have another check-in alternative for their passengers – Roving Agents. The system allows airport operators to check-in passengers anywhere in the airport with handheld devices that are wirelessly connected to the check-in counters and portable printers. This facilitates expedition of traffic at check-in counters especially during peak periods or flight delays.
To further increase the efficiency and flexibility in passenger processing, other developments in self-service such as self bag tagging and common bag drop systems allow travellers to deposit their baggage without queuing at the traditional check-in counters, thus saving precious time at the airport. The introduction of these new initiatives will also help better facilitate the check-in process and optimise airport terminal space.
Global events, such as the Olympics and FIFA World Cup, are also key drivers of technology adoption and upgrades. For example, New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) launched its new Terminal 3 in time for the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games. The newly constructed terminal was created to serve the huge number of international passengers that were anticipated to visit the country for the high-profile event. IGIA had to ensure that the passenger technologies used were up to the expectations of travellers from around the globe, and that there were little or no incidents during the check-in process.
The benefits that technology can bring to air travel mean that airports in the region and around the world should be encouraged to use it. However, some airports are too restricted by constraints, such as government regulations, financial limitations and low air traffic to be able to implement such technologies. In the end, every airport is different and it only makes sense to adopt technology if it can help accomplish the airport’s long-term strategy.
While rising passenger traffic and global events are the main catalysts for some authorities to upgrade technology in their airports, other drivers have contributed to technology adoption. For example, IATA’s StB programme successfully eliminated the use of paper tickets by 2007 with the launch of 2D Barcode Boarding Passes. This has contributed to the ability of airports and airlines to provide the option of allowing passengers to check-in at remote sites, such as at home, at the office or even from their mobile phones. This has generated more cost savings for airports and airlines as well as offering greater conveniences for passengers.
Other supporting elements are equally crucial in determining that the solutions have been effectively implemented. Technology should be interoperable with the airport’s business processes. Airports, airlines, stakeholders and technology vendors should forge strong relationships to ensure that the solutions succeed in meeting the various expectations of each airport, such as better passenger processing procedures while working within the airport’s budget. However, though technology has provided airports with better credentials where image and work efficiency is concerned, it does not necessarily change passenger mindsets and attitudes.
To date, some travellers still prefer the human touch rather than use of self-service kiosks. On the other hand, young and tech-savvy travellers would consider self-service kiosks or remote check-in sites as the quickest and most efficient method to check-in. Educating and encouraging passengers to use technology is thus crucial to ensure high utilisation of the technological investments at the airport.
Looking ahead, as new ideas and travel processes are broadened with emerging technology, airports need to keep abreast of the latest solutions in the aviation industry so that they can take advantage of the various technological advances to meet passenger needs, and allow them to stay competitive in the industry. In addition, as travel procedures become more digitalised and remotely conducted, it is becoming apparent that airports need to look at security procedures to support these new business methods. Tactical partnerships between airports and technological vendors could be an ideal option to help them visualise and adopt new technologies, as well as better understand and strategise business processes that can bring them closer to their expectations.