Technology to drive rapid changes in air travel by 2015

February 12, 2013 2:22 pm

Based on SITA’s recent surveys of airlines, airports and passengers worldwide, by 2015 the top two sales channels used to purchase airline tickets will be the web and mobile phones. Additionally, 90% of airlines will offer mobile check-ins and provide flight updates using smart phone apps and more than 80% of airports and airlines will invest in business intelligence solutions aimed at improving customer service.

“”Passenger needs and preferences are changing,” said Nigel Pickford, Director Market Insight, SITA. “Today’s passengers want more control throughout their journey. They expect transformation in both the kinds of services airlines and airports offer, and the way they communicate with them. At the same time, the industry is investing in business intelligence solutions and collaborating more to increase operational efficiency and improve customer service and loyalty.”

With the International Air Transport Association predicting that airlines will carry about 3.6 billion passengers in 2016 – an increase of 800 million from 2011 – airlines and airports are looking to use IT to help ensure they can handle the predicted increase in capacity in an efficient and cost-effective way.

One such airport, Abu Dhabi International, has deployed a self-boarding gate under a pilot project aimed at helping to reduce queuing at the facility. After receiving a ‘great amount’ of positive feedback from passengers, it aims to deploy self-boarding gates throughout all of Terminal 3, said Hamed Al Hashemi, VP Information Technology, Abu Dhabi Airports Company.

“The benefits have been fewer queues before boarding; the system is cost effective and helps our airport stakeholders increase resource efficiency; and gate agents have more time to give individual attention to passengers,” Al Hashemi said.

Recent technology initiatives, such as the Passbook on Apple’s iOS6 operating system for the iPhone, also flag up some of the opportunities ahead for smart phones to be used to self-process journeys. Passbook, which stores boarding passes and displays them on the iPhone lock screen when users get to the airport, is already supported by a limited number of airlines, and that support is growing, the report noted.

Another technology on the horizon is using near-field communication (NFC) chips embedded in smart phones to enable passengers to simply tap and check-in or tap and board their flight. As NFC is short range and supports encryption, it will allow secure, contactless transactions that will work even when the device is powered off. It is not affected by reading problems caused by dirty screens, so a passenger using an NFC-enabled device could be processed faster than any of the current boarding processes available today, the report said.

Airports are also keen to get better information about travelers to create services that are bespoke to their needs, but today’s travelers are resistant. “Globally, 55% of passengers say no to sharing personal data, although opinions differ significantly from region to region, reflecting the varying cultural attitudes towards data privacy in different countries,” the report said.

Still, SITA maintains that the outlook for collaboration and data sharing over the next three years is positive. “The challenge for airlines and airports is to break down the barriers to sharing and collaboration. Furthermore, to access better information about their customers they will need to work harder to convince them of the benefits,” it said.