Sumesh Patel, President, Asia Pacific, SITA, shares his views on how technology is becoming the great enabler for airlines and airports to offer safe and seamless travel
Air travel is being reshaped as COVID-19 is impacting all aspects of our industry and challenging our established ways of working. Now more than ever, airlines and airports must adopt a relentless digital shift in passenger service, core operations and stakeholder collaboration – making flying safer, more efficient and hassle-free. Excerpts from the interview:
How would you explain the impact of COVID -19 on airline and airport industry in APAC?
The COVID-19 pandemic has also refocused IT spending priorities for airlines and airports as revenue plunged and the industry faced new health and operational requirements needed to keep flying. The industry has to achieve far more with far less in order to thrive in a significantly smaller market where passenger numbers may be uncertain for years to come.
We need a focus shift from immediate actions like masks and hand sanitizers to longer-term and more sustainable solutions. Automation of operations will play an important role in reducing queues and touchpoints at the airport as passenger volumes begin to recover and social distancing becomes increasingly difficult.
How do you see the present and future of the Indian aviation industry?
Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport is a good example of the above changing trends in the Indian aviation industry. The airport introduced nearly 50 mobile-enabled kiosks, becoming one of the first airports in India to deliver a completely contactless way for passengers to check-in for their flight. The technology allows passengers to use their mobile device to interact with kiosks. This significantly reduces the need to touch surfaces in the airport and meets the Ministry of Civil Aviation’s (MoCA’s) new passenger processing guidelines aimed at reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19 infections.
What technology trends will transform the air travel post COVID-19?
A strategic technological transformation is critical for the future of the air transport industry. But to work, the industry and its stakeholders must collaborate at all levels. Going forward, technology will continue to be the mainstay for airlines and airports to adapt to the fast-changing regulations, scenarios, and restore passenger’s confidence in flying. The acceleration of digitization, automation, and the passenger experience will remain high on the agenda in a post-COVID world. Now, more than ever, the industry needs to work towards the vision of an entirely mobile-enabled journey to keep passengers informed and moving, while ensuring safety. This is especially so in the area of ‘touchless’ technologies, such as mobile and self-service biometrics.
Infrastructure can be based on new generation cloud-based platforms that are flexible, agile, scalable, and far more cost-effective than earlier infrastructures. Biometrics and digital identity management will be fundamental capabilities in this touchless journey. They will enable greater automation, accuracy, and efficiencies for both the air transport industry and its customers. Their advantage is that they can be used on and off site, so we’ll start seeing more check-in outside of airports.
SITA has come out with many innovative technologies for airport’s operation to offer safe travel. Can you throw some light on new technologies?
We are currently working with airlines, airports, governments, ground handlers, and other organizations across the world to rapidly roll out new solutions that address the challenges of the current times. We are collaborating with industry partners to assist them in leveraging existing infrastructure and systems to adapt to a post-COVID-19 environment and support an economically viable return to the skies.
We have introduced solutions that allow passengers to use their mobile device as a remote control for touchpoints such as self-bag drop and check-in kiosks, removing the need to touch any airport equipment. SITA is delivering ‘Your face is your boarding pass’, using biometrics and mobile technologies, thanks to SITA Smart Path.
Importantly, we support automatic biometric boarding gates and ‘face pods’, reducing the need for physical contact and allowing the boarding process to be controlled to avoid clustering. In addition, SITA is making its biometrics ‘mask aware’, and at kiosks, bag drops and face pods we are integrating temperature sensing into the touchpoint workflow.
For the airports that are not equipped with the native mobile platform, we are using technology to remotely control self-service devices such as kiosks with a mobile phone, removing the need to touch any airport equipment.
How these technologies contributed to instill confidence among travellers?
The pandemic increased the drive for greater operational and cost efficiencies and a focus on sustainability and health. There is a lot of industry innovation occurring, using facial biometrics, in response to the pandemic. These technologies are playing a pivotal role in enabling seamless travel experience while also restoring the passenger’s confidence in flying. Contactless, self-service technologies at every step are facilitating passenger flow and cutting queues thereby ensuring a social distancing-friendly passenger experience. With an initial reluctance to touch surfaces and interact with agents, passengers are becoming more confident with the increased use of their smartphones in the air travel process. Apps are being used to check in bags using mobile bar codes, navigate through airports, and even interact with the cabin crew.
How do you see the response of Indian aviation industry regarding adoption of technology?
Some of the major airports in India are greatly advanced when it comes to automation, security screening, and baggage handling technologies. SITA has deployed its next-generation Airport Management solution (AMS), a suite of integrated software applications designed to support and enhance airport operations, across twelve AAI airports in addition to Bangalore International Airport, Chandigarh International Airport, Cochin International Airport, Kannur Airport, and; Nagpur (MIHAN) Airport.
Being a trusted IT partner to the Indian air transport industry, we are working towards bringing the QR enabled contactless check-in system to these other airports too. The pandemic has only accelerated the adoption of technologies such as biometrics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc. in these airports to provide a connected and enhanced digital experience to air travelers.