Industry Tourism Travel

Can digital transformation make air travel easier?

BY EABW REPORTER

KAMPALA, UGANDA- The possibilities of digital technologies improving air travel are being looked at by a number of airports worldwide. This is in keeping with the growing economic importance of airports; airports are more than just travel points, they are vital economic generators providing a gateway to a city, state, region, or country.

According to Dr Michael Kerkloh, CEO, Munich Airport and current president of ACI Europe: “Airports are natural interfaces between the analog and digital worlds.”

Some of the newer developments are discussed by Rajendra Pawar and Sudhir Singh of NIIT Technologies. Examples of technological improvements include:

Facial recognition and the Internet of things

These technologies can reduce the time spent at security terminals. In relation, some airlines are experimenting with biometrics instead of physical boarding passes to speed up procedures.

Identity checks, despite being important for security, are a major pain point for travellers. Technologies that speed up this process are likely to be welcomed by passengers.

Luggage tracking

To avoid luggage being misplaced, airports are also exploring how Internet of things technology, together with radio frequency identification can be used as substitutes for tagging a bag, and then for tracking it through the airport and ensuring its safe receipt at the other end of the journey.

Intelligent machines

Machine intelligence helps passengers navigate their way towards the direction of the appropriate flight gate. With the latter, navigation around larger airports can often prove challenging. Here the use of beacons and sensor technology can enable airports to provide flight, gate, walk time and other important notifications to passengers

Machine learning can also be used to guide travellers to shopping discounts or food outlets, and to predict traveller behaviours. This can help increase revenue while passengers wait for flights, such as sending people shopping offers available in real-time via text or through Internet adverts. Targeted technology aimed at retail can increase employment across airports and increase passenger footfall. Some airports, like Seoul, already employ dedicated apps for guiding passengers, with integrated augmented reality retail stores.

Other measures include:

Empowerment by self-service

According to Airport Business magazine, while passenger self-service technologies have grown the next development is to reach similar coverage for self-bag tagging, drop off (both assisted and unassisted) and collection by 2020.

AI and airport management

Artificial intelligence is being studies by airports to carry out tasks like cleaning, crowd control, immigration and porter services, plus key measures like coordinating airport operations and security. Such technology can streamline processes to achieve better efficiency in ground activities, that is security, ground handling, runway and maintenance operations.

There are, however, barriers to the adoption of new technologies. According to a review performed by Frost & Sullivan, resistance to change arises due to the disruption that would impact upon current operations; the cost of implementing digital technologies; and because of uncertainty over return-on-investment.