The world’s airports are expected to invest more than $9 billion on IT this year and with China’s travel boom showing no signs of slowing down, the nation’s gateways are expected to continue to turn to technology to help ease passenger congestion and increase operational efficiency.
Indeed, according to SITA’s latest Airport IT Trends Survey, overall, airports in China are forecasting an IT spend of 5.72% of their revenues in 2016, which is just shy of the 5.73% global expectation.
It reveals that this year investment in operational IT is rated as a ‘high priority’ by 58% of Chinese airports, much higher than the 41% in the 2015 survey.
The shift in priorities towards operational technologies is expected to help support the surging number of flights expected in the coming years, says the survey.
It cites the fact that the Civil Aviation Administration of China plans to help domestic and foreign airlines open more than 200 new international routes in 2016 alone as an example of the upward trajectory in traffic.
Growing interest in the Internet of Things
According to the SITA survey, which is co-sponsored by ACI and Airline Business, Chinese airports are set to overtake their global counterparts in recognising the potential of the Internet of Things (IoT).
The survey found that 29% of Chinese airports have fully included the IoT in their strategy today and predict that this figure will rise to 82% by 2019.
New infrastructure technologies – including sensors and cloud that are key enablers for driving adoption of the IoT – are drawing strong interest from Chinese airports.
In fact the survey states that in some form or another sensor technology will be deployed at 89% of Chinese airports over the next three years.
The most common place for Chinese airports to deploy sensors is at the early steps in the passenger journey such as bag-drop (33% of airports), check-in (28%) and security (26%).
In contrast, the survey reveals that far fewer airports are considering sensor deployments for the airside steps of the journey.
It adds that there is equally strong interest in cloud services with 53% of Chinese airports building major programmes around the technology and a further 32% evaluating it.
However the survey predicts that the widespread adoption of technologies such as wearables, digital bag tags and Near Field Communications (NFC) is going to take longer with a good proportion of China’s airports showing no interest in them for the next few years.
Collaborative decision making
According to the survey the technology central to improving operations and reducing travel disruption at world-leading airports is Collaborative Decision Making (CDM).
Its goal is to improve the overall efficiency of operations by working with different stakeholders to integrate processes and systems to reduce delays and better manage airport resources.
Currently, only 16% of airports in China have fully implemented CDM, including integration with air traffic management (ATM) systems, but over the next three years a further 68% plan to implement it.
The anticipated uptake means that 84% of Chinese airports will have embraced CDM by 2019 compared to 55% globally.
May Zhou, vice president, SITA China, says: “The first step for improved airport operations is to implement an integrated airport operational control centre and, today, these are in place at 65% of airports with plans to reach 83% by 2019.
“By this time China’s airports will also have fully embraced CDM, enabling them to effectively manage the surge in flights expected over the coming years.
“The commitment to new technology by China’s airport operators is hugely encouraging. There’s a clear acknowledgement that smart technology can support the country’s growth in air transport over the coming years.”
Self-service: Bags taking centre stage
Today, the self-service focus is on passengers with check-in luggage. Self-service bag-drop has grown rapidly since the 2015 survey with 84% of major Chinese airports having implemented the assisted version, up from 45% twelve months ago.
The use of unassisted bag-drop, on the other hand, remains flat at just over one quarter of airports. This type of fully self-service bag-drop is more dependent on passengers using kiosks to obtain the bag tags. Today, 53% of Chinese airports have upgraded their kiosks to offer this functionality.
Self-boarding gates are still at the early stages of deployments, the survey reveals, but nevertheless they are being implemented more rapidly at Chinese airports than their global counterparts.
Currently, 26% of leading airports have invested in the technology, up from 8% reported three years ago in the 2013 survey, and higher than the 19% figure globally.
Strong focus on new services for passengers
According to the survey nearly 60% of China’s airports have major programmes to provide self-service processing to passengers.
However, over the next three years the emphasis for major IT programmes will move mainly towards mobile service initiatives, and to a lesser extent, social media services.
The most common mobile app services available today are flight status notifications (50% of airports), cashless payments (33%) and purchasing airport services (32%).
SITA predicts that almost all major Chinese airports will have apps that offer these services in the next three years, and four in five will have newer services such as navigation/wayfinding and customer relationship management.
The survey also discovered that China’s airports will be looking to monetise their social media strategies in the next three years through airport services (84%) and retail promotions (78%).
Some global perspectives
The survey reveals that global initiatives picking up momentum include interactive wayfinding and identity management using biometrics, with 34% (26% in 2014) and 24% (14% in 2014) of airports respectively planning major projects.
SITA says that the worldwide adoption of newer technologies by airports is also progressing, with some such as cloud computing starting to reach maturity.
On the other hand, sensing technologies, such as beacons, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi, which gauge the movement of people and assets around the airport, are attracting strong interest.
The adoption of contactless, mobile NFC technology, remains subdued with only 10% of airports planning a serious deployment, down from the 14% of airports seen last year.
Nevertheless, a sizeable proportion (43%) are assessing the technology with small scale evaluation projects.
A much more recent development is digital tags to replace the paper-based tags used for most check-in baggage today.
With cyber attacks becoming increasingly frequent and sophisticated, how prepared are airports to tackle this emerging threat?
According to the survey, 55% of airports say their cyber security plans are fully developed and operational, while 41% admitted that their plans were still only at the development stage and 4% indicated that they had no plans in place at all.
Although these figures are far from perfect they represent significant progress from three years ago when only 7% of airports said they were prepared to deal with any threats.
The most common cyber security initiatives are around educating staff to the threat. Four out of five airports are already doing this through general awareness training, with almost all of the remainder planning to do so by the end of 2019.