According to IATA, 2015 witnessed the strongest surge in air travel demand in five years with international passenger traffic across the globe rising by 6.5% and by a healthy 8.2% in Asia-Pacific.
Indeed, IATA predicts that as many as 2.8 billion passengers could be travelling annually in the Asia-Pacific region alone by 2034, and these figures certainly point to a positive outlook for the industry.
Yet, consistent and robust profitability remain volatile for many players. And with competition intensifying, many airports and airlines are realising the need to redefine their offerings, and providing travellers with the experience they demand in the digital age while looking at ways technology can help to improve the bottom line.
Automated services to drive better passenger efficiency
Technology has certainly changed the face of travel. According to data from IATA, around 75% of worldwide passengers want more self-service options to speed up their journey.
Overall, the industry-wide push towards improving the travel experience has led to greater focus on the seamless progression for passenger travel across all touch points, from check-in to boarding.
And as convenience becomes key in enhancing the travel experience, facilities such as self-service kiosks for check-in, bag-tag and bag-drop counters, security clearance and boarding are becoming more prevalent in Asia.
Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, Japan’s second busiest airport, and Mactan- Cebu International Airport in the Philippines have recently implemented Rockwell Collins’ passenger processing system and self-service kiosks to enable faster check-in.
Self-service, of course, allows for greater flexibility as passengers gain more control over their journey and an increasing number of airports are keen to embrace and develop such technology.
Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA), for example, has taken it one step further by equipping its staff with mobile and portable check-in devices, enabling agents to help passengers check-in from anywhere within the airport.
This shift has also been witnessed on a macro level. IATA’s Fast Travel Program, for instance, is facilitating industry adoption of projects in six areas of the airport journey including check-in, bag drop, document check, flight re-booking, self-boarding and bag recovery.
And in line with this, airports are looking into fully integrated, end-to-end solutions that include these self-service solutions.
The increased demand for self-service is also driving the use of biometric technology and improved tracking solutions.
Biometrics in the form of iris, fingerprint and facial recognition can enable seamless progression through different points of the customer journey by eliminating the most time-consuming aspect of airport operations – human interaction.
Technology solution providers are seeing a growing demand in this area and have identified two different approaches to the deployment of biometrics and their application to the airport departure process – namely “1-to-1 matching”, also known as the Verification approach, and “1-to-Many matching”, a more extensive identification approach.
A growing number of airports, in partnership with border control agencies, will begin to leverage these solutions to create the airports of tomorrow, with fully integrated, self-sufficient operations.
Airports in the US, for example, are amongst the early adopters of such solutions, with an American airport being the first to roll out Rockwell Collins’ new Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosk some time in June 2016.
Engaging and empowering passengers with next-generation connectivity
In today’s 24/7 connected world, passengers want to replicate their connected digital lifestyles from their homes and offices in airports and aircraft cabins, with a recent study finding that many travellers are more likely to pay for such services than ever before.
With this in mind and the flood of smartphones, tablets and laptops making their way into cabins, it is probably fair to say that the current industry term for inflight entertainment (IFE) is woefully inadequate to describe what passengers want to do on their journey.
While looking at the broader IFE Connectivity is a step in the right direction, the industry needs to be thinking about a whole new term – passenger engagement.
With next-generation connectivity, passengers can surf the Internet, send and receive email and use social networking and text messaging on mobile devices while on-board aircraft. All of which present revenue potential for airlines.
Carriers also have the opportunity to deliver more targeted content to its frequent-flyer passengers. Sichuan Airlines, for example, has recently deployed a seat-centric IFE system that allows the airline to develop their own IFE system look and experience for passengers.
Kuwaiti airline, Jazeera Airways, has also jumped on board, implementing a brand new inflight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) solution that it believes provides unique services that drive customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Leveraging data to enhance the passenger experience
The information age of aviation provides a wealth of data generated from the extensive use of technology across different touch points, which can be processed and analysed within a protected environment to provide valuable passenger insight that can enable a more personalised service.
Big Data can help airports and airlines track passenger behaviour, travel history and retail preferences to provide customised information and services across different segments of the travel journey.
This could, for example, be in the form of giving priority to loyal and premium passengers, addressing the grievances of dissatisfied customers or providing relevant flight information for transit passengers.
Solutions like state-of-the-art 3D and mobile wayfinding, multi-media communications and full content management capabilities enable airports to gain insights and identify trends around how passengers are making their way around the airport before they head for the boarding gates.
Such information can allow airports to better tailor relevant retail promotions or content to passengers, thereby enhancing passenger experience while taking the opportunity to drive ancillary revenue.
Additionally, new airport operations technologies will help airports improve operations and reduce flight delays, which are all critical aspects of today’s airports operations to cope with growing passenger capacity and enhancing the passenger experience within the airport.
The possibilities are endless. With self-service technologies such as self check-in and bagdrop, for instance, airports have the ability to determine if a passenger has checked in and arrived at the airport for his or her flight, and deliver targeted content on airport activities of relevance or interest to the passenger.
Personalised advertisements or messages can be sent to passengers based on their purchase preferences and travel patterns. This not only enhances their travel experience, but also opens up channels to boost the bottom line for different players such as airports, airlines and retailers.
As we can see, there are number of exciting ways in which the industry can benefit from the aviation information age, from streamlining the journey of a single passenger through an airport to more efficiently managing an entire airspace of flights every day.
As the digital revolution continues to transform the industry landscape with emerging technologies such as the Cloud and Internet of Things, airports and airlines must adapt their services to stay ahead of the curve and meet increasing consumer expectations.