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Joe Bates discovers that China’s airports continue to invest in new service and capacity enhancing technology.

China’s progress towards an airport experience for passengers that rivals other major airports around the world is starting to take shape on the back of increasing investment in technology, according to the latest Airport IT Trends Survey.

For although data from this year’s survey indicates that IT spending as a percentage of revenues has slipped to 4.6% from 5.3% in 2012, in absolute dollar terms, IT spending at China’s leading airports exceeded $500m in 2014.

Survey co-sponsors SITA and ACI say the total represents an increase of 7.4% since 2012.

In 2014, 76% of Chinese respondents said they received a budget increase, compared to 64% globally. As a result, Chinese airport chief information officers are doing better than their global counterparts.

An equal percentage reported an increase for this year, compared to 74% globally, and while there is not such widespread optimism for an increase in 2016, no Chinese CIO is expecting a budget cut, compared to 6% of CIOs at airports globally.

Putting passengers first

According to SITA, in this year’s survey there is a greater emphasis placed on improving the travelling experience for passengers at the airport than seen in previous surveys.

In fact, 77% of Chinese airports rated passenger processing their number one priority this year, much higher than the 53% recorded in last year’s survey.

Extending self-service

“There has been a big push by airports over the last few years to invest in self-service and today check-in kiosks are deployed at all major Chinese airports, above the global average of 91%,” says SITA.

“The focus has now shifted to extending self-service to passengers with check-in luggage. Kiosks are the critical enabler and Chinese airports continue to upgrade kiosks to facilitate bag tag printing.”

Currently, 45% of airports offer kiosks with bag tag printing, in line with the global average, and the survey predicts that this functionality will become more widely available over the next three years, reaching 77% of leading Chinese airports.

Self-service bag-drop is still a relatively new concept in the Chinese market and although 45% of airports state they have already made some deployments of the assisted version, most are proof of concepts or trials.

“Over the next three years, many of these will be turned into permanent deployments and respondents indicate 81% of airports will offer assisted bag-drop services to passengers by the end of 2018,” predicts SITA.

“Chinese airports are extending self-service to the aircraft door by investing in automated boarding gates. In 2013, only 8% of leading airports had deployed self-service boarding, but that has risen to 23% in this year’s survey and if plans become reality, it will jump to 68% of airports by the end of 2018.”


Evaluating new technologies

According to the survey, sensor technologies, and in particular beacons, are getting serious attention at the global level as they are a key enabler for a wide range of new location-aware mobile services.

Not surprisingly, given the high penetration of mobile devices among Chinese passengers, interest from airports for sensor technologies is also high with 33% taking a serious look with major projects planned and a further 52% are experimenting at the R&D level.

However, Chinese airports are still making significant investments in mobile services.

Flight status notifications have already been widely deployed by airports (77%) and they will become a near universal app feature by the end of 2018.

Over the next three years, two-thirds of airports (67%) also want to introduce stress reducing features such as wayfinding and queue wait times, the survey reveals.

A smarter airport

SITA notes that previous surveys have shown that China’s airports have a strong focus on preparing operationally to handle the rapid growth in flights and make better use of the limited airspace.

And it claims that many airports are making big strides in achieving this, with local collaborative decision-making (CDM) initiatives already in place at 62% of airports.

“By the end of 2018 this will have been almost universally adopted (95%) by leading airports,” forecasts SITA. “Improving the allocation of resources by tracking vehicles and other mobile assets around the airport is also set to become standard operational practice over the next three years and 90% of leading airports will have introduced this by the end of 2018.

“A key enabler for building smarter airports is collecting and using data to make better decisions. A majority of leading airports expect to put in place business intelligence initiatives over the next three years, particularly in areas such as passenger flow monitoring (82%) and airport operations (73%).”

Leveraging social media

Despite the operational improvements, the survey notes that delays are still a common feature of air travel in China, so airports are exploiting the high level of social media and mobile usage to alleviate the frustration of passengers with better communication and self-help services.

Currently 62% of leading airports provide notifications to passengers through social media when there is disruption with a further 33% planning to offer the service in the next three years. 

At that time, the survey says, 85% of airports will be providing mobile self-service options, such as flight re-booking.

Tapping into the cloud

With the dramatic increase in the use of IT, Chinese airports are starting to give serious attention to cloud services as an effective alternative to building out their own IT infrastructure, reveals the survey.

Indeed, the latest feedback from Chinese airport CIOs indicates that 85% of the major gateways in mainland China expect to make either a major investment in cloud services or conduct trials and pilot studies over the next three years.

Global perspective

Global spending on IT climbed to a record $7.8 billion or 5.82% of airport revenues in 2014, according to the findings of Airport IT Trends Survey.

The figure represents a sizeable 37% increase on airport’s IT spend in 2013 and despite investment at Europe’s airports lagging behind the rest of the world, overall investment in IT at gateways across the planet continues to rise and is set to hit $8.7 billion in 2015, predicts SITA.

SITA attributes Europe’s decline in airport IT investment – its spend level is roughly half of what it is in the rest of the world – to the continent’s recovery from the economic recession, which it says is about two years behind the rest of the planet.

Talking about this, SITA’s president for Europe, Dave Bakker, notes that it was important that Europe’s airports got back on track with their investment in IT as it would prove vital to helping the continent overcome the predicted capacity crunch ahead.

Bakker says: “New Infrastructure, which represents a huge multi-year investment for airports, will not work alone. IT is a great enabler and investing in IT solutions will help airports cope with the predicted doubling of passenger traffic over the next 20 years.”

The survey shows that by 2018, 80% of airports will use beacons to provide wayfinding services and 74% to provide notifications to passengers.

By this time, more than half of the airports will have sensors in use at various points of the journey including check-in, bag drop, security, dwell time and boarding. 

“Airport operators are looking to develop ‘smart airports’ over the next three years,” comments SITA.

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