Five technologies promise to transform air passenger travel in the coming years, argues International Air Transport Association (Iata) regional VP for Africa and the Middle East Muhammad Al Bakri. They are artificial intelligence (AI), biometric technology, blockchain, remote sensing technology and Iata’s own New Distribution Capability (NDC) and the associated One Order. (Iata is the global airline industry representative body.)
Regarding AI, already 14% of airlines and 9% of airports use chatbots to communicate with passengers, he observes. “AI allows simple queries to be handled swiftly, freeing up customer service professionals to tackle more difficult issues effectively . . . Beyond chatbots, AI technology has the potential to revolutionise the travel experience. Imagine having access to a 24-hour personal travel assistant who is able to predict your travel choices, knows your preferences and can create a personal experience for you. AI travel assistants are the future.”
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Biometric technology is central to Iata’s One ID project. This is aimed at achieving seamless travel for passengers by using fingerprint, face or iris recognition systems. “One ID works by creating a match between a unique biometric characteristic, a passenger’s passport and their flight booking,” he explains. “Once the match as been made, passengers can then proceed through the terminal checkpoints from the curb to the plane without having to show travel documents.” Already, Dubai Airport is testing One ID facial recognition technology to optimise the flows of passengers through its terminals. And a number of African countries are using biometric technologies to collect data on passengers for border control purposes.
“Few technological innovations have received as much interest in the past few years as blockchain,” he highlights. “Although this ingenious secure payment mechanism came to prominence through the recent trading surge in cryptocurrencies, it is unquestionably an invention with immense potential for widespread application and one Iatsa believes offers benefits for passengers and airlines.” He notes that, from starting an online search for an airline ticket to arriving at a destination, in addition to the selected airline, about 25 other businesses are involved in making a passenger’s trip possible. All 26 companies in this ‘value chain’ have to make a profit. Blockchain allows more efficient and more rapid payments, cutting everyone’s costs, including those of the passengers. “Iata has therefore begun looking at how a blockchain payments system could work . . . [O]ther advantages include greater transaction speed, resilience and protection from fraud.”
Concerning remote sensing, because turbulence causes more injuries to airline passengers and crew than any other event, and because it is highly stressful for nervous passengers, the aerospace industry is, reports Al Bakri, investigating the use of laser technology to detect turbulence ahead of an airliner. The laser would be mounted in the aircraft’s nose and would emit light pulses which would scatter off small particles in the air. Monitoring the resulting light reflections would reveal the wind speed ahead of the aircraft and allow turbulence to be avoided.
Further, Iata is creating a turbulence information sharing platform to augment existing turbulence detection and warning sources like weather radar, air traffic control and other pilots. The new platform will include real-time aircraft-detected turbulence information and is being developed in cooperation with many airlines and the industry.
Last but not least is Iata’s own NDC and One Order. A problem in the air travel sector is that, while airlines use Internet language (XML) to run their websites, the airline ticket distribution system used by most travel agents still uses pre-Internet technology that was originally developed in the 1970s. “NDC is closing this gap between airline websites and travel agent systems through the development of a modern XML-based (Internet language) data transmission standard for communications between airlines and travel agents,” he assures. “Consumers will benefit from greater transparency into an airline’s offerings and the ability to compare offerings between airlines, as well as to personalise their purchase to meet their particular travel needs, regardless of [their] shopping channel.”
One Order will build on NDC and replace the numerous ticket reservation records that now exist, as well as related documents identifying optional services a passenger may have purchased (for example, access to an airport lounge).