Why the future of air travel must be digital
How will the aviation industry anticipate and respond to growing numbers of customers with changing habits and expectations? Mohammed Adnane Retmi, head of Orange Applications for Business indirect, Middle East, Africa and Russia IMEAR), argues that the future must be digital to meet demands for seamless travel
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In a major global region, the economic benefits of the aviation industry are very clear and we see continued growth and development of carriers and airport facilities in the UAE and the GCC.
Dubai continues to consolidate its position in global aviation as the world’s number one airport for international passenger traffic, with more than 88 million passengers passing through Dubai International Airport in 2017.
However, it’s not all about the numbers; it’s also about the quality of the passenger experience, on the ground and in the air. This is where technology has a critical enabling role to play in response to the challenge of carrying growing numbers of passengers, sustainably.
And we are talking about significant growth. The International Air Transport Association’s (IATA’s) most recent 20-year air passenger forecast predicts 7.8 billion passengers will be travelling in 2036, almost double the 4 billion passengers flying in 2017. This growth threatens to put a significant strain on aviation infrastructure and test both the passenger’s experience and patience.
IATA and the Airports Council International (ACI) recently launched an initiative called the ‘new experience in travel and technologies’ (or NEXTT), recognising that the industry has to transform to meet future needs and demands – change is not an option.
As Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO, said: “We will not be able to handle the growth or evolving customer expectations with our current processes, installations and ways of doing business. And accommodating growth with ever bigger airports will be increasingly difficult if not impossible.
“NEXTT will address these challenges. Working with our airport partners, we will explore the important changes in technology and processes to enhance the customer experience. And we will ask some fundamental questions about what really needs to happen at the airport and what can be done off-site.”
Clearly, NEXTT will need to explore a range of fundamental issues and opportunities, such as queue management, the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, to deliver efficiencies and productivity gains, while enhancing the customer experience – on site, off site, and in the air.
In fact, NEXTT is looking at the travel journeys of passengers, cargo, baggage and aircraft and, according to reports, is focussing on three areas of potential change: the potential switching of some on-site processes to off-site to enhance the customer experience at the airport – from security processing to baggage checks and drop-off; the use of tracking and identification technology, automation and robotics to improve safety, security, and operational efficiency; and better use of data and AI for better decision-making.
According to IATA, there are already a number of key airports involved in NEXTT-related projects, including Dubai International (DXB).
Air transport, airlines and airports are embracing technology. According to the SITA 2017 air transport IT trends insights, over the next three years 52% of airlines plan major AI programmes or research and development (R&D), and 45% of airports will invest in R&D in the next five years.
SITA sees one of the biggest transformations in aviation is the response to the changing needs and habits of passengers, who want the same connected experience throughout their travel journey, with all the convenience of advance booking, electronic ticketing and digitally connected loyalty schemes.
Passengers today find flights, make reservations, check-in and carry boarding passes on their smartphones (more than 90% of airlines support electronic boarding passes). Airlines make their loyalty schemes available using apps and this includes boarding passes on smartwatches – SITA predicts that 47% of airlines will support these by 2019.
Flight attendants are now given tablets to check passenger dietary needs and other requests, and confirm loyalty programme status, for example.
According to SITA, nearly 80% of airlines plan major investments in passenger services via smartphones over the next three years, while 71% of airlines expect to do the same for tablets.
Clearly, the future of air travel is digital.