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Airports Focus on Technology to Improve Passenger Experience

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IT investment by airports is rising as airports seek to meet the increasing expectations of passengers for self-service and a hassle-free experience, according to a new global survey.

 IT investment, as a percentage of revenue, rose to 4.4% in 2010 and 81% of airports expect IT budgets to remain the same or increase in 2012. Top investment projects for airports in the next three years are IT infrastructure upgrades and mobile services.

The 8th annual SITA Airport IT Trends Survey, co-sponsored by Airports Council International (ACI) and Airline Business, tracks airport technology trends. It is based on responses from almost 100 airport operators, representing the views of 198 airports, including more than two thirds of the top 100 airports by revenue, responsible for 43% of global passenger traffic.

The survey, which was launched today at the 20th ACI North America Annual Conference in San Diego, found that ‘improving customer service’ is the top driver for new technology investment in airports with 63% considering this their highest priority.

Improving airport safety and security is also a high priority (53%) with increased investment in technologies such as biometric identification which is already implemented by 28% of respondents at border control.

Reducing the cost of business was ranked lower this year but remains a high priority for most airports (46%).

Overall, almost six out ten airports are planning major investments to upgrade their existing IT infrastructure to support new passenger and workforce solutions.

Airport IT spend in 2010 rose to 4.4% of revenues compared with 3.6% in 2009 with airports in Asia, the Middle East and Africa leading the way, reflecting the level of infrastructure investments in these regions. Airports in Europe are more cautious about future investments, with most keeping their IT spending static. The global outlook for 2012 looks positive with 81% of airports expecting budgets to remain the same or increase.

Ilya Gutlin, SITA Vice President Airport Solutions said, “The survey shows airports are putting passengers first when it comes to investment in IT. They are particularly focussed on mobile services for passengers which ease their journey through the airport by providing updates on departure gates; flight information and delays; and other relevant information. The passenger experience is further improved by the wide availability of self-service options from check-in to bag-drop; the growth in e-gates for boarding and check points; and advances in passenger flow management. These all contribute to SITA’s vision for the intelligent airport which aims to shorten queues and take the hassle out of the passenger experience.”

Passenger self-service continues to grow. Despite high levels of adoption, 53% of airports are planning to increase the number of check-in kiosks. Some 25% plan to introduce kiosks for new services including bag tag printing, flight transfers, and self-scanning of documents such as passports. By 2014, some 38% of respondents will have introduced e-gates for self-boarding and 42% will have e- gates for check points (9% have them today), both of which will help to reduce queue times and speed up processing. And 51% will have introduced common-use bag drop locations by 2014.

The survey highlights the continuing growth of social media channels to communicate with passengers and public communities, particularly to handle complaints, give flight information and emergency updates. Nearly half of respondents already use mobile services to provide flight information and operational updates with over 80% saying they will by 2014.

Mobile technology is having a big impact in improving operational efficiency at airports with 84% of airports investing in mobile services for staff. Uses include providing wireless, handheld devices for baggage management (31% have implemented and 22% plan to); remote updates to aircraft and gate information (26% implemented and 33% planning) as well as ramp and apron management, dispatch of buses and special passenger assistance.

Another IT solution identified by airports to improve operational efficiency is passenger flow monitoring. The data enables airports to identify bottlenecks and queues so they can take action to reduce congestion and wait times, which helps improve the passenger experience. Some 22% of respondents monitor passengers’ progress across the airport, but 49% have plans to do so by 2014. Airports predominantly use 2D bar-coded boarding passes to monitor passenger flow (69%) but other technologies are also being considered for future use with 59% planning to use Bluetooth, WiFi (56%) or video analytics (41%).

Investments in virtualisation and cloud computing are gathering pace. Nine out of ten airports have already implemented, or are planning to implement, Infrastructure-as-a-Service by 2014. The top reason for choosing virtualisation/cloud is to save costs (60%) followed by improved efficiencies (48%) and increasing the implementation speed of new applications (44%).

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