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Why should 'intelligent airports' be embraced?

SITA's Jihad Boueri outlines the latest trends in airport operations.
COMMENT, Business Trends, Aviation

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ASK THE EXPERT: Why should ‘intelligent airports’ be embraced in the Middle East?
Written by Jihad Boueri is SITA’s regional vice president of solution line in the Middle East and North Africa

The need for intelligent airports
With a bright forecast for aircraft movements and passenger traffic in the Middle East, there are unique growth opportunities for airports throughout the region. At the same time, travellers have become more and more demanding, which has increased the pressure for airports to improve their customer service, while continuing to lower their operating costs.

Finding a solution to address the problem
Technology is currently available for airports to simplify the passenger experience, with a focus on mobility, self-service and collaborative decision making. In terms of mobility, for example, smart phones are the only device needed to travel and can be utilised for passengers to store their booking reservations, airline tickets, boarding passes, baggage tags and e-passports, which eliminates the need for paper. In addition, passengers can receive a series of personalised messages from the airport on their smart phones, if requested. This could include anything from flight updates, such as delays in departure times or changes to boarding gates, to more customised information, like special discounts for duty free shopping, based on data from your profile.

The emergence of self-service facilities
Self-service has also been embraced by airports to improve the passenger experience and lower operating costs. A classic example is Dubai International Airport, where self-service kiosks have been established to shorten the boarding process, while the ‘e-gate’ system has become a popular option to complete immigration. Unfortunately, some bottlenecks are still apparent with these innovations, whether it’s the need to check-in baggage after completing the self-service process, or manual checks after using the ‘e-gate’ technology. This will change in the near future, with technology now available for passengers to complete the whole process without human intervention. The cost reduction from such developments will be unquestionable for airports in the Middle East and beyond.

Adopting a collaborative approach
A third focus area for airports is collaborative decision making. At present, a number of different systems have been implemented in airports, with ground handling services, airline operations and other departments having their own systems in place, which are integrated and communicate with each other in a reactive manner, instead of proactive manner. Therefore, with last-minute changes in the schedule, an airline will inform the airport, the airport will inform the ground handler, and that staggered approach will continue onto other stakeholders in the airport. This can be overhauled using a collaborative decision tool, where a command centre is established to receive all the information from ground-handling, airlines, control tower, airport and other relevant parties. There is full visibility, with the creation of business intelligence reports that can be distributed to improve the decision making process.

Turning ‘intelligent airport’ into a reality
If these trends for mobility, self-service and collaborative decision making are combined, airports can reduce their operational costs, improve their customer service, and provide their external stakeholders with accurate information on time. SITA has been working with a number of airports throughout the world to achieve this and based on annual surveys with our customers, it is believed that 70% of airports plan to offer mobile services by 2013, 75% of top 50 airports plan to install collaborative decision making tools by 2013 and 71% of passengers already use self check in kiosks. Therefore, we expect a lot of implementations to be completed within the next two years, turning the vision into a reality.

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