Harnessing the digital revolution

As digital technology evolves, the air transport industry is working to adopt and integrate the latest in IT and communications in an effort to drive out unnecessary costs, enhance the passenger experience, and improve operational efficiency.

Traffic flows in the Middle East have been very positive during the last year, says Griffiths. The number of passenger journeys by 2027 will double to five billion, and the Middle East and Asia are leading that growth because they have a very succinct geographical advantage — due to aircraft technology, points in the Middle East are pretty much on the way between anywhere and anywhere, and the Middle Eastern airlines have been able to capitalize on this, with young fleets based on efficient geo-centric airports that are well-positioned and don’t have the problems with growth as some of the more established areas, he relates.

“Dubai is at the forefront of this movement,” says Griffiths. “This year we are expecting to increase to 46 million passengers, and then to extrapolate that growth underpinned by firm commitments to aerospace, that becomes 98 million passengers by 2020, and 150 million by 2030, of which over 90 million will be transferring between two points.

“We are actually building what will be the world’s largest airport, Dubai World Central, which will have five runways, be capable of handling 118 aircraft movements per hour, 160 million passengers, and 12 million tons of freight.”

Griffiths asks, “What on Earth do you think is going to happen if we simply try and replicate what we’re doing today on that sort of scale? What’s the customer experience going to be like? What will the walking distances be like?

“The current process in technology is just not going to work at that scale. It’s an opportunity for us all to work together to try and transform the total experience.”

The problem is, he adds, is the traditional airport process. “It’s interesting that how everyone involved in the supply chain tends to look at their particular bit, and that is really the start of the problem.”

Something like 50 percent of the airport process is time-consuming and unproductive, explains Griffiths, and it does waste what is actually very valuable time. Issues related to this include customs; security similarly is unnecessarily intrusive and inefficient — customers are treated with the same level of suspicion whether they’re taking their children on holiday or they’ve bought a ticket with cash and are traveling alone to a hot country in a furry coat with no check-in baggage, he says.

“Other security agencies have got around this by profiling customers and then giving certain parts of that profile special attention,” comments Griffiths. “And really, isn’t it time that the security authorities embrace new technology and new practices to do that?” he adds.

“Retail is left to grab whatever dwell time is left to generate revenue which is largely kept by the travel retailers themselves. Travel retail accounts for $34.5 U.S. billion per year, and if airlines lost $50 billion in the last nine years, there’s some problem with the distribution of that benefit through the supply chain … because where would retail be without the customers that the airlines brought to them.”

The problem is all these different processes are in vertical silos, “And we’re asking the customer to go through a horizontal process across those silos,” remarks Griffiths. “No wonder that journey is very bumpy, very inefficient, and often disintegrated.

“We have to work together, and the starting point has to be the customer. We’ve got the technology and the process to fix all this, but the first thing we’ve got to do is to make sure we can get all these different stakeholders aligned. Unless we have that middle layer of cooperation, all the technology solutions will serve to do is reinforce those silos, not fundamentally change the whole process.

Griffiths says airports should become the showcases and test beds for the latest trends in technology and retail, and airlines should share information about travel patterns and demographics to make the whole process more efficient.

“Imagine for a moment,” he says, “A future where the customer’s online booking, API (advanced passenger information), and biometric data are recorded well in advance; baggage is dealt with as early in the process as possible and returned to the passenger at their destination; biometric data is captured quickly and used by all relevant agencies to confirm passenger ID and access risk; baggage and boarding passes are then issued automatically; scanning occurs simultaneously and unobtrusively for all the processes; and all of this occurs in a matter of moments freeing up the customer to dine or shop.”

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