The Common Use Continuum

SITA's airport IT survey highlights trends associated with passenger processing

Now in its sixth year, the airport IT trends survey is “building momentum and credibility,” says SITA vice president for airport service Catherine Mayer. Representing some 176 airports worldwide, including 56 from the top 100 in terms of revenue and passengers, this year’s survey received a record response rate. Survey results show that passenger processing and services is the highest airport priority investment for the third successive year, and 2008 IT budgets were largely unaffected by the downturn.

“The survey is global, and for the first time we really had a good balance of respondents from all over the world,” relates Mayer.

“In the past most of the response has come predominantly from North America followed by Europe. This year it was very well balanced between Europe, North America, and even the Asia-Pacific region.”

According to Mayer, when the data is put together, it’s significant because in terms of all the airports that responded, they represent more than 69 percent of all the revenue generated by the world’s top 100 airports, and 60 percent of all passenger traffic.

In terms of addressing the size of airports represented, SITA weights the answers, says Mayer. “What we do is take into consideration the revenue, the size of the airport, and the traffic volume, and try to balance that out between all the different airports that respond.”

Serving the passenger
With regard to airports investing in customer service, “This is not the first year we have seen that at the top, it’s actually the second year,” says Mayer. “That is a reconfirmation that airports are very focused on the end-user, and they are no longer playing the traditional landlord or facilities provider role.

“They’re taking an active interest in what happens and how the passengers are traveling through the premises; how the flow of the passenger’s entire journey is going to go.”
The most amazing thing that came out of this survey, remarks Mayer, is the commitment of airports to continue to invest in information technology (IT) as a solution to get them through the global economic downturn.

In the face of carrier capacity cutbacks and a decline in passenger demand, the survey shows that airports are not cutting their IT budgets, but are maintaining and or increasing them for next year.

“We have done a good job as an industry, working in a collaborative manner between Airports Council International (ACI), the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and the vendors to get passengers used to self-service kiosks for check in,” says Mayer.

“But industry is telling us to take it a step further now … to look at using self-service kiosks for other types of services such as disruption management, transit, baggage — and not just check in. Airports are realizing they can use self-service for boarding, access to lounges, tracking passengers, etc.

“Industry has encouraged passengers to utilize self-service; passengers now accept it and in many cases, as with check-in, they expect it.”

Investing in Infrastructure
The survey also shows that there is still a strong focus by airports to invest in IT infrastructure consolidation, or common-use virtualization, and taking advantage of new technologies that will help drive down costs and offer better services, relates Mayer. “An airport’s IT infrastructure (data and voice communication capabilities) is its lifeline,” she says.
Regarding master airport IT plans, Mayer comments, “We have always asked the question in the survey: Do you have a master IT plan and what is the average time span covered by it?

“The reason we took that question out of the survey is because the majority of respondents were saying, ‘Yes, we do have an IT master plan in place, and it’s usually three to five years.’”

Consultant companies that put together airport master plans will now have a section devoted to IT planning. “The airport IT master plan is now a component of an airport’s capital investment master plan; which wasn’t the case just five years ago,” she says.

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