The twin pressures of increasing passenger numbers and reducing costs is leading the aviation industry towards technological solutions. It is a trend that ground handlers cannot ignore.
At the forefront of this high-tech movement is the IATA Simplifying the Business (StB) campaign. The program, with its stated and time-defined goals of e-ticketing (ET), Common-Use Self-Service (CUSS), Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and bar-coded boarding passes (BCBP), urges participation from all industry partners.
One company heeding the call is Swissport - the global ground handler owned by Spanish infrastructure concern, Ferrovial. It has embarked on a number of developments that will not only facilitate passenger travel but also bring much-needed operational efficiency to airlines and airports alike. One of its key projects is the roll-out of CUSS kiosks at major Swissport operations throughout the world. CUSS brings a multitude of benefits for all parties. For the consumer it means faster check-in, remote check-in possibilities (for example, a hotel or train station) and a common experience-the machines will have similar functionality worldwide.
For the airlines, there are obvious cost savings through shared use terminals and a reduction in airport desk requirements. Airports don't miss out either. CUSS improves capacity utilization and again, there is the potential to remove unwanted congestion by allowing check-in at remote locations. CUSS is estimated to save an average of $2.50 per check-in and just 40 percent penetration of the kiosks will translate into savings of $1 billion per year. Figures such as this are understandably attracting the attention of all relevant parties.
Swissport has agreements in place to help with its deployment of CUSS, most notably with aviation IT specialist, SITA and industry association, IATA. Already the company has implemented its CUSS solution at Basel in Switzerland and New York JFK's Terminal 4. It further reports that it is in the process of evaluating other stations.
"The U.S. is a market where kiosk check-in is already very common," says Michael Kilchherr, vice president product development, e-services at Swissport, "and we do have the critical mass at JFK to use CUSS kiosks efficiently."
There are some issues to resolve - at JFK, for example, passengers cannot ‘self-tag' their baggage due to TSA restrictions-but the feedback so far has been positive. Machines have excellent functionality including the possibility of future technology such as 2D bar codes and biometrics and can serve up to 60 airlines. Notes Janice Holden, vice president of marketing and business development for Terminal 4 operator, JFK IAT, LLC: "Given the capacity challenges for future traffic growth, the CUSS machines provide an opportunity to improve our check-in capacity in a uniform and organized manner." Importantly, CUSS is not just about hub airports, as the kiosk implementation at Basel indicates. "You need critical mass but each case is different and should be judged on its own merits," believes Kilchherr. "CUSS isn't only suitable for hubs. It could be used where several alliance partners are in close proximity in a terminal or it could even be used for a single airline if it frees up valuable space by allowing check-in desks to be taken away."
CUSS is also complementary to other emerging technologies such as web check-in. Swissport is involved here too. Although web check-in is not new, the involvement of a global ground handler brings the technology into the mainstream and makes it available to smaller airlines and airports.
Swissport is offering a web check-in service developed in conjunction with SITA and being launched by Switzerland's main airline, SWISS. Passengers can go online 24 hours prior to their flight to check-in, choose their seats and print their boarding passes. They then go direct to a drop-off point at the airport. Swissport personnel merely have to print the baggage tag and take the luggage. Web check-in is presently available at 16 destinations including Amsterdam, Dubai, Geneva, Montreal and Palma de Mallorca.
The system allows a single counter to be used to service passengers from several airlines in the same queue.