Tech Bytes

The results of the 2nd Airport IT Trends Survey - 2005, commissioned by SITA, Airports Council International, and Airline Business magazine, were released in November. In the October issue of AIRPORT BUSINESS, Catherine Mayer, SITA’s VP of airport services said it would be interesting to compare the results of the airline IT survey with the airport IT survey.

In a media teleconference, Mayer and senior VP of airport and desktop services John Jarrell explained that senior executives from the world’s top 200 airports were surveyed. The response rate was up 25 percent from the first year of the survey, 2004.

According to Jarrell, 90 percent of airports responding to the survey plan to increase or keep the same IT budgets for 2006. Mayer adds that in 2004, IT and telecommunications spending accounted for 4.1 percent of airports total revenue and 4.6 percent for 2005, which equates to a $2.5 billion investment at airports in 2005.

The interest by airports in radio frequency identification (RFID) for baggage handling management does not seem to be on the increase. According to Mayer, only 6 percent will have RFID technology deployed by the end of the year. “The survey says it won’t make an impact on the industry until 2008 or 2009,” says Mayer. Some 33 percent of airports say they have no plans to implement RFID for baggage management, while 47 percent of airports surveyed have no plans to deploy RFID for cargo operations.

Additional highlights from the airport survey:

  • At least 50 percent of airports surveyed globally have already deployed some form of self-service kiosk; plans over the next two years will see this figure rise to 75 percent.
  • More than 90 percent of airports surveyed will offer public access to a Wi-Fi network within the next two years.
  • 33 percent of airports plan to deploy a biometric identification system for check-in and boarding within the next four years.
  • Within the next two years, 75 percent of airports will have an airport-wide communication network to support new services, such as VoIP, for passengers and airlines.
  • Lack of an agreed upon airport-wide IT strategy is cited as the single biggest obstacle to implementing the IT strategy by 25 percent of the surveyed airports, followed by lack of budget, 20 percent of airports.
  • IT maintenance support is the most outsourced function — 37 percent of airports, followed by parking control, 35 percent.
  • 15 percent of airports use some form of biometric identification for employee access.
  • 3 percent of airports use some form of biometric identification for passenger check-in and boarding.
  • Top investment priorities are operational solutions, such as managed network and communication services.

Mayer says 2004’s survey showed that airports were primarily concerned with technology related to security, “This year it’s operations technology. I think that’s because we’re getting back to full operations levels.” As congestion returns to the nation’s airports, security technology is still a concern, but deploying technology that will help the airport operate more efficiently with record numbers of travelers is again taking center stage. “Information technology is the only way we can grow,” says Mayer.

Looking at the airline results versus the airport results, both sectors plan to increase spending for 2006; again, it appears the dollars will be invested in operations solutions. Additionally, both see customer service — and more importantly self-service — technology as key to future success (56 percent of airlines have deployed self-service kiosks for check-in). For many airports, these self-service kiosks are seen as one solution to the congestion at airline ticket counters.

In coming years, the landscape of the investment planned for technology may be different. Survey analysis suggests that as the shared-use environment becomes more commonplace, the cost of implementing certain technologies may shift from the airlines to the airports, with the airports providing the equipment and technology as a service to the airlines. This might be the most interesting to observe: what role will airports take and what control (and financial obligation) will airlines be willing to relinquish? We’ve already seen this trend with some airlines that said they’d never be supportive of common use. Well, maybe they’re still not supportive of it, but it’s in place and it’s working for airports like Las Vegas McCarran.

And while biometrics might hold some answers for security and access control on the airport employee side, it still remains unclear how airports/government would manage a passenger-based system. The cost of implementation and the logistics are causing the majority of airports to wait on any implementation, as shown by the survey (43 percent of airports have no plans to implement biometric identification systems).