Tech Bytes

Feb. 5, 2007
Investment in I.T. Remains Bullish

With a new year comes new ideas and new applications for existing technology that could change the way our airports operate.

Catherine Mayer, vice president of SITA’s Airport Services, expects that the change in the United States Congress will put more emphasis on security, and by default, technology, in 2007 in the aviation industry. “I think this is going to be another one of our years — meaning information technology — which is exciting,” she says.

Information technology continues to play a major role at airports whether in relation to costs or revenue generation. For the third year in a row, SITA, in coordination with Airline Business magazine and Airports Council International, conducted the Airport IT Trends Survey. Questionnaires were sent to a senior IT executive in each of the top 200 airport groups. A total of 73 questionnaires were returned for inclusion in the survey, representing 180 airports worldwide.

Mayer points out that for 2007, some 66 percent of airports responding say their IT budgets will increase, while 22 percent say it will stay the same. Well over $3 billion is being spent on information technology in our airports around the world.

The majority of that money is going to be in the areas of security; operations solutions to manage the flow of passengers and aircraft; and, passenger baggage solutions.

The increase in passengers taking control over their processing will continue, says Mayer. In addition to making reservations, buying tickets, and checking in on their own, Mayer says the idea of moving baggage check-in off airport is also on the rise, especially at North American destinations where the leisure traveler or conventioneer demands that service. There’s also a growing interest from airports and airlines in self-boarding, says Mayer. It’s currently being used at Copenhagen and Frankfurt airports.

Mayer says she does not anticipate the airport moving to 100 percent self-service for the travel journey because “there are always going to be people that will feel more comfortable seeing and interacting with a human being. I don’t believe technology should replace the human interface 100 percent — that’s not what it’s there for. [Technology] is there to help expedite the operations, to drive efficiencies into the process, whether it’s passenger, baggage, cargo, or security.”

The IT Trends Survey, says Mayer, reveals that some frustration exists surrounding radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. “People still want it and are questioning it, mostly on price, and not seeing the real benefits until it’s implemented globally,” she says.

Biometrics is also top of mind for many airports, according to the annual survey. Mayer says the results indicate that biometrics is being used for access control on a local level at airports, “probably because the data can be controlled locally — you don’t have the impact of privacy issues or the advocacy groups that might be hindering the wider implementation.” Mayer expects that airports see biometrics for passenger processing as the responsibility of the airlines and/or the government, and therefore aren’t making the investment.

Other survey highlights:

  • 30 percent of respondents have already implemented video over IP (internet protocol), replacing CCTV (closed caption television), and 51 percent plan to do the same over the next two years.
  • Baggage tracking services have been implemented by 18 percent, while 45 percent intend to do so over the next two years.
  • 51 percent have managed network services for the entire airport campus, while 41 percent intend to implement this over the next two years.
  • Self-service passenger boarding at gates has been adopted by 16 percent, while 39 percent intend to adopt it over the next two years.
  • Only 5 percent of respondents intend to deploy dedicated use check-in kiosks over the next two years, while 47 percent intend to deploy CUSS (common use self-service) kiosks for multiple airline use.
  • RFID tags have been minimally introduced in the following areas: employee ID (14 percent); baggage (9 percent); asset management (1 percent); and cargo (2 percent).

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In response to industry demands, says Mayer, SITA introduces its AirportConnect Open, which enables airlines to have their own proprietary applications — even Web applications — running on common use terminal equipment (CUTE). Mayer says the product responds to the shift in the type of applications being used to process passengers. Today, many passengers are processed online, away from the airport, but the infrastructure is still needed at the airport.

“We need to make sure that it’s in a shared-use environment and it can accommodate these type of Web application services, which a traditional CUTE system would not. That’s what [AirportConnect] Open is all about,” explains Mayer. The technology also is designed to eliminate the need for recertification of applications, as is required in the existing CUTE environment.