April 8, 2002


ACI conference tells airports to move cautiously when implementing IT

By John Boyce, Contributing Editor

April 2002

HOUSTON, TX -- The universe of information technology is expanding in so many directions and at such a rapid rate that unsuspecting airport managers could find themselves swept in the wrong direction for what could be the right business reasons. Such words of caution were the overriding them of this year's ACI Computaport Conference & Exhibition.

Get Ready for Bluetooth

HOUSTON, TX. - Adriaan Kramer of the Customer eValue Institute in the Netherlands says Bluetooth could be the solution to many problems faced by airports in the future.

Bluetooth, in short, is a short-range communications facility activated by a chip card or a cell phone which, as it develops, will be able to start a passenger's airport experience as he or she approaches the facility.

"Bluetooth is always-on functionality," Kramer says. "That means, as soon as you arrive at an airport and you come near to an antenna the system recognizes you. You must be a member of the airport and you must have a registered Bluetooth ID. It works within 2 meters (78.74 inches) of an antenna. You can drive up to the car park and the gate will open because the system recognizes you as a member."

Once inside the terminal, Kramer says, the passenger can go to areas marked off by blue circles. In the blue circle, the airport recognizes the passenger's Bluetooth number and sends a short message asking for identification either by voice, by a PIN code, or facial recognition. Facial recognition would require a cell phone with a camera, which, Kramers says, Sony and Ericsson are developing.

"Then," Kramer continues, "the airport can send a message to say, KLM, saying, `I have here Mr. Kramer identified, authenticated, and he says he has a ticket with you.' KLM then checks you in. Then I go to the baggage check in. I identify myself again. I drop my baggage and go to the gate. The network can follow me and if it calculates that I am so far from the gate that I cannot make it, it sends me a short message, saying please hurry up."

Baggage check-in is made easier because the passenger simply comes to a designated check-in area, a door opens, the baggage is automatically tagged, screened, and accepted.

Kramer says Bluetooth can reduce the airport cost per departing passenger by $8. He also says that Bluetooth will also be inexpensive to install. "The cost for infrastructure is about $20,000 per kilometer (5/8 mile) and at an average airport you need five kilometers."

As outlined by John Jarrell in the opening presentation of the two-day event, hosted by Airports Council International here in February, the right reasons for IT implementation are cost containment, improved operational efficiencies, and enhanced security. In other words, good stewardship, good management.

Speaking of developing an integrated operational database that could interface with other systems, Jarrell, the senior vice president for airport and desktop services at SITA, an information technology and telecommunications company, points out the major business value IT has to an airport.

"Any time you can share information among all these different agencies and different types of systems," Jarrell says, "you will improve your operational efficiency, lower cost, and enhance security because you'll be dealing with the same information, the same passenger information, same employee information, or whatever it might be."

How to get to this heightened state of management by choosing the right technology is, of course, the trick. It's not about getting the latest and greatest in information technology. It's about getting what fits the individual airport. While many of the speakers at the conference represent companies responsible for the burgeoning array of technologies, some introduced a note of caution when approaching the purchase and implementation of any information technology.

Ross Holman, Southwest Airlines vice-president/chief information officer of systems, summarizes his feelings about IT and e-business when he says, "The E should come after business, not before. It's the business side that drives this, not the technology."

Jim Henderson, technical director for Real Time Engineering Limited, a software and systems company based in Scotland, entertained the conference attendees, comprising largely airport personnel from around the world, by cautioning them to use common sense in their IT decisionmaking.

"You must test the reality," Henderson says of IT fact and fiction. "You must get past the hype.... The better it looks the more likely it is to be fiction." Pilot trials of any equipment or system are essential, he continues. Don't be blinded by the technology, make sure it fits the situation.

He goes on to suggest several key elements to consider about IT. "Look outside your own industry," he says. "People have a way of thinking that their problems are unique to their industry.

"Also think combination - combining old and new technology. Those abandoned technologies could augment new technology. Innovate, but slowly. Don't be the first but be prepared. Make it fit your business. You don't have to be the best to succeed; it's the way you work with it and being the most professional."

Among the future technologies Henderson details are e-paper that could change ticketing; flexible displays; power from the human body that could make batteries obsolete; bio-informatics; quantum computers; carbon-nano tubes that could improve battery technology; and DNA computers that map a person's DNA for identification purposes.

Planning, Control Are Keys, Says Dunham

HOUSTON, TX - Oris Dunham outlined seven points at Computaport for airport managers and decisionmakers to consider when approaching information technology.

Dunham, chairman of aviation consulting firm Aergo Aviation Partners and former director general of ACI, moderated the session on operational challenges of wireless technology. His suggestions:

o Find out what's at the airport in terms of wireless infrastructure. At Seattle-Tacoma International, a frequency check revealed they had 158 access points, but they only knew about 50. Airports likely will find that there are a lot of access points they don't know about.
o Take control of the airport and the networks. Let a contract expire gently, then take it over and run it so management knows what's going to happen at the airport.
o RF (radio frequency) management is key.
o Treat IT and wireless technology as a utility and not a concession. Don't look at it as something the airport is going to make huge amounts of money on and charge everybody huge amounts to come in and work at the airport. Like electricity and water, it's a utility that will enhance the operation of the airport. It will enhance the customer's experience.
o Have one common infrastructure deployed throughout the airport. It does work if done correctly.
o When writing the infrastructure specifications, get expert help. Do not let the people who wrote the construction specs write the wireless infrastructure specs.

Since September 11, airline passengers, of necessity, have not been speeding through airports. Because heightened security has slowed the whole process of getting onto an airliner, a major focus of Computaport was the problem of getting passengers into the airport, through security, and onto the departing aircraft quickly.

Among the items discussed in this regard were biometrics, bar coding, integrated systems in which all the stakeholders at an airport have access to the same information as suggested by Jarrell or an alliance of airports that share and use the same information.

Passenger self-service, from e-ticketing to boarding passes to checking baggage, was really the underlying theme of this conference and was projected to be the wave of the future. In fact, Bill Brunger, a vice president responsible for implementing electronic commerce initiatives at Contin-ental Airlines, predicts that passengers who wanted paper tickets would have to pay a premium for them.

"I think," Brunger says, "that five years down the road it's essential from an airline cost point of view that 100 percent of the passengers be using e-tickets…. Eventually I think, as an industry, we're going to have to charge customers who want paper tickets an appropriate amount to cover the costs of running what we consider an antiquated system."

Speaking of e-service centers, Brunger says the attributes of self-service kiosks are almost limitless. "The product attributes,'' he says, "are that the machines can print boarding passes, they let you select and change seats, let you ask for upgrades, verify frequent flyer accounts, change flights. Some of them will let you check bags if they're in the vicinity of bag check; they can translate (into different languages); they can sell drink chips. We would like to turn them into a full-service customer service contact point."

While self-service kiosks are becoming more commonplace, John Howes, the worldwide self-service solutions manager for travel for IBM in the United Kingdom, poses a critical question for self-service concerning checked baggage.

Extranets on the Rise

HOUSTON, TX - The internet is now a commonplace tool in American business. What isn't so common but is becoming more pervasive in business are extranets.

Timothy N. Beally, vice-president of information technology for 3D/International, speaking at the ACI Computaport Conference, says that the AEC (architecture, engineering, construction) industry is beginning to use extranets to facilitate construction projects. Each company or entity involved in a project can access information and make changes, or just communicate directly with each other concerning the project

"The extranet," Beally says, "is essentially a hub or bucket through which information flows. Extranets are providing the ability to share and mark up drawings online, to manage documentation online. They can take RFIs - requests for information - from contractors, submittals, lots of capabilities."

"(With kiosks) you get into a debate about the bags and the security questions,'' Howes says. "Are you going to ask the security questions at the self-service kiosk with a handling agent at kiosks? And the big one: Are you going to have the bag tags issued at the kiosks and applied by the passenger or are you going to have them printed behind the counter and have an agent handle that bag tag part of the process? …There are a lot of implementation considerations to go through and that's just for bag tagging."

The predominant self-service kiosks in airports are the single-user kiosks for individual airlines. While Howes doesn't expect those to go away completely, he does see a future situation in which there would be a mixture of single-user, self-service, and common use self-service (CUSS) kiosks, in which the passenger could access ticketing and other services from several airlines. CUSS kiosks could become more necessary to airport management simply because of space considerations.

Continental's Brunger points out some difficulties with CUSS, one of which deals with an airlines's market share and branding concerns. "We are the leader in single airline self-service implementation, domestically," Brunger says, "so we're not insanely enthusiastic about putting in a set of machines that have the effect of catching everybody up."