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Smart processing

Self-service and automation are now the buzz words at technology conferences, particularly for airports. Keith Mwanalushi looks at the real impact of these processes for low cost airlines and the budget implications

IATA announced full-year global passenger traffic results for 2016, showing demand (RPKs) rose 6.3% compared to the previous year.


Air travel was indeed a good news story last year and the trend is expected to continue through 2017. With the spectacular rise in the number of air passengers worldwide, airports are actively investing in smart technology to ensure a comfortable passenger experience without compromising on security and safety. 


"With the advent of low cost carriers (LCCs), air traffic has risen sharply," states John Jarrell, Head of Airport IT at Amadeus. He says this has forced airports around the world to assess how they process travellers, as well as ways to provide the fastest, cheapest service for airlines. "As traffic increases, so do queues at baggage and check-in desks. Processing these growing numbers of passengers makes it progressively more difficult to keep costs low and service smooth."


All airlines aspire to speed and simplicity in their operations, particularly in the case of low cost airlines managing a large volume of passengers, stresses Matthys Serfontein, Vice President of Airport Solutions at SITA. "For airports supporting LCCs, investment in self-service systems is key to speeding up passenger processing while providing an improved passenger experience. SITA has developed a wide portfolio of self-service products from kiosks and bag drop at check-in to self-service boarding gates," he says. 


Serfontein feels the benefits of self-service are now being recognised at regional airports globally, citing Bologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport as an example – a regional hub for Ryanair.


The Italian airport recently installed SITA's iBorders BorderAutomation ABCGates to help the airport accommodate more passengers during busy peak periods. "With an average processing time of under 20 seconds, this process enables eligible passengers to use the new gates at arrival immigration to reduce wait times and optimise passenger flow through the airport," declares Serfontein. 


Figures from SITA show the new technology used in ABCGates allow more than 10,000 passengers a day to clear immigration at Bologna. 


SITA also continues to explore new ways to improve the self-service experience. As part of ongoing research into optimising the travel experience, SITA is exploring the potential of ‘single token travel’ to allow travellers to pass through the airport, including crossing borders, with a single, digitally-verified identity. 


Last year SITA revealed Smart Path, a new capability allowing passengers to move through the airport and board their aircraft simply by verifying their identity using a biometric captured at the first step in their journey. Once enrolled, Serfontein explains that there is no need for the passenger to present a boarding pass, a passport or travel documents again. "The capability puts a fast, secure and seamless walkthrough experience within reach of today’s passengers. The offering is unique in that it can be easily integrated into existing common-use airport infrastructure and existing airline systems," he notes. 


Smart Path has already been trialed at a major airport in the Middle East, where the system captured passengers’ biometrics at the transfer security checkpoint and then verified the passenger against the stored single token when boarding the aircraft. >>

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