Investment in IT Infrastructure Prepares Airports for Rising Passenger Numbers

Investment in the IT infrastructure made by airports during the downturn has continued as airports prepare for rising passenger numbers, according to a new global survey launched on 2 November 2010. Investments as a percentage of revenue rose to 3.6% in 2009, and 78% of airports expect budgets to remain the same or increase in 2011. In return for this investment, technology is being challenged to deliver even greater efficiencies and cost reductions.

The seventh annual ‘SITA Airport IT Trends Survey’, co-sponsored by Airports Council International (ACI) and Airline Business, is based on responses from 128 airport operators, representing the views of 220 airports worldwide, the highest number since the survey has started in 2003.

The survey, which was launched on 2 November at the 20th ACI World Annual General Assembly in Bermuda, found that ‘reducing the cost of business’ is the top investment driver for airports (52% consider this their highest priority) followed by ‘improving customer service’ (48%). This exactly mirrors the top two priorities for airlines as found in SITA’s Airline IT Trends Survey in June 2010.

After a reduction in airport’s IT budgets during 2008, spend rose to 3.6% in 2009. Strongest areas of growth were in Asia Pacific and the Middle East and Africa, with more cautious levels of investment in Europe and North America. The outlook for 2011 looks positive with 78% of airports expecting budgets to remain the same or increase.

Top of the investment list for airports are upgrades to network infrastructure with virtualisation and VoIP featuring high on CIOs’ priorities. Both technologies are seen as key to driving down IT costs so it is not a surprise that four out of five airports are planning to invest in VoIP in the next three years with 70% planning to deploy some form of virtualisation by 2013.

Ilya Gutlin, vice president airport solution line at SITA, said: “The survey shows that investing in IT infrastructure remains a high priority for airports as they recognise that it delivers cost savings, greater efficiencies for airports and a smoother travel experience for passengers.”

“With self-service for passengers, such as kiosks for check-in, becoming the norm, the survey confirms that airports are now looking to invest in new areas such as e-gates for boarding, and providing information and services via passengers’ mobile phones.”

Passenger self-service has come of age in airports with 60% of respondents having already implemented kiosks for check-in and 55% of these planning to add additional kiosks. Another 26%, predominantly smaller airports, are planning to introduce kiosks by 2013. Kiosks are not just used for check-in, half of the respondents plan to introduce new services such as bag-tag printing, flight transfers, and scanning of passports by 2013. Airports are also starting to use self boarding e-gates to automate the processing of passengers at boarding and security check points, both which will help to reduce queue times and speed up processing.

Up to 30% of airports surveyed are using social media channels today and over half will take advantage of these new networks to communicate with passengers and public communities. Nearly 60% are looking at social media to provide flight information and operational updates with 52% already using or planning to use them for survey and focus groups, and 48% for disruptions and emergency updates (as was experienced in April and May 2010 during the Icelandic ash cloud event).

One of IT’s biggest impacts is on improving operational efficiency at airports by enabling improved collaboration and decision-making among the different organisations responsible for the smooth running of an airport both airside and landside. The survey shows strong interest (32% already and 22% planning to implement by 2013) in the implementation of ‘shared airport operations centres’ where various stakeholders can convene and have access to integrated data and real-time communications.

Another IT solution identified by airports to improve operational efficiency is passenger flow monitoring. The data will help to improve the passenger experience, reduce waiting times and enable better planning and utilisation of airport resources. And finally, data-capable mobile devices are being used by the workforce to support baggage handling (31%), apron and ramp operations (17% with another 24% by 2013) and enabling remote updates to the aircraft and boarding-gate with 50% having implemented them or with plans to do so by 2013.

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