Amadeus Airport IT’s senior vice president for strategy and marketing, Iyad Hindiyeh, explains why he believes we should be preparing for the ‘uberization’ of airport services.
Over the past decade the way we communicate, shop, get around and are entertained has arguably been transformed by a handful companies such as Uber, Amazon, Facebook and Netflix.
Whilst there are distinctions in their business models, there are similarities in their model of success, which has seen each company deliver extremely convenient consumer services using a common cloud-based platform.
If you want to access a Netflix movie, log in to Facebook or do some shopping on Amazon, you can access those services quickly and simply from any device, from anywhere.
What each of these platforms has successfully achieved is the separation of their applications (media distribution, social networking, e-commerce etc) from the underlying hardware and networks used to access those services.
These services are so scalable and attractive that a handful of ‘big tech’ companies now represent close to 50% of the total value of the S&P 500. A historically high level of concentration that holds lessons for every industry, including aviation.
Redefining airports services
While aviation is a complex business that moves passengers and planes, there’s no reason we can’t have a piece of the ‘always on, always available’ digital services action while at the airport.
When you think about some of the stressful aspects of passenger services that are handled on the airport side, such as check-in and bag-drop, they are really just a series of interactions with the passenger.
Are these passengers permitted to fly? Would they like any additional services? Do they have luggage? This type of interaction shouldn’t be tied to a specific piece of hardware or a specific area of a terminal any more than accessing a film from Netflix or logging on to Facebook.
Passenger services should be decoupled from on-site servers at the airport and built into a platform in the cloud so they can be delivered and consumed by travellers where and when they’re needed. Increasingly this is now becoming the case as a greater number of airports embrace the cloud model.
When constraints are removed, people begin to innovate
At those airports that have freed themselves from the constraints of on-site infrastructures and complex network connectivities, the conversation is shifting. When local IT teams no longer worry about monitoring and maintaining everyday applications, they have more time to rethink what passenger services should look like.
This is something that every airport is now concerned with as our industry responds to the challenges of COVID-19.
We’re increasingly hearing our customers talk in terms of the ‘Uberization’ of airport services. Do you remember when you had to make specific arrangements to organise a taxi?
Typically, it required a phone call the day before to ensure they’d collect you the next morning, it was unclear if the driver was actually on the way and time was spent fumbling around to make sure you had enough cash for the trip.
Uber solved all of these problems by connecting drivers with riders through an ‘always-on-platform’ that included reviews as a trust mechanism, one-click payments and location-based information.
The same is beginning to happen for passenger services at airports. Now that applications for check-in and bag-drop are in the cloud, there are a number of providers emerging that offer on-demand services to the traveller.
Initial examples have included cruise terminals, train stations and hotels; but these are intermediate steps. The end-game is the widespread availability of an app that allows the traveller to request check-in and bag pick-up from wherever they happen to be.
Your mobile airport arrives, checks you in and collects your bags that follow a chain-of-custody process before being injected into the bag flow at the terminal.
Passengers could also use the app to consume airport information like queueing times and to pre-book VIP services like lounge access or even to shop for duty free products.
This type of innovation is convenient but, importantly, it also removes processes at the airport which reduce congestion and contributes to a safer, more socially distanced experience.
Making it easier for airports to connect to airlines
As more airports decide to embrace the cloud model, we’re seeing the emergence of a common platform for airports that’s native to the cloud. This makes it much easier for airports to easily connect to their airline partners in the cloud, without the need for bespoke Application Programming Interfaces (API) integration.
This cloud connection provides greater agility. For instance, if an airline decides to begin a new route from an airport, the timeline and IT requirements can be greatly reduced.
On the operational side, with a common cloud hosted platform it becomes possible to provide a shared situational awareness – not just within a single airport but across multiple airports, or even the entire air transport network.
Imagine the efficiency gains our industry could achieve with more accurate information on flight arrivals, turnaround times and delays. Now consider how valuable that information would be during periods of significant disruption.
This is the benefit that a common cloud hosted platform can bring for airports and their partners, from airlines to ground handlers.
Should airports ask airlines to become tech companies?
The short answer is ‘probably not’. Of course, we believe in the transformative power of technology and both airlines and airports will increasingly apply technology in new and imaginative ways to serve passengers and improve operations.
However, some IT providers propose an airport should establish and maintain API connections to each individual airline they partner with, which will be costly and complex.
It will also require airports to effectively ask their airline customers to become tech companies, which is a prospect we don’t view as being realistic.
APIs are a modern method for connecting applications together to enable the exchange of data over the web. They are a great innovation and Amadeus makes a number of APIs available to our customers, but APIs aren’t suitable for every situation.
The industry is only now beginning to free itself from common use models that were wedded to fixed network connections between each airline and each airport in favour of a single secure internet connection to a cloud-based platform.
At Amadeus it has been our mission to support the industry in transitioning away from old network costs and constraints.
Looking to the future, we firmly believe that the most efficient way to deliver services such as check-in and baggage handling at airports would be to achieve ‘uberization’ and take today’s applications into the cloud with a simplified and secure internet connection to an IT partner that can bring airlines and airports together.