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New passenger processing technology will play a key role in raising customer satisfaction levels at airports, writes SITA’s president for air travel solutions, Matthys Serfontein.

With IATA predicting that airlines will carry 8.2 billion passengers by 2037, just about double today’s numbers, the pressure really is on airports to enhance their capacity to enable them to meet future demand.

At the same time, passenger expectations are changing. We’re no longer prepared to put up with long queues through the airport. We want to be able to walk through without stopping and we want to be able to use our own devices to control our journey.

Happily, improving the passenger experience and making airports more efficient have the same solution: the intelligent use of technology.

At this year’s SITA Customer Innovation Forum, we talked to our customers about the key challenges facing the industry and how we can harness new technologies to address them.

It is abundantly clear that the only way to make the changes we need is through close collaboration between everyone working at the airport: the airport itself, airlines, ground handlers, government agencies, and partners from outside the industry. Otherwise, we simply won’t be able to continue flying the way we do, in our increasing numbers.

And it is this type of co-innovation and collaboration that will be key to unlocking the future sustainability of the air transport industry, not to mention improving the passenger journey.

Perhaps the most important change we discussed is the rapid move towards automation. It’ll be of significant help in meeting those dual objectives.

Anything that moves at the airport could be autonomous, from airside vehicles to baggage robots. However, in the medium term the focus is really on the automation of processes, particularly for passenger processing.

There is already a lot of technology in place to make airports more efficient and smooth the passenger journey. And we know that automating the passenger journey drives passenger satisfaction. For example, our latest Passenger IT Insights study showed that at passport control – a traditional pain point of the journey – passengers were 3.85% more satisfied when they used self-scanning gates to verify their ID, compared to those using agent-assisted controls.

That’s why we have seen self-service check-in, bag-drop and boarding become standard across the world. Self-service is the perfect technology to illustrate the importance of automation. It gives passengers the control they want, it cuts waiting times and it is cheaper for the airport and airline to process each passenger. For example, SITA’s kiosk infrastructure saves airlines an average of $2.50 per check-in.

Looking forward, we see the emergence of biometric solutions that will drive even more efficient airport operations and better passenger experiences. SITA’s Smart Path, for example, uses single travel token technology to automate the entire passenger journey, from check-in to boarding.

You simply step up to the camera to be identified by your facial biometric, all without the need to show your passport or boarding pass. It is efficient for airports, airlines, ground handlers and government agencies, and it gives control to passengers.

It also brings us back to collaboration. It can only work when all those organisations work together. At Orlando airport we used Smart Path with British Airways and US Customs and Border Protection to combine the airline and government check into a single step, saving passengers’ time and providing a smoother process.

We gave BA’s passengers the option of biometric boarding at the gate on flights from Orlando to London Gatwick, with almost 100% take up. This helped to board the international flight with 240 passengers in around 10 minutes: a clear time saving.

Through automation and greater collaboration, we can ensure that passenger numbers can grow sustainably and without impacting the airport experience.

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