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ACI World director general, Luis Felipe de Oliveira, reflects on the key role new technology plays in the operation and ongoing development of the world’s airports.

The recent momentum created by the lifting of many health measures and the relaxation of most travel restrictions in a growing number of countries has had a positive and immediate impact on global air traffic demand and has brought renewed industry optimism.

With the northern summer season in full throttle, many airports however are dealing with operational challenges and limitations to airport capacity. IT initiatives can turn these challenges into opportunities by providing solutions to improve the overall airport system, including the passenger journey.

In fact, according to the SITA Air Transport IT Insights report, 81% of airports are looking to maintain or even grow their IT spend in 2022. The report is based on the annual Airport IT Trends Survey, the most extensive study of IT trends within the global airport industry, done in collaboration with ACI World for the past 18 years.

The prioritisation of IT innovation and the overall digital transformation of airports has many advantages, including reducing operational expenditure from staffing costs, simplifying and improving the passenger experience, implementing self-service solutions which include touchless processes, and quickening the rollout of biometrics. ACI World’s second edition of the Airport Digital Transformation Handbook is designed to support airports in their journey.

Key airport IT trends

Biometric ID management has been spoken about for the last decade, but only recently has it really been integrated into multiple airports, except perhaps in the case of border solutions.

Nearly three quarters of airports will invest in biometric technology by 2024, improving security and operational efficiency for airports. We will see this not just at border control, but throughout the journey from check-in to self-boarding solutions aiming to reduce costs for both airports and airlines and reduce the processing times versus traditional manual checks.

While we may be stating the obvious that airports will invest in touchless processes, one area that has been steadily rising in investment from airports is within cybersecurity. Due to the increasing dependence on technology and digital services, 94% of airport CIOs will be spending part of their budgets on improving cyber protection by 2024.

ACI also serves its members by offering cyber support with different products available including our cyber self-assessment tool, Airport C-Suite executive level questionnaire, and advisory services.

Two other key takeaways this year that are worth noting are business intelligence as airports look for ways to improve service and aeronautical spend per passenger, as well as the ultimate sustainability goal.

Airports are looking to differentiate themselves based on environmental factors, and it is clear that reducing the carbon footprint at airports can be supported by a strategy of green IT.

Attracting future IT talent

There is no doubt that attracting IT talent is key to the sustainable growth and development of the aviation workforce, particularly as airports struggle with staffing levels.

A lot of IT roles are encompassed in airport technologies from software developers, IT technicians, maintenance engineers, data scientists, project managers and cyber specialists to ensure there is sufficient capacity, user friendliness, and security across all airport technology. In fact, ACI World has launched its first cross-committee collaboration to produce a workforce of the future whitepaper, due to be published in the fourth quarter of this year.

ACI World IT Standing Committee

The ACI World IT Standing Committee (WAITSC) recently met again, under the leadership of chair Suhail Kamil Kadri (Hamad International Airport) and vice chair, Ian Law (LAWA).

CIOs of major airports and world business partners focused their thinking and execution power on: ACRIS (Aviation Community Recommended Information Services), Cybersecurity, Digital Transformation, Smart Datahub, Staff challenges, and Digital Twin Transition.

In addition, the chair announced that Tara Mulrooney (Edmonton International Airport) and Chris Au Young (Airport Authority Hong Kong) would soon assume leadership of the cybersecurity and digital transformation programmes.

To support the digital transformation journey, ACI World is launching a first of its kind API platform. The idea was generated from the Health Measures Portal, where over 300 airports provided data in a standardised format, that was consumed by Apple Maps to provide timely, accessible data around health requirements pushed to over 1.2 billion Apple devices.

ACI World is now looking to take this further by providing live data from airports across the world, digestible in a standardised ACRIS format in order to push essential data to consumers, improving the passenger experience, while reducing integration costs for its members. The ‘New Frontier project’ as it is called, will aim to be the next generation of live data sharing across the aviation community.

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