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ACI director general, Angela Gittens, reflects on the key role information technology will play during the COVID-19 crisis and some of the challenges airports face in managing their IT systems.
Information technology (IT) infrastructure has become a key enabler for airport management and operations. It underpins all systems and services critical to not only the airport operator’s staff, but also the whole airport ecosystem.
It supports a smooth and hassle-free passenger journey and allows airports to communicate timely information.
The rapid decline in traffic as a result of widespread travel restrictions and the health and safety implications of the spread of COVID-19, have presented airports with numerous challenges and risks, including to the management of their IT systems.
Building a strong collaborative team
At this time of the COVID-19 crisis especially, airports need to work collaboratively with other key stakeholders to modify – or develop new – processes to maintain a safe, efficient, and resilient IT system.
Activating the Executive Crisis Management team is essential for airports in responding to the effects of the pandemic, and IT must be a part of this group as it plays a critical role to ensure operations, communications, and business can continue.
In addition, airports should establish an IT response team. This should be done even where the airport operator is only partially responsible for IT infrastructure. This multi-disciplinary team should comprise representatives from all entities providing services at the airport in order to validate IT business continuity plans, or to create one.
Ensuring effective and secure IT infrastructure for remote access
The most effective way to control the spread of COVID-19 is to limit physical contact, so the introduction of telecommuting/teleworking wherever possible is an important element of any business continuity plan.
Airports must thus ensure that their IT infrastructure is able to handle new demands, especially the provision of increased remote access for staff. The plan must, therefore, include a work from home procedure that provides instructions and information regarding remote access to all, or most, systems and tools.
Safe and secure connectivity may be offered via Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), and other solutions which require only simple internet connections. Laptops, the use of home devices, specific programmes, and applications that are critical to conduct business, should be identified and made accessible.
System shut down, back up, and restoration
In some cases, areas of the airport terminal (or entire terminals) need to be closed, and the business continuity plan should include clear procedures and protocols to shut down hardware and software programmes being used during normal operations. These systems may include passenger and baggage processing systems, building maintenance and others.
In other cases, airports around the world are reducing operations in their terminals but keeping the systems ‘live’ and hardware operating. This is another option to ensure the systems are in good order when it is time to restore them to normal operations.
Implementing cyber resilience for business continuity
Like many other industries, airports are faced with additional cybersecurity risks, and data breach challenges with the rise of employees working from home. For this reason, addressing cybersecurity within the airport ecosystem must be included in the business continuity plan.
It is imperative to have, and update, cybersecurity policies and procedures. These should be made available and apply to the workforce in general. ACI offers several programmes and services to help airports with their cybersecurity, which can be found on the ACI website.
Advisory Bulletin – Airport Information Technology recommendations during COVID-19
The above-mentioned recommendations and others can be found in more detail in the ACI Advisory Bulletin – Airport Information Technology recommendations during COVID-19 – which can be found on the ACI website.
The Advisory Bulletin is intended to provide ACI airport members with a set of important key actions for addressing IT concerns during the COVID-19 crisis.