Our third blog, following the publication of our new report “The Seamless Passenger Journey is Smart Airports – 2021 Edition”, discusses how the latest projects, installations and vendor portfolio developments demonstrate the sector’s direction of travel.
The Necessary Evolution in Vendor-Client Relationships to Survive and Thrive
Our report examines and discusses the changing nature of the traditional approaches and relationships between airport operators, airlines and vendors. Here we review some recent examples of how vendors are evolving their portfolios to help their industry partners not only recover but manage for future growth, however uncertain and fluctuating it may be in the short-term.
Generally, we are seeing more openness and consideration of commercially-available technology and solutions where previously requests were typically for bespoke solutions. The aim of vendors and their client partners is to help manage costs, adopt more agile approaches and remove (or at least reduce) vendor lock-in with proprietary solutions. Instead, they are looking to build closer working relationships utilising more open products.
This is particularly beneficial when operators and service providers are running with massively reduced staff levels. It allows resources to be focussed on where they are most needed. This assists management of overhead costs in the face of rapidly changing routes and unpredictable volume demand.
Recent Real-World Examples
Vendors have reacted quickly to help airports implement new products. This includes working with them to trial alternative interfaces to touchscreens on self-service touchpoints to provide safer environments and reassure travellers. Many have quickly looked to available technologies deployed in other sectors and worked to integrate these into their portfolios. Projects primarily focussed on reducing touch and face-to-face interactions.
In September 2021, London Heathrow began a trial of Amadeus’ contactless bag drop, featuring proximity sensors that allow passengers to check their luggage without touching the kiosk screens. This new system is installed on units from ICM Airport Technics, an Amadeus subsidiary, as part of Heathrow’s Fly Safe programme.
It follows a trial of Amadeus’ screen-mirroring technology, pairing touchpoints to smartphones so they can be used as an alternative user interface. However, general feedback on such an approach was that it takes too long for most passengers. If the proximity sensors are better received then it is planned to quickly upgrade all touchpoints.
This follows news last year that Amadeus delivered end-to end contactless capabilities, from check in to boarding, at 17 airports in Norway operated by Avinor.
Biometrics are increasingly being implemented at scale across multiple airport touchpoints to offer passengers a more seamless and frictionless experience. They are also being integrated with border control at departure gates to streamline passenger processing and better use the data in automated processes. Additionally, biometrics can offer touchless processing (depending upon the touchpoint and use case), faster passenger throughput, reduced queue times, and enhanced security. Reduced or fewer staff interactions means that more flexible staffing can be utilised and airports are better equipped to manage fluctuating demand.
Tokyo Haneda Airport
In September 2021, Materna IPS and Collins Aerospace worked to deploy facial recognition at Tokyo Haneda Airport. 104 self-bag drop kiosks installed last year were upgraded with Materna IPS’ One ID biometric solution enabling passengers authenticate themselves when checking their luggage. Collins’ ARINC SelfPass integrated ~200 touchpoints with Haneda’s Face Express service, including self-check in, pre-security and boarding gates along with Materna’s bag drops. Amadeus and NEC have also been involved in development of biometrics at Haneda.
Newark Liberty International Airport
The previous month, Newark Liberty International Airport concluded a pilot of a biometric self-boarding eGate. EASIER and IDEMIA were the hardware and software providers for Lufthansa, which integrated the eGate into its departure control system (DCS). Once data gathered during the trial has been analysed, the plan is for a phased approach for deployment across international gates then domestic. Previously, Lufthansa has reported 30% performance improvement with Quick Boarding Gates over manual processes.
Some airports and vendors have gone with a more end-to-end approach and overhaul.
In August 2021, Thales unveiled a project designed to assist the industry on its touchless journey. Its touchless concept was developed at the Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre (DARTeC) in the UK. In line with the One ID concept, it allows passengers to pass through all touchpoints using their face as a biometric token, with pre- or on-site enrolment. The data produced can be used to enhance and tailor the passenger experience with staff allocated to where they are most needed.
- This followed news the previous month that Thales has developed a secure “check-in from anywhere” solution using smartphones to capture and match passenger selfies and passport data to create a biometric token that can be used at airport touchpoints for rapid authentication and clearance.
- Other solutions included incorporating passengers’ digital health passes in mobile digital ID wallets, smart passenger flow optimisation and management tools and solutions, and new border kiosks (for the EU’s EES) for quick capture of fingerprint and facial data.
Other Examples of Smart Airport Touchpoints
In the same month, Darwin Airport selected Elenium Automation to deploy self-service touchpoints for an end-to-end contactless experience. All kiosks and bag-drop units can operate in touchless mode and are biometric-ready. Cloud connectivity means that self-service can be deployed without the need for additional IT infrastructure.
Prior to these announcements, SITA announced it had revamped its airports product portfolio to meet new customer and passenger requirements. This encompassed digitisation of health requirements, automating the passenger journey with biometrics and mobile, more touchless and mobile-based solutions and cloud solutions to reduce costs.
This closely followed two announcements demonstrating the market’s direction of travel:
- SITA has provided Ethiopian Airlines with new self-service, biometric-ready check-in kiosks and bag drop units at Addis Ababa Airport – demonstrating the growing interest in automation in all regions.
- SITA partnered with Delta Airlines and Rome Fiumicino Airport to implement a biometric boarding system employing facial recognition across check-in, security and boarding gates as part of Rome’s digitalisation, safety and innovation strategy. This mirrors efforts Delta has been undertaking in its home US market.
The Next Step
Efforts are clearly underway from multiple stakeholders to adapt and change – some individually, some partnering, others led by industry organisations – to deliver digital identity solutions that are safe, secure, private and scalable across international boundaries.
One of the aims is to eliminate the need for repeating data entry and enrolment (on-site or in advance of travel) across multiple airports and for different stages of journeys, including connections across multiple airlines and airports. Such efforts have been proven in other regulated sectors to improve the user experience, increase appeal and uptake, with additional benefits including simplification of process, time savings, etc.. We will be covering this topic in more detail in our next series of blogs and smart airports newsletter.
Overall, we are seeing closer working partnerships, more commercial off the shelf (COTS) solutions but also more solutions focussed around the passenger experience and passenger comfort and safety.
The previous approach simply would not survive the recent and on-going disruption so all parties are adapting to survive and thrive. While there are some exceptions, vendors are generally more willing to combine their respective areas of expertise, even if they overlap, to deliver the new solutions. Airports and airlines are moving away from their traditional standpoints and are starting to consider new approaches – and even lobbying for policy and regulatory changes – that would have been commonly rejected and resisted until recently.
It is important because with this next evolution it is no longer just about touchpoint hardware and software connecting to CUPPS. It is biometrics, digital identity tokens and wallets, capture and enrolment, verification and authentication, identity management platforms, data governance, cloud connectivity, data and analytics, etc. All of this connects into the existing airport IT infrastructure and border control and it is necessary because without it we cannot achieve the next step of managing this across multiple airports and multiple countries.
P.A.ID Strategies and Valour Consultancy have combined their expertise in aviation, airports, biometrics and digital identity to produce the first edition of “The Seamless Passenger Journey is Smart Airports – 2021 Edition”. This is an in-depth analysis of the market based upon over 40 one-to-one interviews with key stakeholders and extensive secondary research. Please contact authors John Devlin or Craig Foster for more information.