Air travel has come a long way over the decades. Faced with rapidly changing demands and pressures, what steps should the industry take to prepare for the future?
Speaking at this year’s IATA Ground Handling Conference (IGHC) in Doha, Joseph Suidan, head of ground operations at the International Air Transport Association (IATA), looked back over the history of aviation from the Wright brothers to the present day.
“Airlines made the world smaller; they brought us together,” he said, going on to pose the question: how do we build our future? With fuel prices, airport charges and the cost of ground handling all on the rise, it is vital that the industry find a way to develop sustainably in a way that enables it to cope with the tremendous growth in demand for its services over the coming years. How can we embrace the future, Suidan asked?
Anne Carnall, programme manager, Future Airports at IATA, offered some answers to these questions, through the association’s New Experience in Travel and Technologies (NEXTT) initiative – a project that seeks to move air travel into the future.
NEXTT is a joint venture between IATA and Airports Council International, launched in October 2017. Its objective is to develop a consensus statement so that stakeholders across the industry can work towards a common vision that will enable it to respond to the high expectations of a rapidly growing volume of passengers while also meeting ever-increasing safety and security requirements.
“Our duty is to enable – not constrain – people who wish to travel,” Carnall said at IGHC. “Their expectations are higher and we need to respond to that. Passengers are increasingly impatient. They want correct, up-to-date information and they want an entertaining experience when they travel,” she summed up.
On top of that, airports are struggling to cope with the rising volume of traffic. Many are unable to expand due to geographical limitations. And as Asian markets continue to develop at a rapid pace, Carnall noted that many airports in China are struggling to build fast enough. Indeed, brand-new terminals are operating at capacity immediately they open for business because growth has outstripped the forecasts.
In light of the projected doubling of air travel demand by 2036, NEXTT covers the development of three areas. First, off-airport processes could increase in order to ease pressure on congested airports. The industry could move beyond self check-in to city-centre luggage drop facilities, or the integration of security checks with dedicated airport trains. This would require collaboration with urban transport network operators.
Second, advanced processing could be introduced in order to increase efficiency. Examples might include digital ID and automation (in collaboration with regulatory authorities). A key area would be the ramp. Why hasn’t this become more automated, Carnall asked? She called for synchronisation and repeated activities to build a business case for the automation of ramp processes.
Third, and underpinning everything, there is a need to use and share reliable data with passengers as well as industry partners, in order to collaborate effectively. The first two areas of focus are dependent on data sharing, Carnall pointed out, suggesting that the key to success is to create a standard that enables everyone to share and interact across systems.
Drilling down into the travel experience of the future, passenger involvement in the pre- and post-flight stages of the journey looks set to increase. Alongside that trend, increased digitalisation and automation will help free up ground staff to concentrate their attention on those passengers requiring special care. Disrupted passengers, for instance, can be kept informed via digital alerts while staff are available to guide them quickly through the airport so that they can still catch their connecting flight.
It was noted during the IGHC session that much of the data and necessary technology already exists; what is required now is a cultural shift in terms of willingness to embrace a different way of doing things, and some thought as to how best to use those resources to serve passengers. Collaboration, once again, is key.
“There is a need for trusted and reliable data for customers but also for us to share between us as an industry,” Carnall emphasised.
She also stressed the fact that successful ideas can only gain traction if they are adopted globally. “We need to encourage and support innovation and back it up with detailed work to put standards in place. We may need regulatory change to make it a reality – but it’s not science fiction!” |
• More information on the latest updates on the NEXTT initiative may be found at http://nextt.iata.org/