What should airlines, aircraft manufacturers, and airports watch out for, and how can one navigate some key challenges that may arise?

Airports are having to focus on higher levels of automation per passenger processing, speed of digitization efforts to improve operation efficiencies, and more than ever, aim on having health and hygiene solutions in place.

With these changes, a few key trends are emerging, where airports are collaborating with other stakeholders, such as airlines, and ground handling agencies to set up new health and hygiene protocols. Such implementation will require a higher level of technology or seamless passenger processing, and will affect changes to terminal layouts, to adapt to the changing passenger journey.

Given this, it is expected that the global airport IT market would reach about US$16 billion by 2025, from about US$12 billion in 2019, according to Shantanu Gangakhedkar, Consultant of Frost & Sullivan Asia Pacific. Shantanu noted a slight dip in 2020 but believes that majority of the spending is expected to bounce back by 2022 onwards.

This constructive session, which was Inter Airport Asia’s inaugural webinar series that began in September, offered views on aviation recovery in APAC, helping us understand the few specific growth opportunities in the region, and what lies ahead in the region for the next 10 years.

The changing dynamics in aviation travel across the region, as specific to airports, are turning to automation and digitization, both from a passenger experience standpoint and from an operation standpoint. Coming from an airport IT supplier, Shantanu posed to Sunil Ankalgi, Head of Sales and Account Management, Airport IT, APAC of Amadeus and Waqas Sheikh, Vice President - Asia of ADB SAFEGATE, what they see are the key trends, in terms of airport spending in a post-pandemic era.

Waqas started his response by reminding that digitization started 2 decades ago in the airport industry, with digitization now, drawing the data that was started more than a decade ago. This has allowed for the concepts in offering today, looking at the passenger experience like self-check-in, baggage consolidation, and cargo handling, for the airside with mixed solutions. Of course, there will be a different focus for tier 1, those that have gone from airport 1.0 to airport 2.0 in terms of adopting these solutions.

Yet, even amidst the pandemic, Waqas believes that every crisis has opportunities.

Waqas Sheikh
Vice President - Asia
ADB Safegate

“The pandemic has acted as a catalyst,” said Waqas. “Airports now have the opportunity to think that the pace (of IT adoption) has to be increased now, and they have to go to the next level.”

It means those airports at a maturity of 2.0 or 3.0, they are thinking of being more of a smart airport, increasing this automation, bringing more digitization in the operation, not only on the terminal side, but across the stakeholders

That’s a unique opportunity for the tier 1 airports – that they are really looking into all their operations, with the attempt to figure out how to orchestrate this digitalization in different areas, Waqas noted. If you compare this with the tier 2 and tier 3 airports, they are looking to deploy new technologies, green technologies, power efficient technologies, and thus, can bring more digital transformation on their side as well.

According to Sunil, technology underlines every business division and operational activity that you do at the airport.

“Without getting into the solution, I think we can look at what is it that is going to motivate airports to invest in technology going forward. And it really depends on who you speak to – the CEO, the COO or the CIO – each of them have different considerations,” Sunil explained.

Sunil Ankalgi
Head of Sales and Account Management,
Airport IT, APAC

“Expanding on this, Sunil offered that generally speaking, from the CEO’s perspective, the topic of environment and social governance come into play; this means reducing the airport’s carbon footprint – that is key to the agenda.

“There is also a focus on revenue diversification – where can I generate more revenue and how can technology help me do that,” Sunil continued, adding that apart from that, there is also the matrix of airport service quality, and passenger experience also being key on the mind of CEOs.

From a COO’s perspective, it is about technologies that will help support IT as well as operations, to innovate services. Data that gives more visibility on the ground in terms of business analytics and, business intelligence can promote increasing implementation of artificial intelligence on automation in terms of activities that happen at the airport – all these ultimately to increase terminal and passenger capacities, culminating in the growth of passenger experience at the airport.

COOs are also very much emboldened by what is high on the agenda – that is to turn around the aircraft as fast as possible and as efficiently as possible because money is made as long as the aircraft is in the air, and not sitting on the ground.

“So, technology underlies these things,” Sunil continued. “When you speak to CIOs/CTOs, what I see is that they are looking progressively into innovation, and in order to innovate, they are looking at partnerships, rather than vendors, and that’s a trend.

“Thus, the CIOs are looking at the organization of technologies so providers can be partnered with them, not just be available as vendors.

“They are looking to reduce complexities, increase operational flexibility, and provide more service options to passengers, in terms of the way passengers flow, as well as bags flow through the airport.

“And it’s all about different silos having more integration, so that data flows across – that nothing is holding back data from anyone who needs it at the right time. And these are the kinds of areas that we will see in the next few years occupying everyone’s mind, along with the technologies that are supporting it,” Sunil offered.

But one common thing that cuts across all these stakeholders, according to Sunil, whether they are the CEOs, CIOs, COOs, is security; security in terms of physical and cyber security, as well as safety – that is the health and safety of passengers.

Shantanu noted an important point Sunil brought up, and that’s to do with reducing the turnaround time. However, Shantanu also commented that because of the pandemic, the aspect of the turnaround time has completely changed.

“I think the previously attainable turnaround time has now become very difficult for airlines and airports given the changes in SOPs,” Shantanu accentuated. “So, these goals were there, but now, how are these priorities changing, and how are airports adapting to these changes,” Shantanu probed, understanding that every stakeholder will have their own new requirements going forward.

Shantanu Gangakhedkar
Frost & Sullivan Asia Pacific

So, is technology the only answer or are they different ways in which these specific priorities can be attained by airports?

This question and more are asked in the first of a series of pragmatic webinars by Inter Airport Asia. 

Watch the session on demand @ PLUGGED-IN SERIES (interairport-southeastasia.com)