Airport and airline CIOs ‘betting on technology’ to support recovery from COVID-19

20 January, 2022

The COVID-19 crisis has shifted the focus of IT spend among airlines and airports to automation, sustainability, and digital health, according to new research from SITA, a SITA is a multinational information technology company that provides IT and telecommunication services to the air transport industry.  

While IT budgets have stayed largely flat in 2021, airport and airline CIOs are “betting on technology” to support their recovery from COVID-19, with a “significant” increase in spending on digitalisation and sustainability as key priorities by 2024.

This is according to findings from SITA’s recently released 2021 Air Transport IT Insights publication which represents the views of more than 180 IT airport and airline decision makers across 45 countries. Based on surveys conducted during Sep-2021, the research explores emerging IT trends and the role of technology in supporting industry recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Creating a more streamlined and digitally enabled journey a priority for airlines and airports

The publication reveals a majority of airlines (84%) and airports (81%) expect to spend the same or more on IT in 2022 compared to 2021, with spending on automation of passenger processing seeing a significant rise. This compares to 56% of airlines and 67% of airports that planned investment in automated passenger service in 2021.

Creating a more streamlined and digitally enabled journey to boost passenger confidence and enhance convenience is clearly a priority for airlines and airports.

Passenger health certificate verification an area for urgent attention

The latest insight identifies passenger health certificate verification as an area for urgent attention as airlines and airports invest in digitising the process. During 2021, staff across four in five airlines (81%) resorted to performing manual verifications of health certificates in paper or scanned format. However, airlines want to automate the process over the next three years, with the majority of survey respondents investing in verification via a mobile app (51%) and nearly half investing in kiosk-enabled health checks (45%).

Digital passenger health certification is also an urgent requirement for airports with a need to standardise approaches to verification. To accommodate growing passenger traffic and anticipated congestion, nearly half of major airports surveyed said they plan to implement mobile app-enabled verification. Almost a third have plans for verification through kiosks by 2024.

Touchless and low-touch technologies ‘firmly in the investment mix’

Airline investment is also increasing in areas such as self-service through mobile services, unassisted bag drop, boarding gates, and bag notifications. Touchless and low-touch technologies – to make the journey easier, quicker, and safer – stay firmly in the investment mix, combined with investments in passenger identity management driven by biometrics. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of airports are now investing in biometric identity management solutions for passengers to drive safety and efficiency in the era of COVID-19.

Mobile, web-based, and automated services continue to grow

Mobile, web-based, and automated services continue to grow and dominate how passengers engage with airlines and pass through the airport. Through check-in, bag drop, boarding, and baggage reclaim, increasing numbers of airlines now offer self-service options supported by real-time data.

All airlines plan to offer web check-in by 2024, up from 98% today. The majority also plan to have automated check-in implemented by 2024 (65%). Implementation of unassisted bag drop is increasing (69% up from 50% in 2020, rising to 90% by 2024).

The research shows just over a third of airlines (35%) have implemented automated boarding gates, with 65% planning to have this implemented by 2024. More passengers are also receiving real-time information sent to their mobile about their bags, with 25% of airlines now offering this service (up from 13% in 2020). By 2024, 69% of airlines expect to offer this.

Cybersecurity, cloud services and mobile applications remain priorities for airlines

Airlines have maintained three top priorities for IT services investments for the next three years, according to the latest annual research. A full 100% of airlines are investing in cybersecurity initiatives, while cloud services (95%) and mobile applications for passenger services (88%) stay high on the agenda as in 2020.

Other IT services are rising significantly in priority, with the majority of airlines investing in major programmes for aircraft maintenance (86%), business intelligence (85%), and mobile applications for pilot services (85%). Again, this reflects the strong trend towards digitalisation of aircraft and cockpit to drive efficiencies, notes SITA in the report.

Airlines have moved sustainability high up the IT agenda

The research indicates that airlines are moving sustainability much higher up the IT agenda, with more than half (56%) implementing new technology to improve sustainability and a third (32%) planning to do so by 2024. Many are exploring how IT can support their sustainability goals and ambitions as they respond to pressure to reduce carbon emissions.

SITA says the findings indicate that that most airlines are now prioritising new IT to make their operations more sustainable, including data-driven flight path optimisation to enhance inflight efficiencies and reduce fuel burn. Sustainability is equally critical for airports with most implementing initiatives such as building airport infrastructure (green spaces, use of natural light, and renewable energy), widely available recycling points, and intelligent building technology and automation, according to the survey.

Digitalisation drive means growing reliance on data centres

As the air transport industry pushes towards digitalisation, there is growing reliance on data centres. The report findings show most airlines plan to adopt selection criteria for external data centre providers that favour carbon neutrality or other environmental considerations.