The Covid-19 pandemic will accelerate innovation and digital transformation projects in the majority of businesses with increased industry collaboration an upshot of the crisis

2 June, 2020

As airlines, airports and their air transport sector partners continue to plot the industry's recovery from the Covid-19 crisis, a focus on innovation, and investment in technologies such as touchless biometrics, self-service, automation, and mobile devices and apps, will have a crucial role to play, according to new research from Fast Future, Future Travel Experience (FTE), and the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX).

The Impacts of Covid-19 on Innovation and Digital Transformation in Air Transport report is the second instalment of the partners' Air Transport 2035 series and explores how air transport industry stakeholders see the coronavirus pandemic affecting their current priorities and future strategies for innovation and digital transformation.

A global survey conducted as part of the report found that almost two thirds (63.7%) of respondents expect the Covid-19 crisis to accelerate innovation and digital transformation projects within their organisation. Around a fifth (19.2%) expect their organisation to continue with their pre-coronavirus plans, while a slightly smaller percentage (17.1%) expect innovation and digital transformation projects to be delayed.

More than three-quarters of respondents (77.4%) expect to see increased adoption of "touchless" biometrics to verify passenger identity, a similar number (74.8%) anticipating greater use of self-service and automation for passenger processing.

Over two thirds (69.2%) are also expecting to see technology used to identify passengers displaying COVID-19 symptoms and an increased in the use of mobile devices and apps to assist or control the passenger journey (67.1%), while more than half (58.6%) see an increase in the use of technology to identify staff displaying coronavirus symptoms (58.6%).

At the other end of the scale, despite a number of trials being announced, globally only a quarter (27.4%) of respondents anticipate the use of robots for customer service tasks.

Looking at the impact that Covid-19 will have in the aircraft cabin, cleanliness and sanitisation are highest on the list of priority actions, with almost nine in ten (87.7%) undertaking, or expecting to see, increased efforts to clean and sanitise the cabin. A further two-thirds (69%) expect to see increased availability of crew personal protective equipment (PPE), while 65.3% anticipate increased passenger communication regarding cleaning/sanitisation measures.

The research shows that a further 59.4% expect enhanced crew training in handling passengers showing Covid-19 symptoms. The majority of respondents also expect to see increased availability of passenger PPE (56.2%), and new forms of catering and service delivery to minimise passenger-crew engagement (53.9%).

Interestingly, and a clear positive outcome of the crisis, the report also reveals that 84.6% believe Covid-19 will lead to increased collaboration between industry stakeholders. The research highlights vital areas in which collaboration should be embraced to support the industry's recovery.

Alongside greater collaboration between internal departments to speed up issue response and routine processes, participants believe airlines, airports, and governments should work more closely together for the good of the sector.

For instance, it is suggested that airlines and airports should be encouraged to enhance real time data sharing and to create direct support links for each aircraft with destination medical teams to update in real time on possible on-board infections. Furthermore, the air transport industry is encouraged to work with governments to enable the exchange of passenger symptom and infection status information with their consent.