The trends shaping airline and airport operations in 2022, according to Amadeus’s Holger Mattig
Guest Post: How airline and airport technology is supporting greater collaboration
The trends shaping airline and airport operations in 2022, according to Holger Mattig, Amadeus senior vice president product management, airport IT and airline operations
Airports continue to face significant challenges as passenger numbers fluctuate and the demands of cancellations, route changes and changing passenger requirements, and constant modification of travel regulations place continued strain on operations.
I believe 2021 marked a tipping point for airports. This was the moment that our industry generally agreed we need to reconsider the way things have always been done in order to meet these new challenges.
Airports and airlines have recognised there is an opportunity to rebuild from the pandemic to be more agile, more data-driven, and more creative than ever before.
Removing friction with a single system for automated document checks
The past few years have highlighted the complexity of travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For many years, passengers have been used to applying for visas when travelling.
Today, travellers often need to use an additional online portal to make health declarations or to provide vaccination status before travel.
Airlines then have the new requirement to collect and review all of these documents before they transport the passenger from A to B – failure to do so often results in the costly repatriation of the passenger when they are denied entry.
In the future, I believe technology can greatly simplify this challenge for both airlines and travellers.
We’re likely to see individual government portals for entry documentation replaced by one, or far fewer, centralised portals.
The traveller could interact with a single system to provide entry documents in advance of travel, with airline and airport systems (including biometrics) already integrated.
This would allow airlines to automatically receive advance confirmation that a passenger has the right documents to enter a country and potentially remove the need for passengers to continually provide visa and health documents to airline agents during their journey.
Say goodbye to bags at the airport?
Airports would ideally like to minimize processes like check-in, baggage, security and boarding to free up additional space, with technology helping to make these steps automated and fast.
Ideally, we’d like these processes to merge into the background so passengers can either arrive later or spend more time enjoying the airport’s facilities. It’s hard to imagine an airport without check-in, security and boarding but perhaps there’s an alternative way to approach baggage.
Rather than ask passengers to bring heavy bags to the terminal so they can be processed and transported in the hold of the passenger aircraft, why not transport bags using the international freight network?
Moving forward, we are likely to see airlines enter partnerships with logistics firms so a passenger’s bag can be collected in advance of travel and shipped to their destination, like any other international package.
Bags can be more easily tracked with regular updates as they reach different stages in the shipping journey.
This move would free additional space at the terminal as large baggage sorting infrastructure would no longer be required so more of the terminal could be dedicated to leisure activities like retail and dining, whilst further reducing steps the passenger needs to complete on-site.
This isn’t likely to happen at scale in the next five years, but it’s driving long-term planning across the industry.
Predictive flight operations
Airports and the air travel network are incredibly complex environments with many moving parts that need to come together smoothly to ensure optimal safety and on-time departures.
We have Airport Collaborative Decision Making (ACDM) that provides a common situational view of when aircraft will be ready for departure, which has already made a significant contribution to improving operations across Europe.
But in the coming years, I believe there’s an opportunity to go further.
Today, the arrival times of inbound aircraft still vary by upwards of 30 minutes from what’s expected, which has knock-on implications for all companies involved.
The problem is that airlines, airports and Air Traffic Control still share information using message-based systems, without sharing the underlying data.
In the future, sharing of data and even the connection of databases via the cloud could greatly improve flight operations and enable a more integrated decision-making process.
This type of collaboration would allow machine learning algorithms to interrogate the data underlying the entire flight operation process, providing a more complete understanding for everyone. But what impact will this have?
All players will gain a more precise understanding of when aircraft will actually arrive. Ground operations teams can prepare more effectively, reducing turnaround times.
Landing and take-off slots will be better optimised so the airport can increase the number of flights on a given day.
When disruption occurs, passenger and flight schedule re-accommodation will be based on the entire picture, rather than any single airline’s own situation.
Predictive disruption management
We’re likely to see the application of Artificial Intelligence in many more areas of the industry, such as disruption management.
By bringing data together from across the industry – the entire air travel network – with external sources like weather, I expect it will become possible to predict disruption to flights days before it occurs.
Imagine receiving a ping to your mobile alerting you to the fact your flight will be delayed and recommending alternatives you can select with a single click.
From an airport perspective, this advanced notice could help to better allocate both fixed and variable resources, like staffing schedules.
It is likely to provide the time needed to shift airlines to new terminals if needed or to reallocate flights to neighbouring airports if necessary.
Ultimately, predictive disruption management promises to keep operations one step ahead of the disruption so problems can often be proactively solved before the occur.
Taking a step back, several technologies are combining to enable the trends contained in this article.
Primarily, airports moving their IT infrastructure to the cloud makes data far more accessible so it can be used in conjunction with technologies like machine learning, biometrics and APIs that help foster closer collaboration across the sector.
Despite the challenges that continue to impact airports and airlines in 2022, I’m optimistic that as we rebuild we can also significantly improve how we operate.