COVID-19: Delivering touchless travel at Norway’s airports

Brede Nielsen by Brede Nielsen | Sep 10, 2020

In July, our airports were operating at around 27% capacity as we prepared to head into the summer holiday season here in Norway. Aviation is critical in Norway: our domestic routes are some of the busiest in Europe due to our unique geography that requires air travel.

As my team and I sat around the table back in mid-March, we discussed how we could work with our partners to re-think our self-service experience to make flying from Avinor airports safer and more convenient. We wanted to restore traveller confidence so people understood that we’d done everything possible to make flying safe again.

It became clear we needed to deliver on the much discussed ‘touchless travel’ experience. However, there were a couple of challenges that I suspect are common to most airports right now: we didn’t have much to invest and we didn’t have much time. It was clear this wasn’t going to be a typical IT project.

Maximizing existing IT investments to move quickly

Fortunately Avinor, like most Norwegians actually, has always believed in the power of technology to improve how we operate. That meant we were one of the first airport groups to move to cloud computing back in 2015 when we began working with Amadeus, which has given us a significant head start with our move to touchless.

The key question quickly became: how do we use what we already have to deliver this in today’s landscape?

We know there are some very compelling biometric solutions beginning to hit the market but on this occasion we needed something quicker and cost-effective.

Our airline partners already offer online and mobile check-in with take-up rates far above 90% in Norway. We have invested in self-serve kiosks for years and we also have pre-security ticket validation and boarding that works touchlessly (gates are operated by scanning a barcode boarding pass). For Avinor, like many others, the stumbling block has always been baggage. How can we enable passengers to print a bag-tag without touching the kiosk? And then how can they self-load the tagged bag on to the self-bag drop safely?

Realistically, we knew it was going to be domestic demand that returned first and so it was critical that our partners at Norwegian, SAS and Widerøe could offer the touchless service to their passengers. But we also needed the solution to be capable of working for any airline that wants to turn it on. Amadeus was able to help us here.

My team and the team at Amadeus and ICM worked closely together to define, design, and build a new CUSS application that delivers the functionality we need. Now, when a passenger presents a mobile or home-printed boarding pass, a bag-tag is automatically printed without the need to touch the kiosk screen. But what about injecting it into the baggage flow?

Credit here goes to our in-house team at Avinor who devised a way to mount barcode scanners on racks where bags are deposited at the self bag-drop machines. The newly mounted scanners continually scan for a barcode and replace previously hand-held scanning guns, removing another touchpoint.

Scaling the touchless service

We operate 44 airports at Avinor and many of those have self-serve kiosks that we’re currently in the process of upgrading to touchless, all in all we expect to upgrade 200 kiosks. We began at Oslo in July, quickly followed by Bergen, Stavanger and Trondheim, which together represent more than 66% of all departures, and we plan to equip a further 12 airports soon.

There have been some teething problems along the way because this has been an improvised response from the beginning, we didn’t have six months to define stakeholder requirements, we had closer to six days. The crisis has forced us all, Avinor, our airline partners and Amadeus to be agile and to experiment. I believe that engineering spirit, which is deeply engrained in our industry will be important for everyone as we prepare for recovery.

After a prolonged period of forced separation the world needs air travel now more than ever before. It brings us together, connects us with those we care about, and supports economic activity. My advice to peers and colleagues at the moment is to come together to embrace a spirit of experimentation, try new things and to improvise in order to restore traveller confidence. It’s only by working together as partners that we can make the improvements travellers demand.  

The article was provided by a third party and, as such, the views expressed therein and/or presented are their own and may not represent or reflect the views of ACI, its management, Board, or members. Readers should not act on the basis of any information contained in the blog without referring to applicable laws and regulations and/or without appropriate professional advice.

Brede Nielsen

Brede Nielsen

Group CIO, Avinor
Brede Nielsen has held the position of CIO at Avinor Group AS since 2013, a company responsible for 44 airports in Norway. 51m passengers a year travel through Avinor’s airports, which offer high standards of self service and automatic processes to passengers, airlines and partners. His dual focus is to ensure stable and safe operations as well as fostering innovation for our business by involving the ecosystem nationally and internationally around our airports. An engineer by training, Brede has held C-level positions in telecoms, finance, and IT companies.
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