Digital innovation and its impact on the airport business

Guest Author by Guest Author | Apr 1, 2018

An interview with Rene Armas Maes, Managing Director, Jet Link International

Airports are testing and rolling out new biometric passenger facial recognition and fingerprint scanning devices to ease check-in and passenger flows to improve the overall passenger travel experience. As passenger traffics grows, airports are met with the task of creating more efficiency throughout their airport at every touch point. Digital innovation  will not only streamline current practices bit potentially revamp the entire airport experience.  Rene Armas Maes, Managing Director of Jet Link International provides his expert advice and unique insight into these new transformative technologies.

ACI World and SITA have forecasted airports will spend more than US$9 billion in IT investment this year. What are the top IT investment priorities for airports?

Passenger self-services continue to dominate airport IT investment strategies. These services include biometric-enabled self-services, such as bag drop, unassisted e-gate services and border clearance kiosks for travellers entering or returning to a country. In addition, mobile apps and cloud-based software, known as a SaaS platform, are top priorities especially for mega hub airports as it allows airlines and ground handlers to share physical space and IT resources at an airport. Also, one can observe a big push for location-based technology such beacon technology.

Regarding Wi-Fi strategy, we understand the discussion airports are having today on how to monetize said investment through a tiered Wi-Fi business model. But at the same time, airports are trying to push airport retail sales. Wouldn’t they contradict?

That is a very good question.  A commercial balance between free Wi-fi capabilities for basic internet browsing including retail and airport services purchase vs. more sophisticated high-speed service options should be evaluated.

In a typical airport, you will observe three classes of service with different economic models: unlimited complimentary Wi-Fi service supported by a sponsor, standard one size fits all paid services and subscription based for frequent business travellers who see the airport as an extension of their office.

But I see the opportunity to further add at least two other commercial opportunities:  

  1. Limited complimentary basic internet browsing time
  2. And a high-speed semi premium internet browsing services up to 30 Mbps (megabits per second)

Therefore, we can observe why it is important that airports consider a tiered Wi-Fi strategy because consumers have different needs. Furthermore, when it comes to connectivity there is a need to further segment your customers and optimize revenues. As an example, a premium Wi-Fi service can be offered at a discounted price in exchange of passengers’ willingness to complete a detailed passenger profile.

How can location-based technology or beacons help airports to maximize revenues and improve passenger journey through the airport?

Sensor or beacon technology can help airports understand and monitor passenger flows through the terminals especially at critical points and during peak times. Therefore, they can assist airports to avoid congestion, meet or exceed service levels and certainly optimize sales. Likewise, iBeacon-enabled mobile app can offer wayfinding for passengers to truly enjoy an immersive travel experience. A beacon located at a check-in counter area can help airports proactively manage passenger flows while minimizing bottlenecks. Collecting and analyzing this real-time data allows airports to optimize passenger flows and maximize time spent in areas with revenue potential such as airport concessionaires.

How an airport can get started in this digital transformation journey?

Today, a digital strategy for airports is a core strength.

For starters, airports need to map out passenger flows at terminals and processes to ascertain current airport travel experience by key areas from check-in to baggage claim. They must also identify where their “pain points” are by immersing themselves in their customers shoes.

Also, it is imperative to conduct a complete evaluation of the IT business from its infrastructure all the way to the operational challenges. Understanding global digital trends and identifying which technology can be employed to improve customer service, reduce cost and increase commercial operations is also a key component.

The ACI Airport Digital Transformation working group has also produced a Digital Airport Survey, which includes a self-assessment document for airports to be able to identify where they are along the digital transformation journey: from mobile app and Wi-Fi to innovation lab, chatbots and biometrics. ACI Airport Digital Transformation Best Practices also covers potential functional areas of application of digital transformation at airports. 

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ACI Airport Digital Transformation Best Practices
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To conclude, keep in mind that digitalization yields potential for both additional revenues and cost efficiency as well as improved travel experience and human capital productivity.



ACI Insights includes content provided by third parties including airports, members of ACI, World Business Partners, and others. The views expressed and/or presented by these third parties are their own and may not represent or reflect with the views of ACI, its management,  Board, or members.

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