Driving transformation in aviation in 2020 and beyond

Serge Yonke Nguewo by Serge Yonke Nguewo | Dec 19, 2019

Technology and digital thought leaders from airports across the globe, along with executives from partner technology companies, came together for the 15th ACI World Airport IT Standing Committee (WAITSC) which took place in December in Hong Kong.

The committee discussed how its collective experience and expertise can make the WAITSC a driving force to shape the aviation industry of tomorrow and reaffirmed its mission to provide digital and technology leadership to drive the transformation of Air Transport Industry (ATI).

This was against the backdrop of Air Transport IT Insights 2019 Report, the long-established benchmark for technology trends based on annual surveys conducted by SITA, that shows a further increase in technology investments by airports.

The committee emphasized the need to accelerate adoption of technology in tackling top industry challenges, including climate change, energy conservation, airport safety and security (including cyber security), operational efficiency and resource effectiveness.

Specific discussion topics included Cyber Security, Information Exchange Standards, Digital Transformation of Airports, Airport Digital Twin and Airport Smart Data hub; spanning the four crucial pillars of WAITSC strategy: Standards, Resilience, Collaboration and Innovation.

The future of data exchange standards

The committee reviewed the progress of its ACRIS (Aviation Community Recommended Information Services) Working Group, a community of airport IT professionals and business partners, that was formed and tasked by ACI to develop aviation industry information classification and exchange standards to enable seamless exchange of information between airports and their stakeholders.

Major accomplishments of ACRIS in 2019 included delivery of an Application Programming Interface (API) that makes airport Security Checkpoint Wait Time information readily accessible to interested stakeholders through ACI API platform. The Working Group is now focusing on developing a Concession API. The group will meet in February 2020. Prominent on the agenda: how to further drive ATI adoption of these crucial standards.

Acknowledging that majority of ACI airport members use common use systems, the committee heard how today’s common use systems are not keeping pace with the swift technological advancements and business demands. The committee called on the vendors of common use systems and IATA to come together with WAITSC to develop a new set of common use APIs that will enable business agility and lower cost of operations for both airlines and airports. The committee nominated a task-force comprising members to advance this objective.

Resilience to cyber attacks on the agenda

The committee recognized the need for the industry to improve cybersecurity measures, and in acknowledging the evolving and increasing cyber attack threats to airports, urged ACI airport members to raise their focus on implementing cyber security controls.

The committee recognized the development of ACI Cybersecurity for Airport Executives Handbook by WAITSC Cybersecurity Task Force during 2019 as an outstanding effort to help airport executives and senior management understand, in simple language, about real and present cyber threats that have the potential to disrupt core IT systems and infrastructure, resulting in complete melt-down of operations. The expectation is that such understanding and awareness will encourage establishment of a cybersecurity culture sponsored and driven from the top.

In addition, the committee also reviewed progress on development of the Cybersecurity Implementation Handbook, which takes the topic of cybersecurity further by providing detailed guidance on how an airport organization can implement a full cybersecurity program. This second handbook will be published in early 2020.

Further on the topic of safety and security, the committee discussed how technology can help in tackling the vulnerability of airports to drone attacks. On this topic, it was agreed to that WAITSC will collaborate with ACI Aviation Security Standing Committee, which is leading efforts in this regard.

Collaboration is the key

Following the tremendous success of the 1st edition of the Airport Digital Transformation Best Practice Handbook published in 2017, the WAITSC Digital Transformation Task Force has been working on updating the handbook with the latest emerging technologies and digital concepts to ensure that the handbook remains current and the definitive reference of choice for the airports to initiate and advance their digital transformation programs. Accordingly, the 2nd edition will be published in Q1 2020.

Furthermore, the committee recently conducted a Digital Transformation survey to create a reference benchmark based on self-assessment by 98 airports.  The benchmark provides all airports a unique opportunity to assess maturity and progress of their digital transformation journeys. The results of the survey revealed fascinating insights that will be reflected in the 2nd edition of DT handbook.

Finally, the handbook will be complemented with 15 best practices collected from airports worldwide to demonstrate practical examples of digital innovation and transformation, highlighting the business opportunity, solution and business outcomes.  The willingness by the member airports to share leading-edge concepts with the peers and industry at-large is an embodiment of the “collaboration” pillar of ACI WAITSC.

Innovation and the future or airports

The committee acknowledged the value of and encouraged airports and vendors to develop and adopt the Airport Digital Twin, a cyberspace replica of the airport, where many of the current valuable technology trends would come together. An airport Digital Twin will collect real-time information from diverse IT systems, sensors, and social media to provide dynamic visual and spatial alerts about operational, security, safety and customer experience events and exceptions in a 3D model of the airport, to enable timely and proactive prevention and recovery, helping transform airport operational efficiency and effectiveness as well as enhancing passenger experience. The committee agreed to publish a white paper on how a Digital Twin can be a foundational issue for airports that want to utilize the full capabilities of modern technologies in the future and will allow passengers and others to digitally interact with the airport.

The taskforce on Smart Datahub – the technology that enables airports to tap into the potential of data science and Artificial Intelligence – gave a promising status update. The team expect to deliver the first version of their handbook on how airports can start, scale up and rollout their data hubs, in the second half of 2020.

The committee also discussed new technologies to help passengers with disabilities at the airport, the application of artificial intelligence to support prediction and forecasting and the use of blockchain technologies to address bag tracking challenges.

What’s next for WAITSC?

Expectations are high for the impact Technology will make in aviation. The WAITSC committed to the following deliverables for 2020 but also promised to be agile if new developments would require immediate support in transforming our industry.

Serge Yonke Nguewo

Serge Yonke Nguewo

Senior Manager, Facilitation and IT, ACI World
Serge is responsible for overseeing the Airport IT technology portfolio such the Standard ACRIS as well as the Airport Digital Transformation including the cyber security course.
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