How Internet of Things Can Alter Air Travel Experience

by CXOtoday News Desk    Mar 28, 2016


The ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) that is changing the global business scenario, is also coming to air travel. A report from global IT provider SITA has revealed that the IoT will provide seamless self-service to passengers at different airports and airlines, across the world including in India. Most airport authorities and airlines are planning to invest in mobile services for passengers, while airports are expected to fund self-service processes, the report predicted.

‘The Future is Connected’ report shows that about 83 percent of passengers have smartphones at the airport. Also Smartphones are reshaping travel behavior and with growth rates of around 80 percent or more at the check-in and boarding pass stages, it is clear that air travelers are keen to use this unifying technology, the report stated.

“Half of airlines expect to have IoT initiatives up and running over the next three years. Meanwhile, airports are building the infrastructure to support IoT. Together, this will deliver improved operations and will lead to a change in the passengers’ experience,” said Nigel Pickford, director Market Insight, SITA, in a statement.

Those featured include Changi Airport Group, Mumbai International Airport, Air New Zealand, Miami International Airport, along with industry perspectives from Airports Council International (ACI).

The IoT market will be phenomenal in the next few years. Research firm Gartner predicted that there will be 25 billion connected things in use by 2020. Cisco ISBG predicts over 50 billion connected devices around the same time. These devices will, for the most part, be communicating with each other to negotiate and organize themselves, communicating with people and machines to perform a function.

The technologies that enable IoT include the latest version of the internet communications protocol, IPv6, which allows for trillions of nodes (or IP addresses) on the internet and wireless proximity-detecting technologies, such as Bluetooth low energy (BLE) beacons, sensors, radio frequency identification tags and near-field communications. As the survey reveals that broadly two-fifths of airlines are planning to use beacons at bag drop, baggage claim and check-in by the end of 2018.

For the airline sector, IoT offers multiple opportunities to improve operational efficiency and offer increased personalization to passengers. It may even have the potential to change business models. In fact, there is so much opportunity that the challenge currently is where to focus efforts.

Among airlines that have started experimenting with IoT, there are projects to improve passenger experience, baggage handling, tracking pets in transit, equipment monitoring, and generating fuel efficiency. However, in an industry still struggling with integration across legacy systems chief information officers face challenges in getting the underlying architecture right as well as addressing security issues.

Most airline CXOs are aware of the benefits IoT presents, reveals the SITA report, which shows that two-thirds of them believe IoT offers clear benefits for their airline presently and 86 percent says IoT will generate benefits over the next three years.

Today, 37 percent of airlines have already allocated a budget for IoT implementation, according to the study; however, over the next three years 58 percent are planning to invest resources into IoT, with the emphasis on pilot projects, although 16 percent are preparing for major programs.

In a recent blog, Dave Bartlett, technology chief at GE Aviation mentioned, IoT has the potential to alleviate some of the key pain-points along the passenger’s journey for all involved, namely luggage handling and connecting between flights. “For example, being able to track your bags from a smartphone app or even the bags tracking your location. The bag senses when you enter the luggage area and selects the carousel you are standing closest to and enters that carousel. Another challenge is the anxiety felt by passengers over tight connections. Permission-based sensing of the passengers at airports could help airlines to make better informed decisions about when to wait and when to close the door.

For passengers, this will translate into a better informed journey, with around half of airlines planning to use them to deliver flight and gate information to passengers’ mobile devices and to help passengers find their way to check-in desks, lounges or gates. Additionally, 40% of airlines plan to utilize them to provide their passengers with information about bag collection.

The Survey indicates that check-in is the passenger journey stage that will benefit most from IoT technologies with 42 percent of airlines saying it is the top priority for them. Baggage handling is also high on the list of journey stages that will benefit from IoT, 40 percent of airlines have earmarked bag drop in their top three priorities. 

However, today’s use of IoT technologies for greater efficiency demands that with more and more data coming to the fore, there will be a need to manage vast amounts of data chatter and often provide heavy-lift data processing to devices that do not innately have that capability. Herein lies a key challenge for airline CIOs, the study noted.

CIOs will therefore need to focus on getting the architecture right for IoT. “The IoT value will only come alive if smart machine learning algorithms are able to garner insight from the data collected from the sensors and suggest actions in real time. Such architectural components will be crucial to making IoT happen and driving true business value out of the implementations.”

Another issue will be the airline sector’s dependence on legacy systems. They need to work a lot on interoperability. The starting point is to build IoT gateways and application program interface layers to ensure that you have a platform that you can build from, believe experts.

The other challenge will of course be security. For CIOs, there is a need for protecting critical infrastructure and helping to ensure the reliability of industrial internet operations for airlines and passengers. Decision makers in the airlines industry will also need to focus on building awareness around IoT and also start collecting data and information that could be used to generate business value, they believe.