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Airlines CIOs Prioritize a Contactless Future for Passenger Safety

CIOs of major airlines are looking at greater automation efforts and are prioritizing a contactless future, says a new study.


The aviation industry has been focusing on using innovative technologies to improve efficiencies, security, and enhance the passenger experience in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic has refocused IT spending priorities for airlines and airports in 2020 as revenue plunged and the industry faced new health and operational requirements needed to keep flying. In such a scenario, CIOs of major airlines are cautiously optimistic about their IT spends in the next 1-2 years, even though they are looking at greater automation for operational efficiency and are prioritizing a contactless future for staff and passenger safety.

Making customer experience touchless

A recent report on SITA’s 2020 Air Transport IT Insights showed an accelerated investment in automated passenger processing focusing on touchless and mobile services. There was also a strong focus on virtual and remote IT services that allowed employees to work from home while ensuring the right communications with passengers. Cybersecurity and cloud services that helped automate operations and drive new efficiencies were the key.

In 2020, SITA data showed that flight volumes plunged 44% year-on-year due to the pandemic. As a result of this impact on demand, IATA forecast the airline industry’s full-year loss at $118 billion.

“The severe slowdown in 2020 forced the air transport industry to focus on driving new cost efficiencies. Adding to the pressure, airlines and airports had to rapidly incorporate new health measures such as touchless passenger processing and the handling of new health information and protocols, including PCR testing in many destinations,” said David Lavorel, CEO SITA at Airports & Borders.

He believes these efforts have been made in a market that continues to face rapid changes in air travel regulations that make operational planning volatile and last minute.

“To solve these challenges, the industry has turned to technology and, in many cases, reprioritized where they invested in 2020. The good news is that airlines and airports were able to capitalize on existing trends to automation and have made significant strides in implementing new solutions that will bring new improvements for the passenger now and into the future.”

Towards a data driven, automated future

Making the check-in process completely touchless is now the main priority for airports and airlines to safeguard passenger and staff health and safety protocol, improve the passenger experience and drive efficiency. With most customers looking for mobile touchless payment options for all services, eight out of 10 airlines are focused on enabling self-bag drop for passengers. All essential customer services will become contactless from booking to arrival, including automated lounge access and mobile delayed baggage reporting.

Another key area Biometric technology is the focus for airport investment with 64% of airports aiming to roll out self-boarding gates using biometric & ID documentation by 2023, three times as many as in 2020. Airlines have doubled implementations and plan to double investment for self-boarding using biometric & ID documentation in the next 1-2 years.

At the same time, managing and integrating data will become more commonplace with integrated Airport Operations Control Center (AOCC) implemented by 72% of airports in 2020, up from 50% in the previous year. The report predicts almost all the major airports will have integrated AOCC to concentrate on more proactive decision making and saving costs at every step.

Airline mobile applications for passenger services are a priority with nearly all (97%) of airlines having major programs and R&D in place by 2023. At present, many airports around the globe (56%) have implemented dashboards harnessing data to improve operational efficiency. By 2023 the majority of airlines will send passengers real-time notifications on their mobile devices about their bags and plan to provide real-time bag-tracking information for staff, it noted.

In response to the pandemic, most airlines and airports are investing more in in-house virtual and remote IT services allowing employees to work in a more agile and effective way while speeding up communications with passengers. Almost three-quarters of airports and airlines will continue to invest in data exchange, cloud services, cybersecurity, and business intelligence to accelerate their digital airport processes. This includes increasing services on passenger mobile apps and ensuring staff services are accessible via mobile or tablets.

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Sohini Bagchi
Sohini Bagchi is Editor at CXOToday, a published author and a storyteller. She can be reached at