Hani El-Assaad Hani El-Assaad

Hani El-Assaad, President, Middle East, India and Africa SITA

IN LIGHT OF THE ACCELERATED TRAFFIC GROWTH PREDICTED FOR MENA AIRPORTS IN THE COMING YEARS, HUBS IN THE REGION ARE INVESTING TO FURTHER IMPROVE SAFETY AND SECURITY WITHOUT IMPOSING UNNECESSARY BURDENS ON TRAVELLERS.

HANI EL-ASSAAD, PRESIDENT, MIDDLE EAST, INDIA AND AFRICA, SITA, EXPLAINS WHY THE USE OF SMART TECHNOLOGY PLAYS A KEYROLE IN IMPROVING AND SPEEDING UP PROCESSES THROUGHOUT THE REGION’S AIRPORTS.

TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: How does smart technology enhances passengers' experience in airports around the world and how does SITA help make travellers' experience more efficient, secure and convenient?

HANI EL-ASSAAD: The advent of new technology provides passengers with more control over their journey and eases their movement through the airport.

For example, many airlines and airports are using mobile and beacon technology to deliver personalised information through mobile services and applications, whether it is way-finding, gate changes or commercial offers.

This allows passengers to manage their own check-in, pass through immigration quickly and find the services they need in the airport, all from their mobile phone.

It is not surprising that airports have been investing in installing smart technology rapidly across the region to make a passenger's experience more efficient, secure and convenient.

A secure walkthrough experience, from check-in to the aircraft door, has been an ambition of the best airports around the world for some time and is fast becoming a reality.

At SITA we have taken a step closer to making this a reality with Smart Path, which captures a passenger's biometric details through a facial scan at the first touch point in the journey.

Once checked against the passenger's travel documents, a secure single token is created.

Then, at every step in the journey, whether self-bag drop, at border control or aircraft boarding, facial scanning removes the need to show a passport or boarding card, making for a smooth passage through the airport. [...] There is also strong interest in this service from customers in the Middle East, the US and Europe.

TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: How crucial is the implementation of smart technology for the improvement of passengers' experience at MENA airports?

HANI EL-ASSAAD: The MENA region boasts some of the most innovative airports globally, using cutting-edge technology to ease the flow of passengers through the airport to maximise their investment on one hand, while offering a great passenger experience on the other.

[...] SITA's Airport IT Trends Survey indicated that IT spending by airports is likely to surpass the USD9 billion mark this year.

Furthermore, chief information officers are forecasting higher budgets for 2018 with 58 percent expecting an increase over this year and 29 percent expecting their budget to stay the same.

The Passenger IT Trends Survey, carried out by SITA across the UAE's main airports showed that increasingly passengers use self-service technology to book check-in and access their boarding pass.

All these investments are aimed at enhancing the passenger experience while achieving operational efficiency and reducing costs.

Therefore, in the coming years, we expect more passengers to make the switch to selfservice rather than face-to-face transactions.

For example, airline travellers in the UAE are increasingly using selfservice technology to better manage each step of their journey and to make the most of their time in the airport to relax, shop and dine.

A total of 48 percent of UAE travellers use self-service technology where available rather than interact with a person.

Technology will also play a key role in helping airports in the region manage a growing number of passengers.

Enhancing capacity and ensuring seamless operations is one of the primary drivers for GCC airports, which are expected to handle 450 million passengers by 2020.

Within the airport community, efforts are concentrated on transforming data coming in from all areas of the airport and beyond into knowledge that will inform decision making and ensure those insights are visible to their staff. [...]

TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: What does the future hold in terms of smart technology at airports?

HANI EL-ASSAD: Looking forward 10 years, technologies and processes supported by artificial intelligence and the internet of things, among others, will Introduce a major shift in how airports operate and how passengers travel.

However, to accomplish this transformation will require new kinds of data sharing, common-use systems, government engagement and integration of future modes of high-speed ground transportation.

There is already activity in many of these areas, including the research we do in SITA Lab, initiatives by International Air Transport Association and International Civil Aviation Organization, and engagements with governments to start determine the way forward.