COVID-19 has caused an unprecedented challenge to the aviation industry, requiring lower IT spend in line with depleted traffic levels. As the industry continues to recover, with certain States such as the U.K aiming to now live with COVID, and drop testing for fully vaccinated travelers, there appears to be some hope for the sector in 2022. 81% of airports in the latest IT Trends survey by ACI World and SITA show that they are looking to maintain or even grow their IT spend in 2022. The planned spend at airports was 5.1bn USD in 2021, up from an actual spend of 4.1bn USD in 2020. Whilst this is only 50% of actual spend in the pre-pandemic year of 2019, the signs are an encouraging trend.
As expected, whilst the pandemic continues, there is much focus on digital transformation at airports. ACI World released an updated Digital Transformation handbook in 2021, designed to support airports in their planning and rollout of the journey. This is a way airport can look to:
- Reduce OPEX through staffing costs.
- Simplify the passenger experience
- Implement self-service solutions including touchless processes
- Continue with biometrics rollouts.
All of these initiatives are crucial for recovery by reducing the face-to-face contact with airport staff. This adds to hygienic journeys and the welfare of passengers and staff, but also boosts an airport’s bottom line with lower OPEX. This helps airports with their staff management as it is becoming increasingly difficult for airports to hire front line workers a many have left the sector since the first wave of the pandemic and don’t appear to be rushing back. This is evident by 84% of airports implementing self-service technology in 2022, with 86% of airports using cloud infrastructure to make this a seamless possibility.
Biometric ID management has been spoken about for the last decade, but only recently has it really been integrated into multiple airports, except perhaps in the case of border solutions. Nearly three quarters of airports will invest in biometric technology by 2024 improving security and operational efficiency for airports. We will see this not just at border control, but throughout the journey from check-in to self-boarding solutions aiming to reduce costs for both airports and airlines and quickening up the transaction times versus traditional manual processing.
Whilst we may be stating the obvious that airports will invest in touchless processes, one area that has been steadily rising in investment from airports is within cybersecurity. Due to the increasing dependence on technology and digital services, 94% of airport CIO’s will be spending some amount on cyber protection by 2024. ACI also serves its members by offering cyber support with different products available including our cyber self-assessment tool, Airport C-Suite executive level questionnaire and advisory services.
Two other key takeaways this year that are worth noting is in the area of business intelligence as airports look for ways to improve service and spend per passenger, as-well as the ultimate sustainability goal. Airports are looking to differentiate themselves based on environmental factors and it is clear reducing the carbon footprint at airports can be supported by a strategy of green IT.
As the industry continues to battle through different phases of the pandemic, we can see clearly that the light isn’t at the end of the tunnel, it is in our skies. Airports now take IT to be an enabler for rapid, efficient, safe, and seamless journeys. The continued and substantial investment in IT throughout the industry is very encouraging, despite it still being a global pandemic.