The aviation industry is undoubtedly one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Airports Council International has estimated a loss of approximately 60% of passenger traffic and over US $104.5 billion airport revenues in 2020 compared to 2019. As per International Air Transport Association (IATA), the passenger traffic will not return to levels before the pandemic until 2024.
Traditionally, airports have enjoyed several years of continuous growth and never had to fight for their economic survival even during the recession period. However, the current pandemic has completely disrupted air travel, and airports are finding themselves in unchartered territory.
While these are certainly challenging times, the new normal has laid out an opportunity for airports to reimagine the future and emerge stronger from the COVID-19 impact. And, technology will play a key role in enabling this.
Based on our experience with leading airports across the globe, we share with you a practitioner’s view on the five ways airports can leverage technology to emerge stronger from COVID-19 impact:
1) Enable contactless passenger journey and passenger engagement
- A contactless passenger journey at the airport is the top priority when it comes to restoring passenger confidence and restarting airport operations. The pandemic has expedited the collaboration efforts of government agencies, airlines, and airports in introducing contactless passenger processing measures including biometric and less-invasive security screening methods. In the short term, airports can adopt contactless check-in and bag-drop solutions that provide immediate benefits by leveraging existing systems without requiring significant investments. Also, airports can eliminate long queues from security and boarding processes by leveraging virtual queueing and ‘Zero Queue’ Boarding solutions.
- While airports focus on reducing touchpoints through the airport journey, it is imperative for airports to improve passenger engagement to ensure they are aligning with changing passenger expectations and measuring effectiveness of the newly introduced measures. Omni-channel passenger engagement, self-service and AI-enabled automation through website, contact center, and social media will be key as passengers navigate through rapidly changing regulations around travel. Knowing passengers’ views and perceptions through advanced analytics based on social and traditional media channels as well as touchless feedback mechanisms while at the airport will be key.
2) Create non-aero / non-passenger avenues of revenue
- Airports need to adopt e-commerce to continue driving non-aero revenue from passengers through parking, duty free, retail and F&B services. There is a further potential to explore monetizing value-add services.
- Traditionally, a major part of the airport’s revenue, aero or non-aero, was directly linked to passengers, and the drastic drop in passenger traffic has forced airports to focus on non-passenger revenue opportunities like cargo. They are also exploring other business opportunities leveraging their assets like real estate, parking and terminal facilis.
3) Drive operational cost reduction
- Before the COVID-19 crisis, most airports were struggling to manage passenger growth. With reduced operations, airports now have significantly reduced cash flow and excess capacity, assets and staff that are disproportionate to the reduced demand. In such scenario, reducing operational expenses becomes key to financial sustainability. While most airports have announced staff reductions, shutdown of facilities, and significant reduction in discretionary spending, there are other opportunities to reduce operational expenditure particularly on IT and back office functions like Finance, HR and Sourcing. Airports can leverage an IT partner that can bring synergies through multi-airport shared services and hyper automation, which airports cannot achieve by themselves.
4) Empower remote workforce
- Remote working staff is the new reality for most organizations, and airports are no exception. As airports staff adapt to the new way of working, it is important for airports to enable their staff with right tools and technologies to facilitate seamless collaboration. While collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom have eased a lot of pain, there are further opportunities, such as cloud enabled systems (accessible anywhere), virtual desktops, process digitization / automation, remote monitoring of operational systems and augmented reality enabled maintenance operations. These measures will significantly help improve productivity and collaboration for airports staff and support them in remote working.
5) Ensure staff health and safety
- As the airports and airlines restart their operations and staff start returning to workplace, airports need to enable safe working environment and be prepared to act swiftly and effectively in case of any outbreak. Investing in social distancing wearables for airport staff can help enforce social distancing and provide effective contract tracing ability to the airports. Without such capability, the airports are exposed to the risk of outbreaks and significant impact to airport operations. In addition, the airports can leverage other tools like self-declaration and thermal screening for airport staff to promote healthy and safe working environment.
A resilient future led by technology
Many new airport technology solutions will evolve rapidly, needing airports to be nimble and flexible, and embrace accelerated innovation in their approach. Airports are increasingly realizing that having a strategic IT partner can greatly help them navigate through these turbulent times. If the airports focus on the long-term strategic perspective, they can turn this crisis into an opportunity and emerge stronger on the other side.
You need to make the right decisions to recover and succeed in the new normal. Connect with us here to know how we can support you on this journey towards a resilient future.