Airport operators, which are spending about $3-billion in IT this year, are mostly concerned with attracting new customers – but they're also afraid their IT budgets will be cut soon.
Improving customer service and satisfaction emerges as the high priority investment driver for 80% of the world's airport operators in the 5th annual Airport IT trends Survey carried out by SITA, the specialist provider of airport IT and communications, in conjunction with Airline Business and the Airports Council International (ACI).
Airports want to meet the demands of travellers by expanding self-service to include the introduction of passenger self-boarding (35%), off-airport passenger/baggage processing (32%) and common bag drop locations (33%).
Nonetheless, there are airports which appear to have been hard hit by the economic downturn and airline route cutbacks. This is reflected in the response that for 26% of airports participating in the survey, the main obstacle to achieving their IT strategy is lack of investment / reduced budget.
The Airport IT Trends Survey also looks at environmental issues for the first time and finds that 67% of respondents rate reducing their environmental footprint as a medium to high priority. The survey represents over 163 airports, with more than half of the replies coming from the top 100 airport operators in terms of revenue and passenger traffic.
Bruno Frentzel, SITA senior vice-president: application services, says: "It is clear from this year's survey that airports are operating in a very keen competitive environment. The way to attract and retain airport tenants is to ensure passenger volumes are high. There is a very sharp focus now on making the passengers' journey through the airport as pleasant as possible by minimizing queues and providing a high-tech environment to support additional functionality in the self-service domain.
"Airports are also investing in IT projects which monitor noise and local air quality as well as improved energy use and the environmental sustainability of IT resources. There appears to be a shift towards 'greener' airports which is a trend that will be worth tracking in future surveys."
Because airports have long-term IT master plans and investment programs it is not a surprise to see the level of investment (3.4%) remaining consistent with past years, increasing only slightly over 2007, reflecting an IT/telecommunications spend of close to $3-billion. This is very similar to the airlines whose IT and telecom investments have shown a slight increase over last year.
Nearly 49% of airports believe that self-service could become the primary means for passenger check-in in two to five years and only 27% stated that they would not have self-service as their primary channel in the check-in area.
Specifically, 47% of the airports said that they will deploy CUSS (common-use self-service check-in kiosks which support multiple airlines) by the end of 2009. Only 2% of the respondents have stated "no plans" to install common-use self-service kiosks and 15% of airports noted common-use implementations as their success story of the last 12 months.
Kiosk deployment continues to increase and its uses are expanding beyond self-service check-in. Overall, 77% of airports stated plans to increase the number of self-service kiosks, most of it for check-in (67%). 10% of the airports said they would look at new types of kiosk usage which could be for transfer services, mishandled baggage and disruption management.
On the environment front, 64% of airports have already implemented noise monitoring and reporting and only 19% have no plans to do so. Local air quality monitoring and reporting is already implemented at 49% and a majority of respondents have also either implemented, or plan to implement, improved utilities consumption (63%) and to improve the sustainability of IT resources (56%).