Travel corridors are starting to open up again, and passenger numbers are heading in the right direction across several regions. Nonetheless, there is still the risk of restrictions returning and operations facing a downturn. So, the aviation industry needs to do its best to ensure that consistent operations can remain in place safely and efficiently.
A new era
A central focal point when it comes to the seamless movement of passengers in the current conditions is the digital health pass. Many governments and institutions have launched apps for travelers to share their vaccination and testing certificates while sharing important travel details. The likes of IATA have also worked intently with airlines to consolidate information to further minimize hassle amid the plethora of passenger responsibilities.
Technology will play a critical role on a wider scale in this next chapter. SITA, the IT provider for the air transport industry, has been focusing on helping the scene transition. Sergio Colella, SITA President Europe, recently spoke with Simple Flying about the challenges that the industry faces as the global health crisis continues to take its toll on the market.
Colella highlights that governments have been wrestling with the struggles of reopening borders and restarting economies while also prioritizing the protection of their populations and national health systems from threats related to coronavirus and the associated variants. More than ever, nations need adequate border controls. While the measures need to be robust, they must make sure essential and safe travel remains in place. These controls also need to be configured quickly to counter evolving risks.
Millions of people around the world couldn’t see their loved ones or couldn’t travel for work and were left stuck for months following border closures. To this day, the situation is still complicated for many as many restrictions remain in several nations. Conditions are starting to ease in various areas, but airlines and airports must showcase that they can be relied upon to keep communities moving as the pandemic continues.
Plenty to consider
Colella explains that the health crisis has introduced new requirements that add complexity to the passenger journey. He adds that processing and waiting times have doubled from what they were during the peak of the crisis, which has led to waiting times reaching an unacceptable three hours even with travel volumes at only about 30% of pre-virus levels, according to IATA.
Therefore, collaborative, aligned technology is fundamental to taking reduce the pain to passengers of the new requirements. Automating the process will be crucial to addressing passenger confidence. For this reason, SITA launched Health Protect.
“The real challenge with the new health requirements is the lack of standardization. There are so many formats of health certifications as well as differing requirements for each country. If I am a passenger from the US, arriving in France, will they accept my certificate? How do they know it is the real thing? This requires stronger collaboration between governments, airports, and airlines. This is an area where SITA can make a real difference,” Colella told Simple Flying.
“SITA Health Protect is an industry-wide verification service for the many different health pass and certificate schemes in operation. It allows governments, airlines, and airports to digitally and securely access traveler health information for verification and validation. This ensures quicker and informed decisions ahead of check-in on whether a passenger can travel, reducing the rise in fake documents, minimize waiting lines, avoiding additional staffing for manual checks of health documents at the airport, and bringing about the return of online and self-service check-in with greater efficiency than manual checks.
“Most importantly, it provides the passenger the certainty that they have the right documents before they arrive at the airport.”
SITA notes that since last November, the Australian government has used the organization’s technology to enable travelers to supply digital contact and journey information and complete an electronic health declaration before their journey. This has noticeably simplified processes, causing the group and the Australian Home Affairs Department to win the Gold Prize at the Sydney Design Awards for the Australia ETA App.
A holistic approach
New technologies will uphold value across the board. For instance, new touchless technologies can be found at the airport. Previously, initiatives such as biometrics have been touted to improve security and convenience. However, they are now vital in the mission to maintain smooth and safe travel.
Airlines had already been investing in systems to reduce contact with staff members. These facilities are continuing to advance in the current climate. For instance, Emirates upgraded its self-check-in systems to become fully touchless.
Notably, passengers traveling from regional airports are also demanding the same digital experience and efficiencies they receive at international hubs. Greater airline expectations, route volatility, space constraints, and staff multi-tasking come with this aspect. There is also a rising requirement for seamless interoperation across travel systems and technologies in other transport fields, such as the trains that connect passengers to and from airports.
Colella shares that cloud technology makes the digital journey and cutting-edge IT affordable and accessible for regional airports. With leading passenger processing capabilities accessible via the cloud, airports can enable shared common-use approaches in the most cost-effective manner. As a result, infrastructure, space, and maintenance costs are saved. Self-boarding, self-bag drop, and off-airport processing are also scaled up with this approach.
A combined effort
Altogether, even though passenger activity patterns are promising, there is still a long way to go for society to navigate the conditions of the pandemic. It may take a few more years for there to be consistency. Regardless, passengers and airlines alike would dread the possibility of another wave of border closures. Therefore, biometrics, health passes, cloud tech, and touchless systems will prove to be vital in this next stage. The collaborative use of modern technology among carriers, airports, and governments will provide a united front against the virus.
What are your thoughts about SITA’s notes on air travel? What do you feel needs to be done to ensure safe yet seamless flights continue to operate? Let us know what you think of the overall situation in the comment section.