New services like mobile check-in, digital stamping, and self-services will improve gate-to-gate connectivity and airport operations
After a turbulent period, the aviation sector in India can finally look forward to smoother flying, growth and profitability in the days ahead. In preparation, airports around the country are about to offer new services that will make air travel more convenient for passengers while increasing capacity to handle more planes, baggage and of course, passengers.
Technology plays a major role here, and some airports in India have been conducting pilot trials for these new services. However, it will take longer than expected to introduce these since they need the approval of local aviation regulators. It also takes time to integrate this new technology with legacy systems at airports. However, technology that is more customer facing, such as Wi-Fi connectivity, mobile check-in and self-services, may be implemented sooner.
Airports that are airline hubs are usually the ones to leapfrog ahead of others in terms of technology and infrastructure. Examples are the Emirates Terminal at Dubai International Airport, Changi Airport, Singapore and Frankfurt Airport. Indian examples are New Delhi’s T3 terminal for the national carrier, Air-India and the just launched Vistara Airlines; Air-Asia India uses Bangalore International Airport Ltd. (BIAL) as its hub.
“I believe it is first important to have an airline use an airport truly as a hub. Once the airport has strong passenger and baggage transfer processes defined, technology can always be put in place to support these,” says Meenakshi Agrawal, former Vice President – Information Technology, Mumbai International Pvt. Ltd (MIAL).
Connectivity is a foremost consideration when implementing technology at airports. Take the case of Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) Terminal 2 (T2), which launched operations in early 2014. The connectivity for this terminal is provided by Tata Teleservices Ltd. (TTL).
According to Vishal Rally, Regional Chief Operating Officer – West, Enterprise Business, TTL was the only private telecom operator selected to offer end-to-end voice and data services to the GVK-led MIAL/CSIA. It provided MIAL/CSIA with Internet leased-line services, ISDN PRI services, Centrex services, and broadband services for its captive use, as well as for all the concessionaires at CSIA. TTL has also partnered with Delhi and Hyderabad airports to provide connectivity solutions.
While most airports now offer free Wi-Fi services, local telecom companies are expected to improve their connectivity services within airports this year.
“In the near-term and mid-term, Telco’s are expected to roll out 3G and 4G services, post the Spectrum sale in Feb 2015, in all major airports. Hence bandwidth and connectivity is not likely to be a disincentive for Data and Big Data access including downloads at airports as part of the journey,” says Francis Rajan, Former CIO and Head ICT, BIAL.
THE ROAD AHEAD
Rajan is optimistic that there will be many reforms in the Indian aviation sector, which will see better days ahead. He cites the reduction of prices for aviation turbine fuel (ATF) and easier travel regulations such as Visa on arrival for foreign tourists. Last year, Indian passengers were permitted to use their phones on board in the flight mode, and could make calls immediately after touchdown.
“All these indicators could favour the regulator to start adopting tested global practices. Since India has working engagements with the likes of institutions like FAA, which have a great standing in the aviation space, it is expected that Indian regulators, be it DGCA or BCAS, would accelerate the pace of ‘reforms’ needed in the Indian Aviation Space,” says Rajan.
Rajan has been personally overseeing pilot trials for mobile check-in and digital stamping (in lieu of physical stamping of boarding pass). These trials have also been conducted at Delhi International Airport apart from BIAL.
He says that the security aspects are being carefully considered by the airport authorities.
“Security is the biggest challenge with the charged up security environment. It is that true leading edge surveillance and security solutions have been deployed at many airports. It has become a necessity to deploy IP-based architected security solutions with video management and video analytics, to ensure a robust security framework is in place.”
To improve airport operational efficiencies, Indian airports are currently embracing ACDM – Airport Collaboration Decision Making.
Long queues are a common sight at Indian airports and they can certainly use technology to solve this challenge. Many international airports have deployed Bluetooth technology, Thermal cameras, CCTV cameras with Video Analytics, to track and monitor the Queue size in the check-in areas, Pre-embarkation security areas, and Immigration areas — to suitably marshal resources to reduce the queue times.
As new technology-aided services are introduced, it will become easier and quicker to check-in, drop baggage, clear immigration and security. And the air traveler will have better connectivity for personal electronic devices and will be better informed.