Smart technology fundamental for airlines to safely return to the skies

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SITA, the technology provider for the air transport industry, sheds new light on how technology is helping airports and airlines to safely resume operations and help implement new hygiene measures to restore passenger confidence after a lengthy shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking after the Aviation Week webinar event Sebastien Fabre, Vice-President Airline & Airport, SITA said “the past few weeks have seen airlines across the globe tentatively take to the skies. This is reflected in the resumption in activity across our network and improved baggage volumes, up 55% month-on-month in May where volumes were at a record low.”

However, Fabre noted that recovery would be slow. “Our industry must transform the passenger experience to increase traveler safety while balancing economic pressures from slow customer demand. To successfully walk this tightrope and navigate a return to the skies for viable volumes of passengers, airports and airlines need to assimilate new information from governments and health officials, adapt operations immediately and automate processes permanently.”

SITA has introduced solutions that allow passengers to use their mobile device as a remote control for touchpoints such as self-bag drop and check-in kiosks, removing the need to touch any airport equipment. “For example, at San Francisco Airport, SITA Flex which in the future will enable a full mobile and touchless passenger journey. This means travelers can print bag tags from their mobile phone on self-service bag points,” added Fabre.

He noted that technology would be fundamental in helping airlines and airports to be compliant with new and fast-changing regulations to restore passenger’s confidence in flying. New preventive measures aimed at limiting risk in the airport and onboard will require a new approach to passenger management.

Fabre stated that SITA was rapidly rolling out new solutions that addressed the above challenges, complementing short term hygiene measures such as the use of masks and gloves. These solutions centered on three key areas, distancing, hygiene and sanitation and health checks.

He noted for the airports that are not equipped with the native mobile platform, SITA uses technology to remotely control self-service devices such as kiosks with a mobile phone, removing the need to touch any airport equipment.

Speaking at the webinar, Jeremy Springall, Vice-President Border Management, SITA said “we are seeing specific regions wishing to allow limited movement within zones first, for example, the trans-Tasman bubble. For governments, this requires an information-driven approach based on real-time data and responsiveness to handle rapidly changing situations.”

“A critical element will be for governments to harmonize the approach to checking the validity of health status and sharing this information effectively. Many governments are taking a layered approach to border management, starting well in advance of travel, to identify high-risk passengers before arrival in the destination country, in turn easing the restrictions for low-risk travelers. It’s crucial that health checks in terms of a health ETA or declaration are performed, perhaps up to 72 hours before departure. We’re already starting to see this happen around the world in countries like Thailand and Singapore.”

Springall noted that SITA has been supporting governments around the world to adapt their Advance Passenger Processing pre-clearance checks in support of COVID-19, for example with a South American airport during the early part of the pandemic SITA was able to support them stop passengers from high-risk countries check-in to their flights.

Springall also highlighted how SITA has helped airports identify passengers arriving from high-risk areas who would then be asked to self-isolate at home for 14 days to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Later SITA adapted operations to identify travelers who were sitting in the rows around these passengers during a flight so adequate protocols could be applied to those passengers as well.