African airports can affordably overcome “critical airport worker and capacity shortfalls” by rapidly adopting “trusted, secure cloud-based solutions,” says air transport industry IT and communications systems provider SITA.
Citing the recent experiences in the UK and Australia where airports struggled to cope with the surge in demand for air travel as countries relaxed or removed Covid-19 travel mandates, SITA says that left unaddressed, such shortfalls could slow Africa’s economic recovery as travel rebounds.
“As the recovery of Africa’s air transport market currently lags many bigger markets by a year, there is a golden opportunity for cash-strapped airports, including smaller provincial and regional facilities, to take pre-emptive steps and future-proof their operations to ensure they do not become transport and economic choke-points as they ramp-up. They can achieve this by digitalising their various passenger processing systems,” says Hani El Assaad, SITA’s President for Africa and the Middle East.
SITA sees health status verification, check-in, and boarding, as low-hanging fruit for digitalization.
Quoting data issued by airline lobby IATA, Hani cautioned that while commercial airline traffic to, from, and within Africa was still below 2019 levels, “the recovery is already underway and accelerating.”
IATA says African airlines reported a 91.8 percent increase in demand for air travel during March compared to the corresponding period for 2021. The number also represented a 21 percent improvement in February 2022.
“With so many skilled and experienced people having left the industry during the pandemic, the clock is ticking for airports to ensure they are ready and able to meet the ever-increasing volumes of travellers, their luggage and cargo shipments. The solution is for all airports – from mega-hubs to small municipal and regional facilities — to digitalise and automate time-costly processes like passenger processing and baggage handling. Agile cloud technology platforms that are efficient, flexible, and scalable to fluctuating passenger volumes can help alleviate the pressure. By empowering passengers to use their mobile phones as a remote control for travel, we can reduce bottlenecks and offer a more seamless passenger journey,” added Mr. El Assaad.
While tech-infrastructure costs and support requirements were until recently a barrier to digitalization for many smaller African airports, SITA says capable and scalable cloud-based technology has become significantly more affordable.
“It is now also well within reach of smaller, regional airports that need to meet the combined needs to be integrated into the global air transport system and to be able to instantly switch-on additional capacity,” says Hani. “In Africa, so much economic activity depends on airports having sufficient capacity to facilitate efficient, reliable, secure, and safe air transport services. By transforming the passenger experience and meeting their customer airlines’ demands for better efficiencies, smaller airports will be promoting themselves and the communities, industries, and markets they serve as safe, convenient, competitive, agile, and user-friendly destinations,” he added.
SITA sees the post-pandemic recovery as a golden opportunity for African aviation to accelerate digitalization in order to maximize the benefits and opportunities it unlocks citing customer self-service check-in and self-baggage drop solutions, smart-phone boarding passes and various mobile apps, and Digital Health declarations and Trusted Travel Passes for storing and verifying boarding passes and COVID vaccination status as some of the recent advances in digital technology that are yielding benefits to airlines, airports, and passengers.