What are the takeaways from the Air Transport IT Insights 2021 report published by SITA?

Sergio Colella – This report shows that Covid is playing a role in accelerating digitalization. We see this in our daily lives, and inevitably in the air transport sector. For almost ten years, we have been interviewing CIOs and CTOs of airlines and airports in more than 40 countries to get a global view of their investment trends. The first piece of good news is that a large majority of airlines (84%) and airports (81%) plan to spend the same or more in 2022 than they did in 2021. Three trends emerge from these investments: automation of passenger processing, coverage of all health-related audit processes, and reduction of the CO2 footprint. This last trend is particularly strong in Europe. Regarding passenger processing automation, three quarters of airlines and airports plan to invest in biometric identity management solutions.

Is this need for investment compatible with the economic situation of the airline industry, which has been weakened by two years of crisis?

Sergio Colella – The losses have indeed been abysmal in 2020 and 2021 for the airline industry. IATA considers that when we add up all the losses of airlines and airports worldwide, we reach about 200 billion dollars in two years. This is unprecedented. Nevertheless, we must consider that these investments are catalysts of economies of scale, of fluidity of the passenger experience, of reduction of low value-added tasks… All the controls related to health, to vaccination certificates, have reduced the real capacity of airports in the processing of passengers by 35 to 40%. It is as if airports have shrunk. Automation allows for fluidity, avoiding long lines and a bad experience. Overall, despite the difficulties, our clients are redirecting their investments towards digitalization. It’s a way to come out of the crisis on top, to ensure that the passenger experience remains pleasant.

Is there any investment capacity left on the environmental front?

Sergio Colella – This is a particularly important issue in Europe. At COP 26, IATA set a very strong objective: by 2050, air transport must be neutral in terms of its carbon footprint. There is a long way to go. Air transport represents between 2 and 3% of CO2 consumption worldwide. What we don’t know is that this consumption per passenger kilometer has dropped by half in 30 years. The problem is that at the same time the number of passengers has exploded… So today there is an ambitious plan to invest in sustainable development. Our study shows that airlines have made this a priority.

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How can we act concretely?

Sergio Colella – Reducing the carbon footprint in the airline industry is based on three main axes. First, we need to fly more and more modern aircraft. From one generation to the next, aircraft are reducing their fuel consumption, as shown by the latest versions of the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787, which have significantly lower intrinsic fuel consumption. It is estimated that one-third of the CO2 savings by 2050 will come from these improvements. The second area is the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), which will reduce CO2 emissions by about one-third by 2050. There is also an element that we don’t talk about enough, and on which we can have a very rapid impact, and that is the improvement of air traffic management and the optimization of aircraft routes. If we optimize cab time, the time spent on the tarmac, the climb and descent phases, we can reduce emissions by 10%. SITA is investing heavily in this area, and we have also bought a brilliant French start-up called Safety Line, which has developed very sophisticated software to optimize all these phases, using big data. 5% of kerosene is consumed in taxiing phases on the runway. An aircraft is designed to fly at altitude, not to taxi on the tarmac. On a short-haul flight, for example, two thirds of the consumption is linked to cab time and the climb and descent phases.

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the resumption of business traffic will require much more time

Could the reduction of CO2 emissions also be based on a sustainable reduction in business travel, for environmental reasons or as a result of the “video effect”?

Sergio Colella – The data shows that as soon as the constraints linked to the pandemic are relaxed, leisure traffic picks up again with an impressive elasticity. The same is not true for business traffic, even though we are seeing a few trade shows and events being held. I think it will take much longer for business traffic to recover to pre-Covid levels, especially as companies see the value of optimizing these costs. The airline industry has to be ready to accept that once the crisis is over, the travel profile will be structurally different. It will probably be more heterogeneous, with more point-to-point trips. The market players that will survive will not be the biggest, but the ones that adapt best. Intermodality will also come into play more. We’ll have to be smart to connect efficiently with rail, cruises, buses, and even tomorrowurban air mobility for the last mile.

Covid 19 will have a lasting impact on health control procedures

In As a frequent flyer, how would you describe the passenger experience in 2022?

Sergio Colella – What stands out in my personal experience is seeing empty airports, or at least with a limited level of use at 60% overall. We still see a lot of manual checks of the vaccination pass. Just as 9/11 had a major impact on security screening procedures, Covid 19 will have a lasting impact on health screening procedures, as there will be other, hopefully less serious, problematic situations. This is why SITA is investing in this direction, with the aim of making health certificates available at the click of a mouse. We can – and must – ensure that the traveler’s experience remains fluid and pleasant. It is essential to give the passenger control, especially for the new generations who are increasingly connected. The smartphone must be the remote control for the journey, centralizing all information.

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Could we move towards a “trusted travelers” type program, with which frequent business travelers would agree to share a lot of personal information to significantly speed up airport controls?

Sergio Colella – Thanks to European legislation, and in particular the RGPD, everything is extremely well regulated as regards the protection of personal data. So the aim is not for the frequent traveler to give up his private data. We have set up a program between Star Alliance, NEC and SITA allowing these frequent flyers to pass all the biometric controls. In the same way that people today often accept to unlock their smartphone biometrically, or to make a banking transaction.

Beyond air transport, SITA wants to open up to intermodality with solutions that can be adapted to other sectors of activity

To what extent has the crisis changed SITA’s positioning and priorities? Is the company the same as it was two years ago?

Sergio Colella – No, we are not the same. We are dedicated to air transport, so we have suffered alongside our customers. The real change has been the acceleration of needs. Trends that we saw emerging have been accelerated, and we are therefore accelerating our investments. Our financial health has held up well despite the crisis, and elements related to sustainable development have become crucial. Moreover, SITA has become carbon neutral in 2021. In addition, beyond air transport, SITA wants to open up to intermodality with solutions that can be adapted to other sectors of activity, for non-air transport, for example border control in the maritime or rail sectors. We equip the Eurostar border crossings between Paris and London with kiosks. We are still dedicated to the transBut we do not prevent ourselves from ensuring intermodality with a broader vision of transport.

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What are SITA’s good resolutions for 2022?

Sergio Colella – To serve our customers as well as possible, to whom we belong, it must be remembered. It’s about helping the sector to recover effectively from this crisis. We believe that 2022 will be the year of recovery from this crisis, so we have to roll up our sleeves to get everything up and running again. It will also be about helping our customers do more with less: reducing operating costs, optimizing asset utilization, operating more economically efficient. Finally, our priority will also be to bring innovations that change the experience of our customers and the passenger. We are increasingly relevant because we are investing in the right technologies, which have a real impact on the passenger experience, CO2 consumption, the quality of connections and telecommunications we provide to our customers. Overall, SITA will continue to be a driver of innovation.