Complex Made Simple

A complete look at airport digitization in the GCC and globally

COVID-19 restrictions, health passports, and fear factors are all complicating the return to commercial aviation at its pre-pandemic level. But regional airports are still digitizing

The Middle East will see a 4.4% growth in passenger journeys through 2039 Personalized wayfinding is a smart technology that enables intervention-free guiding of passengers through terminals A new AI-based face and iris-recognition technology has been launched at Dubai airports

Sure, passengers are still not near their numbers globally or regionally, as COVID-19 restrictions, health passports and, fear factors are all complicating the return to commercial aviation at its pre-pandemic levels.

But that’s not stopping airports from modernizing and digitizing their operations.

Bahrain Airport Services makes news with SAP

Bahrain Airport Services, which plays a strategic role in the operations of Bahrain International Airport, recently announced a partnership with global technology company SAP to digitally transform Bahrain’s aviation market post-COVID-19.

While COVID-19 has made a major impact on passenger travel, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), predicts the Middle East will see a 4.4% growth in passenger journeys through 2039. 

Bahrain’s aviation recovery will be driven by the use of innovative technologies. The global Smart Airports market is set to top $22.6 billion by 2025, according to the firm Report Linker.

In 2019, Bahrain Airport Services handled 8.5 million passengers and 8 million baggage items, served 6.5 million in-flight meals, and managed 125,000 tons of freight. 

Supporting aviation innovation, Bahrain Airport Services will digitally integrate six lines of business: ground operations, cargo, catering, aircraft engineering, learning and development, and an aircrafSalman Al- Mahmeedt engineering training center called BAETC. 

Salman Al- Mahmeed, CEO, Bahrain Airport Services said: “Thanks to our digital transformation with SAP, we will seamlessly integrate our operations, talent, and procurement to provide unparalleled ground services and exemplary passenger traveling experiences as passenger travel rebounds.”

Bahrain Airport Services employs more than 3,000 staff. 

“Our digital transformation with Bahrain Airport Services will see the organization provide a common digital platform for all departments, which can centralize data for enable real-time decision-making, optimize costs, and support Bahraini talent development,” said Hassan Saleh, the newly appointed Managing Director, SAP Bahrain, and Iraq.  

Read: Private travel on the rebound, spurred on by ‘Vaccine Vacations’

Read: 46% of Middle East luxury travelers plan to holiday abroad in 2021, says YouGov survey

What does digital tech do to airports? 

Digital technologies help improve overall airport facility management and operation with fewer resources. 

Smart airport technologies help combine automation and mass personalization of passenger journeys. 

Growing in popularity is non-intrusive technology used for facial recognition and scanning bags while the person carrying these is in motion, eliminating the hassles of security search and need for security personnel. 

Future growth in the market will also be driven by an escalating interest in automation technologies to ease the burden on airport infrastructure and workforce and rising demand for smart technologies that enable real-time information sharing and collaboration. 

Noteworthy trends in the market include reducing operational costs, growing the prominence of Internet of Things (IoT) based airport management system and cloud computing-based services, automated border controls, and e-gates. 

Personalized wayfinding is a smart technology that enables intervention-free guiding of passengers through terminals. The market will therefore benefit from the rise of Bluetooth-enabled beacon technology to provide continued assistance to passengers throughout their journey with personalized messages and real-time updates. 

Digitization of the Middle East’s airports market 

From sanitizing robots to unmanned ground vehicles, airlines and public facilities in the Middle East have become fixated on innovation

The world has become obsessed with digital health passports, new technologies, and automation methods.  

Since January 20, 2020, the Middle East region’s carriers saw their scheduled capacity slump 57%, according to the latest data from OAG, a world-leading provider of digital flight information, intelligence, and analytics.

In 2020, however, airlines in the region lost about 74% of their revenues, the sharpest decline globally, according to the Airports Council International. That’s a loss of about $8 billion in revenues.

Here’s a list of new technologies that some countries in the region have adopted to help travelers navigate better.

Qatar Airways

On January 26, 2021, Qatar Airways announced it would become the first airline in the Middle East to begin trying out the new IATA Travel Pass “Digital Passport” mobile app, in partnership with IATA.

The trial is set to begin this March with the first phase of trials set to start on the airline’s Doha-Istanbul route. The app is a “one-stop-shop” that lets users receive their digital COVID-19 test results so that they can verify if they are safe to travel.  

Abu Dhabi’s unmanned vehicles

Abu Dhabi Airports became one of the first airports in the region to deploy Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UVG), in partnership with the UAE’s Tawazun Strategic Development Fund. Tawazun, which means stability in Arabic, was created to beef up the UAE’s private sector investments in defense, security, and aviation through investments and partnerships with SMEs. The $681 million fund partnered up with Abu Dhabi Airports to launch the new CoDi BOT UGV, which was designed and made by one of its affiliates, UAE-based Marakeb Technologies. 

The UGV was piloted last May to ensure that aircraft cabins are kept clean and sterile in the safest way possible.  

Dubai airport: Robots and contactless

Since the pandemic, the emirate rolled out germ-busting robots in some public facilities, like hospitals and airports. Recently, a new RoboCafe opened up in the city, where customers can place their orders and get served by German-made robots. 

In September 2020, Dubai International Airport also introduced “Rahal,” which means traveler in Arabic, to help passengers at its airport. The robot is part of its customer service team at Terminal 3, the world’s largest airport terminal. 

A new fast-track passport control service that uses AI-based face and iris-recognition technologies has been launched at Dubai airports.

The service deployed at 122 smart gates at arrival and departure terminals in Dubai airports, enables passengers to complete passport control procedures in 5 to 9 seconds. 

In October 2020, Emirates Airlines launched what it calls an “integrated biometric path” at Dubai International airport (DXB) to facilitate a contactless passenger experience. The technology includes a mix of facial and iris recognition to allow Emirates passengers to check in for their flight, complete immigration formalities, enter the Emirates Lounge, and board their flights, without the intervention of airport staff.

The airline’s 32 self-check-in and 16 bag drop kiosks at DXB are now touchless.  

Bahrain’s Gulf Air: Crisis management

When the first global lockdown hit in March 2020, Bahrain’s national carrier, Gulf Air, partnered up with travel technology provider ANIXE to begin conceptual work to improve its business. 

The airline invested in ANIXE’s Resfinity Air, an internet booking solution platform. This allowed the carrier to shift digitally to reallocate aircraft and change cabin-class seating ratios. ANIXE also helped Gulf Air enhance its online bookings.  

Global Airline IT spending

Among the key finding from SITA’s 2020 Air Transport IT Insights, published Wednesday, was an accelerated investment in automated passenger processing focusing on touchless and mobile services.

 There was also a strong focus on virtual and remote IT services that allowed employees to work from home while ramping up communications with passengers.  

In 2020, SITA data showed that flight volumes plunged 44% year-on-year due to the pandemic. As a result of this impact on demand, IATA forecast that the airline industry’s full-year loss at $118 billion.

Biometric technology is the focus for airport investment with 64% of airports aiming to roll out self-boarding gates using biometric & ID documentation by 2023, three times as many as in 2020.

Airlines have doubled implementations and plan to double investment for self-boarding using biometric & ID documentation by 2023 (82%).

Airline mobile applications for passenger services is a priority with nearly all airlines having major programs and R&D in place by 2023.