Sydney Airport aims for a contactless experience

Sydney Airport has signed a five-year technology deal with SITA to install new passenger and baggage management systems across the airport’s two terminals. Frankie Youd finds out more about the technology and how it can help improve the passenger experience.

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As governments worldwide begin to ease Covid-19 restrictions, airports begin preparations for an increase in passenger numbers. However, an easing of restrictions does not mean the pandemic is over and airports continue to implement methods and technologies to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

Sydney Airport in Australia is trying to minimise exposure risk by using condensed baggage system interfaces, mobile passenger journey apps and contactless technology. The airport’s operator has signed a five-year contract with technology provider SITA to equip both terminals with low-touch solutions that will help improve the passenger experience, minimise exposure and increase operational efficiency.

Sydney Airport technology upgrade

One of the systems being introduced at Sydney Airport is SITA Flex, a common-use technology facilitating a low-touch, fully mobile passenger experience using cloud technology. The introduction of this technology allows passenger and staff to reduce their physical contact by using smart devices.

The technology provides passengers with the ability to use their smart devices throughout their airport journey, from self-check-in to accessing flight information. SITA Flex also has applications for the airlines operating at Sydney.

Sean Farrell, head of passenger processing at SITA, explains: “Our Flex platform allows the international airlines that are flying in and out of Sydney to run all their business applications in the Sydney Airport environment so they can process passengers.

“They can check them in, board them, and so on. The purpose of it is that each airline does not have to have its own dedicated IT systems at an airport. It means that they can operate into lots of different airports around the world and be confident that when they operate in those environments, they're able to run their own systems, checking their passengers using the same processes that they can do in every other location.”

The implementation of one baggage message system reduces costs for Sydney Airport as it eliminates the need to run multiple airline interfaces.

Alongside SITA Flex, Sydney Airport is using SITA Bag Message, which aims to eliminate the need for various baggage systems between airlines and airports. The technology can process over 3.8 billion messages – according to SITA data in 2019 – allowing for airports and airlines to access messages over one system and connection.

The implementation of one baggage message system reduces costs for Sydney Airport as it eliminates the need to run multiple airline interfaces to connect to airport baggage systems globally.

Farrell says: “We are involved in all of the messaging that goes on behind the scenes on how bags get processed. It's data exchange between the airlines and the airports around the handling of the bags. We facilitate the exchange of the data across the industry. There’s a lost and found service for bags as well; we will trace where your bags are if they get lost at some point. You can use that system if you're an airline anywhere around the world.”

In addition to these systems, the airport has upgraded over 600 digital touchpoints across the terminals including kiosks, computers and gates. The upgrade uses SITA Connect (formerly Airport Connect), which implements network connectivity within the airport to allow the airport and airlines to run their back-end systems.

Sidone Thomas, general manager for technology, data and digital at Sydney Airport, explains: “This upgrade has seen the implementation of SITA’s software platform Airport Connect, which improves the passenger experience, [offers] additional features for our airline partners and improved security.”

Sydney Airport’s technology upgrade aims to create consistent processes for passengers regardless of which airline they use.

Creating a consistent airport experience

The technology upgrades at Sydney Airport aim to provide benefits for the airport, the airlines and the passengers.

For airlines, they offer a reliable platform to run their business applications on. It allows Sydney Airport to offer a service to airlines that allows them to check-in their passengers and operate in a simple, universally recognised manner.

For the passengers, this offers the consistency of using the same processes no matter which airline they are flying with from Sydney Airport.

Thomas explains: “The SITA technology improves the customer experience through a consistent end-to-end check-in and boarding experience across physical check-in counters, kiosk, auto-bag drop and gating. The system will also allow us to future-proof our environment for future innovations.

“SITA were selected as our partner for passenger processing in early 2020 just prior to Covid-19 commencing. We decided to progress with this project due to the importance on the passenger experience so that we were ready for recovery when it occurred.”

Cloud-based, contactless passenger management

The introduction of contactless or low-touch technology has been a popular choice for airports in response to the pandemic, as research has found the Covid-19 virus can survive on surfaces for up to three days. Cloud-based solutions such as SITA Flex allow passengers to use smart devices such as mobile phones to act as virtual travel managers, eliminating the need for contact with airport staff and surfaces.

“We are modernising the technology in this area and cloud-enabling it,” Farrell explains. “We can do things such as enabling applications in the cloud where passengers can interact directly with assistants at the airport. We are making it more flexible, scalable, and responsive to the needs of all the different stakeholders.

“Airports and airlines are very interested in making self-service technologies completely touchless and that's obviously related to stopping the sharing of the virus. That means doing more from your mobile device, so if you can do things like printing out your bag tag by using an app on your mobile device that means you don't have to touch shared kiosk, that's one possible solution that's enabled by some of the new technologies that we have built into our Flex platform.”

The partnership with SITA is part of Sydney Airport’s roadmap for development, which has been laid out in the form of a 2039 master plan. The aim of the roadmap is to enhance passenger experience, focus on safety and security, increase efficiency and drive productivity.

“Key to our roadmap will be leveraging technology to improve the passenger experience,” says Thomas. “Off the back of this inclusion [SITA’s technology], there are several opportunities to quickly implement new initiatives such as touchless, automation and biometrics just to name a few.”