By Andy Bien, Chief Digital Officer (CDO) of Global Aviation, Huawei Technologies Co
The air transport industry faced unprecedented disruption during the COVID-19 pandemic on a scale never seen before. It took a lot of effort for airports, airlines, and their partners to stay afloat: cost cutting, staff reduction and delay of investments. Now, with the global recovery round the corner, however, the industry is facing fresh challenges caused by rapid travel demand, staff shortages and high fuel prices. But what would it take to overcome the uncertainty and harness new opportunities? How can the industry equip itself to navigate this new normal?
Through discussions with different airports in Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific, one common interest that always comes up is on how digital capabilities can increase the resilience of airports. Resilience in the form of operation, financial and manpower. It might have been a sense of novelty in the past to talk about artificial intelligence and machine learning. But when the manpower to work in the airfield, baggage hall and the customer service counter in the terminal becomes more difficult to acquire, autonomous operation, robotics and AI assistants have become the focus of exploration. With the support of mature technology, solid use cases emerge. The speed of digital transformation across the industry accelerates.
The ease of downloading apps for mobile devices might project a sense of ease for technology adoption. However, our colleagues who have spent time and invested heavily in mobile application development would disagree. More attention, and indeed investment, need to be directed to form a solid foundation of connectivity, data integration and management, AI development platform and a flexible hybrid cloud environment to support the genuine interests, and needs, to reinvent current processes. Only then will the industry return to the desired growth trajectory and would be able to deliver on passenger’s needs for a more seamless experience.
In addition to the above-mentioned technology platforms that had gained elevated interests, the emerging concepts of intelligent twins and the metaverse describe a new way of interacting with data and the virtual world. The connection between the physical and the virtual has never been closer with one affecting the other in a profound and meaningful way. In-situation decision making will be improved through the support of a holistic sensing of the airport environment. Reviews can be conducted post-event without the loss of fidelity, and future development can be predicted to guide better resolution. This has the potential to totally re-invent the airport experience, for both passengers, staff and operators.
I would like to share a number of observations from the wisdom of the experienced executives that I have been fortunate to speak to in the last few months. First of all, have faith. The disruption has been fierce and unprecedented, but most of us had survived. This is a time to rebuild our industry fearlessly. Second is to the focus on building the capabilities that would make us more resilient. Uncertainties and further upheavals might occur, but this time we have learnt our lessons and are more prepared than ever to overcome these. Lastly invest wisely in digital technology and partnerships. Regarding technology, not just fancy nice-to-haves, but applications with genuine potential to transform our people, our practices and our technology foundation. It is not a question of how much to spend, but of the cost of under-investment. Regarding partnerships, particularly during these difficult times, find a partner that is genuinely committed to technology, and willing to invest together with you.
Based on these valuable insights, I am hopeful that in three years’ time, we will see an industry that is more resilient, more human-centric, and more sustainable.
Andy Bien recently took part in a virtual event jointly staged by FTE and Huawei, focusing on “How next-generation technology can restart & reimagine global airports”, alongside key executives from Changi Airport, Aena, Hamad International Airport, and Malaysia Airports. The panellists shared case studies from their own digital innovation efforts and discussed the widespread use of technologies such as 5G, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), and big data.Watch the full webinar recording on-demand here >>