Sergio Colella has been president of SITA Europe since July 2017. Here, he shares his thoughts on today’s airports sector, from the importance of digitalisation to the need for collaboration
What is the biggest challenge facing airports today?
Air travel has recovered from the pandemic faster than anyone in the industry had initially expected, particularly in Europe and the United States. While the recovery is welcome, airports and airlines have found themselves on the back foot with staff and resource shortages. This has put strain on operations, resulting in an increased risk of congestion, delays, cancellations and mishandled baggage. This has a direct impact on the passenger.
SITA's Sergio Colella
How can this problem be tackled and what has the airport sector learned from the pandemic and ensuing recovery period?
The latest SITA Air Transport IT Insights report details how digitalisation is seen as key to addressing these challenges, providing more scalability and flexibility. The report reveals that, as they steadily increase IT spend, airports and airlines are looking to key technology solutions to fortify their operations against disruption while automating the passenger experience.
CIOs want to ensure operations are as agile and resilient as they are efficient, investing in tools like disruption warning systems and business intelligence solutions to enable scaling of operations based on demand. At the same time, airports and airlines are looking to digitalise the full passenger journey, to help minimise congestion while freeing up staff to tackle more complex tasks, investing in self-service technologies and biometrics at every step, from check-in through to arrival.
One clear takeaway from the pandemic and recovery period for the airports sector, as it has navigated operational disruptions and uncertainty around shifting travel rules and requirements, has been the need for proactive collaboration between all industry stakeholders. Going hand-in-hand with this is the need for accelerated digitalisation, with IT solutions seen as key to airports’ success. According to the IT Insights, airports have taken this on board, with upwards of 80% of airports making common use infrastructure and data exchange technology investment priorities by 2025.
Post-pandemic, air travel has recovered faster than predicted
What do you want to see happen in the sector?
While the losses the pandemic has incurred have been immeasurable, the silver lining that has emerged is how this period has forced our industry to accelerate innovation. My hope for the air transport industry moving forward would be that we do not wait for dark moments like the pandemic to drive innovation, react to the demands of our passengers or prepare for the travel experience of the future.
What key technology will have the biggest impact on the sector?
Biometrics are set to completely transform the passenger journey. At SITA, we envision a world where travellers can go from anywhere to everywhere without having to present travel documents, breezing through each stage of the journey using their face as their boarding pass. Today, this is helping streamline the passenger journey. We will increasingly move towards dematerialising the passport and travel document to a digital travel credential on your phone. This will be used to verify and share relevant information across the entire journey. The same identity that is used to check in for a flight can be used to check in to a hotel, pick up a rental car or board a train.
The latest IT Insights reveal airports’ strong commitment to this next-generation digital travel experience, as airports’ implementation of a secure single biometric token across all touchpoints has surged from just 3% in 2021 to 39% in 2022, with over half of them planning implementation over the next three years.