Automation and digital transformation appear to be top priority for airports and airlines as they prepare to return to normal business practices, in an industry survey conducted by Vision-Box.

Vision-Box, a world leader in seamless biometrics travel, automated border management, and electronic identity management solutions, has published key findings from a focused, high-level industry survey answered by 37 of the world’s top airports, airlines, and government agencies titled the ‘Effects of COVID-19 pandemic on the aviation sector’.

The survey results were unveiled during Vision-Box’s inaugural webinar entitled ‘How to overcome COVID-19 crisis in the aviation sector’, the first of a series of talks convening global expert panelists from government, travel, tourism, and aviation sectors to discuss and deliberate on the urgency and complexity of the COVID-19 impact on aviation and related sectors. 

Panelists included Gloria Guevara, President & CEO, WTTC (World Travel & Tourism Council), Satyaki Raghunath, Chief Strategy & Development Officer, BIAL (Bangalore International Airport), Antonio Sergio Henrique’s, Coordinator Inspector, SEF (Portuguese Immigration and Borders Service) and Simon Wilcox, Former Head of Transformation, Heathrow Airport. Moderated by Jean-François (Jeff) Lennon, Head of Strategic Sales and Global Partnerships, Vision-Box, the panel spotlighted the urgency and complexity of the COVID-19 impact on aviation and related sectors. New health guidelines and government safety measures were also discussed at length and how touch-less and contactless technology can provide flexibility to confront this public health challenge.  

The survey ensured that results reflected international sentiments, capturing responses globally from companies and agencies in America (35%), Europe (32%), and Asia (24%). When asked what would increase passenger trust for return to normal travel activities, 37% responded that a viable vaccine would be the most critical factor, and 35% of the respondents saw touchless/contactless identification and clearance technology as a solution.

Over 75% of the surveyed companies have reported having undertaken several changes, primarily to protect staff and to adjust schedules for better crowd control, with approximately a quarter of respondents using facial identification (24%) while another 12% using fingerprints to enable safe contactless travel for passengers. Currently, 23% are using QR Codes, 15% are using RFID, while 9% do not use any of the technology.

The survey also found Facial biometric identification is by far the method companies and agencies are interested in implementing with 63% of respondents, while mobile and wireless interaction also seen as an additional positive technology and considered as an alternative to biometrics.

On their main digital transformation priority for their business in the next 1-3 years, the highest number of respondents expressed an interest in touchless security and flow screening (26%), followed by passenger flow management (24%), remote passenger registration/check-in (18%), and identity management platform (13%). These numbers seem to indicate a trend and preference for seamless traveler identification systems.

The survey also found that all companies and organizations surveyed expect a considerable amount of focus on the lack of revenue in the short-term, which will impact their planning including operational updates to accommodate the traveler clearing process with new health requirements. This consists of adhoc procedures to implement new technologies to be in regulation with new clearance standards.

For mid and long-term planning, the issue of revenue intake is still a concern because of the uncertainty factor. Still, there is a focus on identifying new revenue sources and pricing strategies. There is also a strategic orientation towards new technology and how it could support and improve the unique operational challenges of a post-COVID world. 

Despite the concerns on revenue, 94% of the respondents deem contactless/ touchless technologies crucial immediate investments, with mobile for enrollment boarding slightly trailing at 81%. While immediate actions such as cleaning/disinfection (91%) and face masks (77%) are also high on the list, they can be skewed by the fact that new travel rules mandate that airports and airlines are obligated to enforce its use on passengers. Robotics, immunity certificates, and iris biometric identification are the least essential topics for investment.

The survey results appear in line with recent findings by IATA’s June 2020 survey titled ‘Passenger insights in the times of a pandemic’ where 42% of the respondents were concerned about queuing at airports (check-in /security /border control /boarding) and 24% felt touchless processing would enable them to feel safe. 

Commenting on the survey findings Miguel Leitmann, CEO of Vision-Box said “The survey of the world’s top airlines, airports, and government agencies has been clear to reveal that the industry is depending on secure biometric technology, particularly facial recognition for automation and safe socially distant travel experiences for travelers in a post COVID-world.”

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