Digitalization of Africa’s airports key to safeguarding economic recovery

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UK-Africa Investment Summit

Critical airport worker and capacity shortfalls in Africa that threaten to keep flights and passengers grounded and impede the continents’ economic recovery can be rapidly and affordably addressed with the adoption of trusted, secure cloud-based solutions, according to SITA, the air transport industry IT and communications systems provider.

Recent experiences in the UK, Australia and other parts of the world exposed airports inability to cope with the surge in demand for air travel as countries are opened up and begin to put the COVID-19 pandemic behind them.

“As the recovery of Africa’s air transport market currently lags many bigger markets by a year, there is a golden opportunity for cash-strapped airports, including smaller provincial and regional facilities, to take pre-emptive steps and future-proof their operations to ensure they do not become transport and economic choke-points as they ramp-up.  They can achieve this by digitalising their various passenger processing systems,” said Hani El Assaad, SITA’s President for Africa and the Middle East.

Such processes include health status verification, check-in, and boarding.

Although commercial airline traffic to, from and within Africa is still below half of 2019 levels, the recovery is already under way and accelerating.  According to the airline trade body, IATA, African airlines reported a 91.8% increase in demand for air travel this March compared with the same month last year and an improvement on the 70.8% growth seen in February.

“With so many skilled and experienced people having left the industry during the pandemic, the clock is ticking for airports to ensure they are ready and able to meet the ever-increasing volumes of travellers, their luggage and cargo shipments.  The solution is for all airports – from mega-hubs to small municipal and regional facilities — to digitalise and automate time-costly processes like passenger processing and baggage handling. Agile cloud technology platforms that are efficient, flexible, and scalable to fluctuating passenger volumes can help alleviate the pressure. By empowering passengers to use their mobile phones as a remote control for travel, we can reduce bottlenecks and offer a more seamless passenger journey,” added Mr El Assaad.

Until recently, tech-infrastructure costs and support requirements deterred many smaller African airports from investing in digital systems. However, capable and scalable cloud-based technology has become significantly more affordable. It is now also well within reach of smaller, regional airports that need to meet the combined needs to be integrated into the global air transport system and to be able to instantly switch-on additional capacity.

In Africa, so much economic activity depends on airports having sufficient capacity to facilitate efficient, reliable, secure, and safe air transport services.  By transforming the passenger experience and meeting their customer airlines’ demands for better efficiencies, smaller airports will be promoting themselves and the communities, industries, and markets they serve as safe, convenient, competitive, agile, and user-friendly destinations.

Over the past decades, the air transport industry has encouraged governments, regulators, and airport and airline operators to embrace digital technology. The result has been the advent of things we now take for granted, such as customer self-service check-in and self-baggage drop solutions, smart-phone boarding passes and various mobile apps, and Digital Health declarations and Trusted Travel Passes for storing and verifying boarding passes and COVID vaccination status, and more. SITA’s print is all over such technologies, and the post-pandemic recovery is a golden opportunity to accelerate and expand digitalisation and take full advantage of the benefits and opportunities it unlocks.

 

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