Associations Partner on Air Travel Innovation

Two associations created NEXTT to address passenger travel that’s expected to double by 2036 at airports that are already close to capacity.

The airport as we’ve come to know it needs a reboot, according to two associations that have partnered to promote innovation in air-travel infrastructure.

On Tuesday, the International Air Transport Association, which represents airlines, and Airports Council International, which represents airport authorities, announced an initiative called the New Experience in Travel and Technologies. NEXTT is responding to what IATA and ACI say will be a near-doubling in air traffic in the next two decades: The number of passengers flying annually is expected to increase from 3.8 billion to 7.2 billion by 2036.

Accommodating that growth, according to the groups, will demand more than just tinkering with baggage-claim signage and security-line staffing. “We are not set up to handle the growth or evolving customer expectations with our current processes, installations and ways of doing business,” Hemant Mistry, director for global airport infrastructure and fuel at IATA, told Future Travel Experience. According to NEXTT research, only four major airports around the world currently have the capacity to handle the increase in traffic.

We are not set up to handle the growth or evolving customer expectations with our current processes.

NEXTT proposes retooling how some current airport operations are handled. Among the changes NEXTT is exploring is how to move processes like security and baggage checking offsite; automating operations such as fueling, de-icing, and moving baggage and cargo; and better use of data to predict and reduce flight delays and other inefficiencies around the airport. A video released with the announcement visualizes what some of the changes might look like, from remote luggage drop-offs to facial scans to robots hauling cargo:

IATA and ACI have collaborated before on smaller projects, says Antoine Rostworowski, ACI’s director of airport customer experience and technology. But earlier this spring the two associations began discussing ways to create a unified direction for its working groups around future goals. “In the past few months, we started discussing different ways to maximize the chances and increase the alignment of the vision of the future for the complete travel journey of passengers,” he said. NEXTT doesn’t have a dedicated staff itself, he says, but instead is steering working groups in both associations around the initiative’s goals.

One benefit of the partnership is that it helps reduce redundancies in projects both associations are working on. For instance, both have initiatives around using biometrics for passenger identification, and working under the same standard may smooth approval of a standard for multiple groups. “This requires [approval of] governments but it also requires other stakeholders, whether it be national police or security, or companies handling baggage sortation and loading,” said Rostworowski. “All of this information requires a lot of stakeholders to be involved. One entity can’t do it alone.”

Another benefit of combining forces is that it gives both groups more leverage with regulators to make proposed infrastructure changes. “When we approach the regulators hand-in-hand, we have a better chance of succeeding,” Nick Careen, senior vice president for airport, passenger, cargo and security at IATA, told Future Travel Experience. A handful of airports in the Netherlands, India, Dubai, Great Britain, and China have announced that they’re working with NEXTT.

Throughout 2018 the two associations will be spending time talking with member airport and airlines to solicit feedback, recommendations, and hopefully new partners. “The critical mass of IATA’s airline members and ACI’s airport member airports is a good starting point, but we don’t want to stop there,” Mistry said. “We want this to be an industry effort; we want the industry to own it. Our aim is to get a significant mass of the industry on board.”

(anyaberkut/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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