Putting People First - Aviation IT Trends in China

The 2014 Airport IT Trends Survey reveals that China’s airports are increasingly focused on the passenger experience.

To support the massive growth in traffic across China, the nation’s airports are investing in new infrastructure and technology and from an IT perspective, passenger processing tops the agenda, according to the latest Airport IT Trends Survey.

The annual survey, conducted by SITA in partnership with ACI, is based on responses from participants at airports, which between them accounted for 2.35 billion passengers or 42% of the total global passenger traffic last year. And it reveals that 53% of China’s gateways cite passenger processing as their highest IT priority, followed by security and airport operations.


The shift of focus from operations to passengers is noticeable in the choice of investment projects with 65% of airports having major programmes – and a further 29% running pilot projects – related to self-service. New self-service options are also being introduced to improve passenger handling, such as bag-tag printing, selfboarding and bag-drop.

Today, 65% of airports can offer bag-tag printing, up from 46% in 2013, while self-boarding is available at 35% of leading airports in China, a jump from 8% last year. Chinese airports continue to increase the number of common-use kiosks available to passengers. Some 35% of leading Chinese airports plan to add more kiosks for check-in, and 35% are planning to install them for other uses (up from 29% in 2013).

“By the end of 2017, 94% of airports in China will have implemented real-time notification via social media and mobile”


Airports in China are embracing new social trends too, such as mobile and social media, driven by Generation Y consumers. In fact, in 2014, every airport surveyed had a major investment or an evaluation project related to passenger services via mobile and social media. Behind the investments is a strong desire to develop a more personalised customer service through direct interaction and a majority of airports (53%) rate their social media investments against this criteria as performing well or above expectations.

In particular, Chinese airports are using mobile and social media to communicate with passengers in times of disruption. By the end of 2017, 94% of airports in China will have implemented real-time notification via social media and mobile.

Global trends

China is certainly not alone in its ambition to improve passenger processing at airports as the survey found that it is the leading IT priority of airports around the world. According to the survey, nearly half (47%) of the world’s airports rank passenger and airport security as their top IT priority.

Indeed, the annual airport survey shows a focus on the connected traveller with investments in IT infrastructure and services that give passengers more convenience and control. It claims that self-service and mobile options are key areas of investment with more than 80% of global airports planning a project in these areas over the next three years. The good news for passengers is that airports also have more money to invest in IT: 63% of CIOs expect to have spent more on technology in absolute terms in 2014 compared with 2013, and their total spend is estimated at $6.8 billion.

Francesco Violante, CEO SITA, says: “This is the age of the connected traveller with nearly all passengers carrying mobiles, tablets and other devices. It is vital that airports invest in the infrastructure to support the changing expectations of these passengers.

“This year’s survey shows that the majority of airports globally are investing more in new technologies and mobile services for passengers in an effort to improve passenger processes and satisfaction.”

New innovations

Over the next three years, more multi-service kiosks, self-bag drop and self-boarding services will be at airports around the world as 86% of airports plan investments in these areas. And the survey shows that by 2017, nearly three-quarters of airports expect the majority of their passengers to use self-service check-in. Common-use kiosks continue to be popular, with 60% of airports planning to increase their numbers for check-in and other uses.

Geo-location technology, which allows an airport to provide services in relation to where the passenger or staff member is at a particular time, is one of the initiatives popular with airports; 60% plan geo-location programmes over the next three years. Newer innovations have caught the eye of some airports, too, with 49% investing in near field communications (NFC), 33% planning iBeacon programmes and 16% investigating wearable technologies during the same period. But it is the airports in Europe that are embracing these innovations the most. By 2017, 76% of them plan programmes with geo-location, 55% with NFC and 23% with iBeacons.

Mobile investments continue to be a major part of airport IT strategies with 84% investing in mobile applications for passenger services over the next three years. The most common mobile service currently available is flight status notifications, with 50% of airports offering it now and 90% planning to offer it within the next three years.

Social media

Mobile is going to take hold in other areas, too. By 2017, the vast majority of airports plan to expand services through mobile apps, including customer relationship management (CRM) (78%), wayfinding (72%), security wait-time notifications (73%) and retail services (65%).

For the connected traveller, airports will increasingly offer CRM via social media. Already 30% do so, but this is set to jump to 70% over the next three years. Overall, the performance in social media for airports is mixed. Of those airports that measure social media usage, 13% have found that it has exceeded their expectations while nearly 18% report passenger usage figures lower than expected.

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