As the use of beacons to connect with customers becomes commonplace in other areas of life, such as retail, aviation will have an easier time making passengers comfortable with these exchanges. The trick is data exchange with airports, and between airlines. The commercial and strategic value of the Big Data airlines gather about us at various stages of the journey makes them loathe to share too much.
Aviation technology firm SITA reports in its latest Airline IT Trends Survey that 44% of airlines will leverage beacon technology to improve their services and connections with customers by 2018.
That represents a near five-fold increase over the ∼9% of airlines actively working with beacons to improve their passenger experience today.
Most airlines currently use beacons in the check-in area, in transit zones and in certain areas of the airport where passengers gather. The most common use of beacon connections by airlines is to transmit flight and gate updates to customers through the airline’s app.
Other uses of beacon connections, less common today, will increase over the next three years, SITA projects. These include enhancements to way finding, information for baggage collection, estimated time to get to the gate, and offers on duty-free shopping.
Of these possible applications, way finding finding will take the lead growing from 8% of airlines using beacons to enhance this feature to 57% of airlines doing so by 2018.
Growing the IoT Base
While aviation is still developing its Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure, SITA believes it will mature quickly, increasing the amount of data available for airlines and airports to analyze.
As SITA reports in its 2015 survey, 86% of airlines believe the IoT will provide “clear benefits over the next three years.”
Only 16% of airlines are planning a major project in this area today, but up to 41% will make investments in Research and Development, says SITA.
Miami International Airport, for example, implemented a comprehensive network of beacons last year, and American Airlines announced that it would work with Dallas Fort Worth Airport to increase the services it can offer customers with a roll-out of multiple beacons at Terminal D. Japan Airlines ran trials of beacons, at Haneda airport’s domestic Terminal 1, to coordinate staff where they were most needed; pairing iBeacons with smartwatches to let gate agents know where they were most needed.
SITA believes the first area where passengers will benefit from airlines’ beacon and IoT projects will be at the check-in desk; 42% of airlines report that this is their top priority and 56% of airlines say it is among their top-three priorities for IoT passenger improvements.
The challenge for airlines and airports alike, SITA states, is to find the best means of connection, and the right level of proximity, for each application.
“Proximity sensing is poised to have a major impact on industry operations,” says Renaud Irminger, Director of SITA Lab.
The various technologies used in geolocation and proximity readings, including Bluetooth technology, Near Field Communications and Wi-Fi connections complicate the decision-making process as airlines and airports try to avoid potential signal interference.
For maximum benefit to the aviation infrastructure, airlines and airports will also need to get comfortable sharing data gathered with each other, which requires the establishment of policies and systems to support such data exchange.
To make such data exchange easier, SITA has established a Common Use Beacon Registry, which avoids individual airlines trying to establish separate beacon networks at the same airport. Beacons will gather data under “a common form of data sets based on industry standards,” says SITA.
Taking the lead in SITA’s Common Use Beacon Registry are American Airlines and Miami International Airport, along with a select group of others around the world.
“These are the early days,” says Jim Peters, Chief Technology Officer at SITA in a recent report for the air transport industry, “but with the IoT becoming a reality, we can look forward to a game-changing and real-time revolution in the way we do things.”