2020 was the toughest year for the global air industry, where every airline recorded a drop in revenues and reduced passenger and cargo traffic due to Covid-19 lockdowns.

However, it was also the year when air transport leaders realized the need to deploy technology to turn around the aviation business, while also making it more sustainable in case of a future global crisis.

Multinanational aviation technology company Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques (SITA) has outlined five tech trends that will greatly influence the future of air transport starting this year.

1. Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence

The Internet of Things (IoT), an interconnection of multiple devices and cloud services on a fast network, has huge potential for the profitability of airlines. The seamless mix of 5G capabilities, maturing Artificial Intelligence (AI) programs, and the ubiquity of sensors embedded into cheaper hardware is making IoT a reality.

This is a network of data-producing devices that make decisions faster, making processes efficient across airports. A typical IoT system consists of robotics, automated passenger screening, baggage monitoring, autonomous vehicles to take passengers to the next connecting plane, ticket verification, virtual agents and machine learning.

This best describes the expectation of the Fourth Industrial where IoT will address immediate needs like sanitization, social distancing, and the automation of customer support processes, making the physical world around us connected and intelligent.

2. Blockchain

A blockchain network is a decentralized system of approving processes, a shared, immutable ledger where everyone has control. Blockchain best fits solving challenges associated with the air transport industry, since it is the only technology that will guarantee you a Single Source of Truth (SSoT) while sharing information safely among different industry players.

It facilitates smooth workflow and authenticated data sharing.The use of blockchain could increase aerospace industry revenue by as much as 4 percent or Sh4 trillion while cutting Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) costs globally by around 5 percent, according to PwC.

Savings will be derived from secure document storage, ensuring confidentiality and data privacy, improved insights on repair time and inventory, automated workflows, and more efficient record reconciliation.

In 2020, SITA says it used blockchain in a ‘Blockchain Alliance MRO Proof of Concept’ to record and track two separate strands of information for each aircraft part: a digital thread and a digital passport.

The digital thread provided the real-time status, chain of custody, and back-to-birth track and trace of the aircraft part over time. The digital passport – like a human passport – provided the indisputable identity of a part and contains other vital data such as certification of airworthiness to prove ownership.

From a passenger perspective, customs processes are another area where blockchain can solve challenges. Airports, airlines, and governments can share baggage content information to pre-clear bags at arrival, hence avoiding the need to recheck bags in transit.

3. Digital Identity

If there is an area that hampered passenger travel trust is identity, where some passengers forge passports. But in the coming years, the development of a digital identity system will replace the traditional passport. One approach is a Digital Travel Credential (DTC), currently being explored and progressed by United Nations agency International Civil Aviation Organization(ICAO).

Another potential solution is self-sovereign identity, a form of digital identity giving travelers control over how their personal data is shared and used. It adds a layer of security and flexibility, allowing the identity holder to reveal only the data required for any given transaction or interaction.

The benefits of using self-sovereign identity include lower financial transaction costs, protecting people’s personal information, limiting opportunity for cybercrime, and simplifying identity challenges in various fields, including travel, healthcare and banking.

4. Software Defined Networks (SDN)

Passenger flow management technologies such as SITA Airport Management provide real-time passenger monitoring and actionable insights, for airports to understand and manage passenger movement throughout the airport, will become handy.

It will become a necessity to proactively manage crowd density and social distancing during daily operations, as well as longer-term planning. Innovation in software defined networks will enable more resilient and agile airport operations that can respond to the changing demands of travel during and post-pandemic.

A robust SDN portfolio allows multiple airlines, ground handlers, and other tenants to access the same virtualized infrastructure in the cloud, delivering more scalable and agile connectivity.

5. Biometrics and Covid-19 passenger clearance

The digitally optimized traveler experience makes use of facial recognition and touchless technologies, embedded in various self-service devices. SITA has already implemented Smart Path self-service biometric and mobile technology and automated the outbound passenger journey at several airports, including Beijing and Miami.

These deliver a ‘walk-through’ airport experience, where passengers can simply use their face as their boarding pass and walk from the taxi to the plane in a fluid and seamless fashion.

Health expected time of arrival (ETAs) data will allow governments to receive the information they need to help reduce the risk of infection from travel and tourism.

Travelers are required to provide information on their health status – potentially including PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test results that indicate the presence of Covid-19 antigens – and are informed of that assessment’s outcome in advance of travel. This will give travelers confidence before they start that they will be allowed to complete their journey.

Advance Passenger Processing (APP) brings the ability to assess the risk, including health risks, and allow or deny travel at check-in.

When coupled with the implementation of a Health ETA service, it enables real-time checks to be performed to confirm that each traveler has completed the required health checks and is eligible to travel.