As countries reopen borders to relieve economic deprivation, they are heavily reliant on touchless technology to keep the gates open longer …

The pandemic-hit global aviation industry is slowly recovering, but it is also transitioning to new travel guidelines and rules.

So-called ‘touchless travel’ is quietly gaining precedence and will be accepted as the norm. Technologies such as AI, ML, QR Codes, biometric authentication, automated e-gates, robotics, and related touchless technologies will take travel experience and safety to a whole new level. 

To find out more about how these Industry 4.0 technologies will pan out in the slow process of restoring some form of normality to global travel, DigiconAsia interviewed Vinod Bhat, Chief Information Officer, Vistara Airlines.

DigiconAsia: How has the aviation industry transformed since the pandemic?

Vinod Bhat, Chief Information Officer, Vistara Airlines

Vinod Bhat (Vinod): Demand and supply patterns have been dynamic and fluid, forcing airlines to be cost-nimble, agile, resilient, and adaptable. Airlines have started prioritizing CAPEX and optimizing OPEX spends. Travelers’ expectation of a consistent experience across channels—while maintaining safety and hygiene—has become the new norm. Digital technologies have played a significant role in this transformation from the B2E and B2C perspective. 

Since the resumption of domestic air travel in India in May 2020, airlines have been redefining the customer journey with technologies to maintain the highest safety standards throughout the travel experience. Touchless technologies have gained a lot of prominence in the aviation sector. Vistara is the first airline to have introduced touchless/paperless boarding at a few Indian airports two years ago. 

Industry 4.0 technologies like automation, AI, ML, Cloud, IoT, Big Data and Analytics, have also been playing a key role in helping airlines optimize operations, improve revenue, etc. This has been very helpful given the financial stress that the pandemic had put on the industry.

Another notable transformation, more from a customer behaviour perspective, is the growing preference for non-stop, direct flights to avoid the risk of contracting the virus while in transit. We have witnessed this trend emerge and expect it to get stronger in the future as safety and hygiene continue to be among the top considerations for customers while traveling.

DigiconAsia: How is the aviation industry preparing for touchless travel?

Vinod: Before the pandemic, innovation to introduce touchless or low-contact travel was being done to create a more enjoyable, hassle-free experience for the customer. However, the pandemic truly sped up the process as touchless travel gained importance as a way to minimize the risk of contracting the virus while traveling.

For example, casting kiosk information on mobile apps; scan & fly; self-tagging; self-baggage drop; self-boarding; e-gates; biometrics/face recognition; e-boarding passes; and bag tags are all touchless solutions that have been helpful in making air travel safer.

This has proven to be a game-changer for us. Today, the entire aviation ecosystem is investing in several technologies, including touchless, to make the customer journey safer and more convenient.

DigiconAsia: How will airports and airlines transform to ensure touchless travel?

Vinod: At airports, the contactless journey will be supported by biometric innovation, data exchange and digital cooperation between airlines and airports. Facial recognition at check-in and baggage drop-points, touchless biometrics to verify passenger identity, QR codes and smart cameras for identification, automated e-gates, robotics, and AI are some of the technologies that have already been deployed around the world to ensure minimum contact. 

Also, IoT technologies will play a significant role in making airports smart. Automated, sensor-based systems will collect customer information and accordingly guide customers at various checkpoints like security, passport verification, baggage submission etc. It will help in avoiding long queues and decongest the counters.

DigiconAsia: What are the challenges in implementing touchless travel?

Vinod: When it comes to travel and contactless solutions customer expectations have significantly changed. However, adoption and streamlining of these operations can pose a challenge. Also, the right infrastructure for running, maintaining and constantly upgrading these technologies is also important.

I feel that the industry must come together to not just implement technology enhancements across different touch points, but to also make sure the process is sustained well and regularly reviewed to maintain efficiency.

DigiconAsia: How will technologies like biometric, facial recognition, QR codes and others help in ensuring this?

Vinod: Most of these technologies have already been in use in many parts of the world, while others are in the process of deploying them.

Technologies like biometric facial recognition, QR Codes, smart cameras and other robotics backed by AI and big data analytics will, eventually, be able to assist customers throughout their journey without having to physically interact with any person or surface.

Right from the moment a customer enters the airport getting his or her ID verified, to checking in, security checks, boarding and so on—all these will be powered by technologies that can take data-based decisions to make it increasingly more convenient, and more importantly, safer.

There will be greater use of thermal cameras powered by high bandwidth 5G connectivity, supported by edge computing.

DigiconAsia thanks Vinod for his valuable opinions.