China’s aviation industry climbs new heights with AI, automation

Airlines and airports in China are embracing artificial intelligence and automation to provide the hyper-personalised self-service experience demanded by today’s travellers.

According to the SITA 2019 China IT Insights report, China’s airlines and airports are using these technologies to expand mobile services and automating the journey with self-service every step of the way.

China’s airlines and airports are using AI and automation to expand mobile services

A key technology that is attracting investment is artificial intelligence (AI). SITA’s China IT Insights reveals that 88 per cent of both airlines and airports are planning major programmes, or R&D, with AI by 2022, with a focus on virtual agents and chatbots.

This investment matches the demands from passengers. SITA’s research of passengers in China shows that 64 per cent of them want a digital travel concierge. Already nearly half (43 per cent) of airlines in China have AI-driven chatbot customer services and the planned investment should see the availability of them rising quickly over the coming years.

Speaking at the SITA China Air Transport IT Summit in Nanning, May Zhou, vice president and general manager of SITA China, said: “China’s airlines and airports have a strong record in embracing technology and automation to drive efficient operations and high levels of passenger services. Now, they are moving to the next level where they will harness artificial intelligence to deliver more services, faster and to more people.”

For passengers of China’s airlines and airports, self-service has reached a strong level of maturity, but a step-change is coming as biometrics is being adopted. Today, 27 per cent of airports have self-boarding gates using biometrics with travel documents, but in just three years, that figure will jump to 66 per cent.

And more than half of the airports have plans for secure single biometric tokens for all touch points by 2022. Airlines too are committing to self-boarding gates using biometrics with ID, with 60 per cent planning to use them to drive a secure and seamless passenger experience in airports over the next three years.

Zhou added: “The adoption of self-service by passengers across China has been very encouraging for airlines and airports. At SITA, we see many in the industry who are now ready and planning to add biometrics to bring self-service to the next level.”

The report also found that mobile services are vital to meet China passengers’ demands and by 2022, all airlines and 93 per cent of airports are planning investments in them. Services including flight discovery, airline offers, check-in and flight status notifications via mobile are already provided by all airlines. One fifth are also using mobiles to sell newspapers, magazines and movies/TV to passengers.

Airports too are investing in mobile services to offer a more personalised experience for passengers. Services, including notifications about flight and airport status, and customer relationship management, are well established and are offered by up to 81 per cent of airports.

Keeping the passenger informed and connected is not only what China’s airports are providing via mobile, they are also facilitating mobile payments. Close to three quarters enable passengers to buy airport services and allow cashless payments via mobile. This hyper-personalised service via mobile confirms it as a vital tool for China passengers.

The report highlights that blockchain technology is another key area of investment for airlines. Today, only 24 per cent have major programmes, or R&D, planned but that number is set to jump to 80 per cent by 2022. This is in line with the recent trends and commitments to blockchain technology in the country.

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