SITA has been synonymous with beacon technology since its commercial applications first became apparent to airports and airlines in early 2014. This is largely due to the development of SITA’s Common-use Beacon Registry, an air transport community service for managing global beacon deployments. Prior to this, airport operators were aware of the technology but could not envision its deployment and application without complications.
“SITA was one of the first to investigate beacon technology and how it could be used in the air transport community,” says Kevin O’Sullivan, lead engineer for SITA Lab. “Very soon it became clear that there was a need for some management of the infrastructure at the airport because of the potential for radio interference. This resulted in the creation of the SITA Common-Use Beacon Registry, a service provided by SITA to the community to allow beacons to be managed by the airport and made available on a ‘common-use’ basis. It is clear that for the potential of beacons to be fully realized in airports, they need to be deployed as common-use infrastructure, similar to the way that airlines currently share kiosks, check-in desks, and boarding gates.”
Beacon technology is still in its development stages, but it is clear that personalization via passengers’ smartphones is already an essential part of the airport experience. Airports and airlines are releasing new apps and upgrades every other week, but not many utilize the full potential of beacon technology.
“For airlines and airports, the coming three years will be all about laying the groundwork for personalization that addresses passenger needs,” adds O’Sullivan. “Alongside a further expansion of flight status updates via mobile apps by both sectors, airlines will be improving fare offers and tailoring services based on real-time passenger data.
“Truly personalized service experiences via smartphone apps based on real-time passenger data, such as trip status (delay/cancellation), customer value, inventory, purchase history, etc, are just getting off the ground, but 65% of airlines plan to have this capability over the next three years.”
One airport that has fully embraced beacon technology is Miami International Airport in Florida. In autumn 2014, the airport deployed iBeacon technology at every point throughout the terminal including the entrances, check-in, gates, baggage claim, retail outlets, and valet parking waiting areas. Deployment took two days and in late November the airport announced the release of its smartphone app that would eventually work in tandem with the iBeacons to push relevant information to passengers.
“Miami Airport has the passenger experience as its number one concern – by using beacons it can make it better. By installing the beacons and making them available to use by all the airport’s stakeholders through the SITA Common-use Beacon Registry, passengers can now be provided with apps for their phones that give location and context-specific information and messages.
“This means that any app developer – working on an app for an airline, ground-handler, retail or food and beverage outlet – can use the signal from the beacons to trigger location-sensitive messages for the app user,” says O’Sullivan.
The iBeacons use Bluetooth Low Energy and geofencing to trigger the notifications and there is no transfer of passenger details between beacons, meaning that the traveler’s security is maintained. The applications can range from receiving advertisements and promotions from different outlets at the airport, to notifications from airlines that the passenger is in the wrong terminal or waiting area for their flight.
O’Sullivan continues, “With beacons, airlines can easily provide passengers with indoor directions, walk times to gates, lounge access and alerts about boarding. Knowing where a passenger is before sending information enables more effective communication.
“It is early days for beacon technology and how it is helping to provide more personalized services to passengers. However, SITA’s global passenger research shows that technology, combined with control through self-service, is already helping to reduce frustration and improve passengers’ experiences as they travel. Passengers themselves have a clear sense about where technology can be used to improve the travel experience.”
Article by Daniel Symonds
March 18, 2015