Serpentine queues, disgruntled travelers, and deficiencies in airport infrastructure are the signals of airport chaos. Generally speaking, the airport experience today is much reviled. Airports today operate with a sense of entitlement over your time.
He wants to reinvent, re-imagine and rethink passenger experience by creating a Smart and futuristic airport. And he is capitalizing on technology to launch a clutch of digital initiatives that not offer a seamless travel experience but also offer more in terms of facilities and choices for the discerning fliers.
In an interview with ETCIO.COM, Hari Marar, President and Executive Director of Bangalore International Airport (BIAL) shares the digital transformation journey of one of the fastest growing airports in the country .
What is one of the biggest challenges that Bangalore (BLR) airport is faced with?
The civil aviation traffic in India is growing at 20 % year on year. And BIAL is one of the fastest growing airports in India. And BIAL is one of the fastest growing airports in India. BIAL has a terminal building with a capacity of 20 million passengers but over 23 million people travel through it. We have a terminal 2 coming up which will be the next big capacity expansion and will take another 4 years to build.
The traditional response to capacity challenges at airports has been constructing more which means pouring more concrete. But that’s time-consuming and expensive. The best way to work around this issue would be to reinvent, re-imagine and rethink passenger experience at the airport.
Ultimately, a terminal building is a physical box and its capacity can be defined by its throughput rate so if at a particular throughput rate, a terminal is capable of handling a certain number of passengers then at an improved throughput rate it could handle 30-35 million passengers. So to improve the throughput rate we decided to enhance the passenger experience.
Digital empowerment brings awareness. The digitally empowered customers are far more demanding, restless and discerning to the extent that what is excellence today will be par for the course tomorrow. Expectations on turnaround time are changing drastically. They are judge, jury, and execution. If the customer experience is shoddy they can hang you in the public domain instantly. With the power of social media customer-facing services like airports cannot afford to compromise on their customer experience.
As the President and Executive Director of BIAL, what is your vision for the airport?
We are committed to a futuristic and innovative vision of The Smart Airport - a digitalized, seamlessly connected, intuitive airport. BIAL has ambitious plans to tap into a variety of new and emerging technologies as part of this vision. A key driver to creating an airport-of-the-future is to embrace technologies that simplify, streamline and enhance travel processes.
People are at the core of our business, and the focus at BIAL is to explore opportunities that create a synergy between technological innovation and passenger experience. At BIAL, our aim is to transform our customer’s airport experience. Every new initiative is introduced keeping the customer in mind. We also aim to revolutionize the way passengers experience the Bangalore Airport through a combination of digital technologies that include the Internet of Things, people, services, and data. To this end, BIAL is working very closely with Accenture to create a digital path that envisions our needs as a growing airport.
The airport is building on its existing technological capabilities to engage with customers and provide integrated servicesBSE -1.18 % across various touch points. The innovation potential of the recently-developed digital platform will continuously adapt to the Bengaluru Airport’s evolving digital needs. Through these efforts, BIAL aims to future-proof operations and services by mining the abundant digital data available to create more personalized, just-in-time travel service. Ultimately, we want to transform every customer’s airport experience.
What are the key digital initiatives you are driving?
A first step – as part of this digital transformation – was to offer passengers everything at a single click on their mobile phones through the BLR Airport App. BIAL introduced the BLR Airport App, in September 2016, as part of its digital platform offering.
The key features of the app, which is aimed at giving travelers an ‘airport in their pocket’ experience, allows real-time flight tracking, provides timely updates related to flights and gates, bus connectivity to and from the airport, offers a wide array of retail and F&B options, amongst others.
With an increasing need for secure personal identification at the airport, BIAL recognized the benefits of using Aadhaar-enabled entry and Biometric E-Boarding Processes for passenger processing and access control. With real-time authentication of passengers, entry using biometric readers aim to enhance security, speed-up clearance and alleviate delays at the airport. In addition to eliminating the need for passengers to present identification and boarding passes at multiple stages of the airport journey, passengers can expect smooth and stress-free passage through various touch points. Airport security largely depends on Bonafide passengers and biometric screening provides exactly that, with minimal human intervention.
The focus is to offer travelers a quick and seamless experience. The Aadhaar-based process enables a passenger to be verified in under 5 seconds at every checkpoint – right up to the boarding gate – making it possible to complete the screening process in 10 minutes or less, compared with the existing average of 25 minutes. This helps more passengers enter through the same gate.
The trials for both processes commenced in February 2017 and were successfully completed with live flights. BIAL is in the process of identifying a partner that can help with the implementation. Once rolled out, we will be the first airport in the country to verify passengers through the Aadhaar-enabled entry and Biometric E-Boarding Process.
With a continuous focus on innovation, another process introduced at BIAL is the Smart Security Lane with Automatic Tray Return. The Smart Security Lane is an integrated system that combines cabin baggage X-ray machines, an automated tray return system and an advanced image management platform to provide a more efficient, and less intrusive experience for passengers.
The Smart Security Lane system will significantly reduce waiting times at the point of baggage screening, and reduce the clutter and chaos seen today at the Security Check Area, which translates to reduced stress, higher passenger satisfaction and improved operational efficiencies at Terminal. The system has the potential to increase the number of bags processed per hour by nearly 60% to 100% over current numbers, while simultaneously decreasing the number of staff required to man the process. Using a centralized, Remote Screening Setup for Hand Bag Clearance, the system also optimises the use of CISF resources.
How are you tapping into digital to create new revenue opportunities and realize operational efficiencies for BIAL and its business partners?
An airport is no longer seen as just a facilitator in an air journey – passengers have come to build an emotional connect with an airport, leading to certain expectations. To meet these expectations, BIAL is creating custom-built digital solutions that will connect passengers to a network of possibilities and enhance their airport experince.
Our concerted effort is to work with partners to introduce interactive digital solutions that will create value for our customers while being profitable at the same time. Today, digital is creating fresh opportunities for airports to interact directly with passengers, thus improving operational efficiencies and increasing revenues by leveraging the abundant digital data generated by passengers, processes, organizations and devices. This data not only helps us understand the passenger better to provide contextual information but also creates an ecosystem that can make personalized offers and provide an Omni-channel experience. Offers such as pre-booked taxis, pre-ordered meals, earn and burn miles, partnerships, offers, etc., are all possible with the extensive use of digital technologies in the context of an airport.
Airports are now able to create more personalized, ‘just-in-time’ travel services and deepen insights across the value chain. Using real-time data, airports can offer never-before services such as assisting passengers to identify and locate friends and colleagues who are at the same airport, enabling social interaction.
In essence, data can be leveraged to boost overall customer experience, enhance the non-aeronautical share of wallet, improve retail revenues and make it a preferred airport. We also understand that as passengers begin to have loftier expectations from airports, it will be important for us to collaborate with our partners to closely examine the operating model and optimize technology as a primary lever for driving operational efficiencies.
Customer centricity is the center point of every digital transformation.