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No more printed tickets. Shorter queues at check-in counters. Humanoid robots walking amidst you, giving you directions and guidance. Get ready for all this and more in just a few months from now.
India is undergoing a technological revolution on many fronts, and airports are not going to be left behind. The DigiYatra intiative launched by the Ministry of Civil Aviation aims to bring a digital ecosystem into airports so passengers can enjoy a better air travel experience and smoother day to day airport operations.
Identification of price trends, estimation of airfares, incorporating biometrics, and setting up digital kiosks that guide passengers are some of the initiatives that Indian airports are slated to adopt.
Here are some of these recent announcements:
Say hello to robot KEMPA - Priyank Kharge, the former Karnataka state Minister for Information Technology and Bio-Technology, tweeted in March 2018 about a robot that is planned to be deployed in the Kempegowda International Airport (KIAL) in Bangalore. It will use artificial intelligence to answer passenger’s questions about directions, airport information, even tourism information. KEMPA is bi-lingual and will converse in English as well as Kannada.
Hold-baggage scanners to save time - The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has teamed up with global leader Smiths Detection and invested USD 50 million to purchase hold-baggage scanners. A smart solution that includes high-speed explosives detection systems (EDS) will be integrated. This technological wonder is capable of scanning close to 1,800 bags in an hour. What this means for travelers is that they don’t have to line-up at scanning machines to get their luggage scanned, thereby saving time Plans are on to install these hold-baggage scanners at nine airports across the country.
Biometric solutions for faster, more secure boarding - In an attempt to make boarding more tech-savvy, simple, and secure, the DigiYatra initiative has identified three airports (Varanasi, Kolkata, and Vijayawada) to pilot a biometric boarding process. According to the Chairman of the AAI, ”…The changing profile of air passengers in the country along with safety is a challenge and technology would play a big role in meeting such challenges.” This will ensure less waiting time, better security, and an easier boarding process.
Aadhaar - the only identification you need – Here’s one for Indian travellers. Aadhaar, or the Unique Identification Number, is making an appearance in every aspect of our lives - travel is the latest one. AAI aims to make travel paperless, so the only identification needed will be the Aadhaar that holds all your personal identification details. At present, passengers have to show a printed or mobile air ticket and a government identity card to enter airports. Under the new system, which will benefit the airlines, security agencies and airport operators, and passengers, airport entry would be based on biometrics. E-gates, which are common abroad, are also set to become ubiquitous. These advancements will not only reduce congestion that manual checks can cause, but also ensures tighter security. However, as a backup manual gates and checks will also be available for those who do not want to use Aadhaar for entry.
I experienced a taste of some of these technology upgrades just yesterday when I was traveling through Hyderabad airport. As anyone who has travelled in India knows, there are two security checks before you get to the departure hall – once at the entrance (no visitors are allowed into the main airport building) and again when scanning carry-on bags. At the second point the security officer does a body check and then stamps your boarding pass – at Hyderabad airport this time there was no stamping. The officer had a scanner that read the QR code on the boarding pass. It may not have saved time, but it was more efficient and provided a better passenger experience.
According to global airlines’ body International Air Transport Association (IATA), India will be the third largest aviation market by 2025, after the US and China. Embracing technology is the only way airports can equip themselves to manage this kind of traffic.