While many airports already employ strong digital security solutions at border control checkpoints, connectivity in terminals and in-flight often lags behind what is routinely available in homes. But all that is set to change in the near future, thanks in part to the spread of smartphones and the boom in apps that exploit their potential.
1. Getting up to speed
Streaming flight data from aircraft to ground-based operations and management teams has been hamstrung by connection speeds that are little better than the old dial-up internet connection of around 10-15kbps. As speeds improve, however, real-time monitoring of in-flight performance will enable quicker and more appropriate maintenance schedules, reduce aircraft downtime and provide swifter, more reliable data feedback to avionics manufacturers to improve products.
Etihad Airways, already one of the world's top 10 safest airlines, is looking into downloading air safety reports live from the flight deck, while Boeing is considering introducing in-flight connectivity on some of its aircraft at the production line stage.
2. Good to Gogo
Passengers will also benefit from increased connection quality and speed, with Wi-Fi now estimated to be available on 36% of all flights, up from 24% last year. Gogo, a leading provider of inflight internet and entertainment, now offers a variety of ways to access online services on all participating airlines in North America and Canada. These range from a one-hour to an all-day pass, or a selection of monthly plans for frequent fliers.
3. Beacon beckons
There's an app for just about anything these days, and getting information about shops and restaurants at an airport is no exception. The more forward-thinking airports are now starting to embrace beacon technology. This uses Bluetooth to send out messages to any traveler in possession of an enabled smartphone app who passes within a certain distance of the "beacon" - anything from a Wi-Fi password to gate and flight information. Aviation technology company Sita estimates that as many as 44% of airlines plan to introduce the technology within three years.
4. Safety measures
Security is a huge issue at airports these days, and we have all become accustomed to removing our shoes and belts and handing over our too-large tubes of toothpaste. According to a survey by FlightView, fliers consider security information the second most important requirement (at 79%), behind only updates on the status of a flight.
To reassure parents, Air New Zealand has introduced the NFC Airband for all children between the ages of five and 11 who are traveling on their own. The Airband sends text information to up to five nominated contacts to enable them to monitor the child's progress during the flight. The technology could easily be extended to older travelers, or to people waiting to meet friends, family or a business contact.