Travel tech provider Amadeus shares vision of airport systems in the cloud

Airport CIOs from around the world talk of a brighter, cloud-first future, reports Krishan Sharma.

Migrating common use airport systems to the cloud will save significant costs, improve operational efficiency and bring true location-independent passenger processing, according to a discussion paper [.PDF] submitted by travel technology provider, Amadeus, at the Annual Airports Council International Conference.

According to the paper, which reports the views of over 20 senior IT leaders from the airport industry, the inflexible nature of existing internal passenger processing systems (used for passenger check-in and boarding) and the ongoing cost of maintaining disparate systems are real pain points for airport operators. The report reveals most airports around the world are still using “antiquated” Common Use Terminal Equipment (CUTE) initially introduced back in 1984.

Common Use Passenger Processing Systems Standard (CUPPS), introduced in 2004, was designed to remedy some of the issues stemming from the older CUTE platform, but the lack of interoperability between the two systems meant a limited number of airports adopted the standard.

“This setup is reliant on 1950s-era technology and is not really embracing the revolutionary capability of the internet,” said Michael Ibbitson, CIO of London Gatwick Airport.

“Each airline using our CUPPS system needs to build integration locally, on-site. The aviation industry has tried to address the problem with the development of CUTE and CUPPS standards but, in doing so, seems to have reinforced the existing structure rather than instigate change,” Ibbitson added.

The report says a cloud-based Common Use platform will lower costs for airports with its economies of scale, reduce onsite IT infrastructure, and bring about significant energy savings with the switch to thin clients. The report also argues cloud adoption in airports would enable remote passenger processing regardless of location. 

“We would like to have iPads so staff can be mobile. We also need to be able to scale the system to handle peaks. Our goal is to find a way to unite disparate systems to create a single information flow,” noted Copenhagen Airport CIO, Christian Poulsen.

Some airports still have doubts stemming from concerns about resilience, privacy, security, and the risk involved in moving to a cloud based operation. However, the report suggests attitudes to these issues are gradually changing.

“The recent Heartbleed bug was a perfect example for us. Our cloud service providers were able to resolve the issue in hours, [while] some of our onsite systems took a few days [or] up to a week, due mainly to resource availability,” says Ibbitson.