Artificial intelligence (AI) and biometric technologies have emerged as key themes in the latest technology trends survey performed by aviation IT provider SITA.

The 2018 research, which polled over 180 airline and airport IT executives, revealed that 84% of airlines are planning to delve deeper into AI by 2021—up from just 52% in last year’s survey.

Likewise, 61% of airports are planning a major AI program, or research and development (R&D) in this area, over the next three years, up from up from just 34% in 2017.

“While both airlines and airports are investing in AI, their uses are different. Airlines are looking at the potential of using AI for virtual agents and chatbots with 85% planning to use it here by 2021.

Some 79% of airports are currently using, or planning to use, AI for predictive analysis to improve operational efficiency,” SITA said, announcing the findings at the Euro Air Transport IT Summit in Budapest.

Biometric identity management is also “a key priority,” SITA said, with 77% of airports and 71% airlines planning major programs or R&D over the next three years.

“Secure and seamless travel is a must for the air transport industry. It is encouraging to see that both airlines and airports are investing in biometric technology to deliver a secure, paperless way to identify passengers across multiple steps of the journey,” SITA CEO Barbara Dalibard said.

Biometrics are already being used for self-service check-in at 41% of airports, while 74% have plans to deploy the technology by the end of 2021. Biometric self-boarding gates are also on the rise and SITA says this is set to become commonplace over the next three years, with 59% of airports and 63% of airlines expecting to use them.

However, while initial biometric projects have “seen great success,” more than a third of airlines said integration and the lack of standardization can be daunting. Also, 39% of airports said meeting government and legislative requirements is also a major challenge.

“To deliver a seamless passenger experience, we must all collaborate—airlines, airports, governments and industry suppliers—and use technology to automate, and even eliminate, tedious processes. We achieve the best results when we work together, this has been most apparent when we incorporate secure biometrics into the passenger journey,” Dalibard said.

One of the passenger-identity management technologies triggering industry interest is blockchain. SITA said 40% of airlines and 36% of airports believe blockchain could offer streamline passenger processing, such as reducing the need for multiple ID checks.

The research also found that investment in technology is rising. After a couple of years of stability, future predictions for operating and capital spend are very strong in 2018, with airline IT investment expected to hit 3.67% of total revenue. Meanwhile, airports are expected to spend 5.69% of total revenue on IT this year.

Victoria Moores