It’s no secret that the aviation industry is among the hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, with severe restrictions on travel and closed borders resulting in massive falls in passenger volumes globally.
Airports around the world have had their resilience tested to the limit as they faced the initial paralysis of the skies, followed by the ongoing waves of the pandemic.
However, there is a glimmer of light on the horizon driven by the roll-out of the global vaccination programmes in the majority of countries, albeit at different levels of implementation.
Despite the significantly curtailed demand globally and regionally due to Covid-19, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts the Middle East will see a 4.4pc growth in passenger journeys over the period through to 2039.
With the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) home to some of the most advanced airports in the world and often excelling in passenger service, they are on the front foot to ensure restored confidence in flying once again.
Airport operators and airlines are faced with the challenge of balancing the additional health and safety requirements with providing a good passenger experience.
Innovation and technology across the Middle East will play a key role in unlocking improvements for passenger experience and safety whilst also igniting the recovery for the sector.
Ireland has forged a strong reputation for delivering world-leading innovative solutions that are used every day by the largest airlines in the world and across the wider aviation sector.
We need this innovation now more than ever to power the industry’s recovery and Irish companies will continue to shape this new age for air travel.
One trend that will become more widespread is the adoption of contactless technology in order to minimise the spread of viruses and reduce interaction between staff and passengers throughout the entire journey.
Irish company IO Systems, which operates the automated baggage return tray systems in Dubai International Airport, is a good case in point.
The company has adapted its latest models to include blue light cleansing technology to ensure their trays are actively cleaned as they automatically return through the baggage system.
Airports can ensure additional safety measures are applied whilst still ensuring a good passenger experience is delivered through the introduction of these type of innovative solutions.
Technology has advanced swiftly over the course of the pandemic in reaction to the changing environment, and a new focus on health considerations in technology and process transformation has emerged.
The hot topic in the industry right now is the digital health certification to capture the completed vaccination process or Covid-19 status of people intending to fly.
Irish biometric identity assurance specialist Daon is leading the way by creating the world’s first widely adopted mobile health passport to help those eligible to travel to navigate the changing entry requirements associated with Covid-19.
The company’s new VeriFLY app, which has already been adopted by American Airlines, British Airways, Iberia Airlines and Aer Lingus, is designed to offer peace of mind before travel by ensuring passengers meet the entry requirements of their destination.
VeriFLY provides digital health document verification, confirms eligibility, and allows people to combine necessary travel documents, such as Covid-19 test results, in one place, allowing travellers to ensure they are fully compliant with all the departure and arrival requirements before leaving home.
Certified customers will be fast-tracked through the airport where specially designated desks are available for check-in.
With the global smart airports market to top $22.6bn by 2025, the requirement for advanced technologies – especially as part of the immediate recovery – will continue to be an important market for the vast array of Irish companies operating in the sector.
We are likely to see new entrants into the airport space across technologies such as biometrics, robotics, cloud technologies and IoT.
So, as the post-pandemic recovery starts to take shape and we begin to look again towards the sky on our route to recovery, we can feel optimistic about the future.
While it’s certain that air travel will never look the same again, these initiatives will allow us to look ahead to our flights with restored confidence.
Alan O’Mahony is market adviser for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region at Enterprise Ireland