Sixty Seconds with Chris Chalk

Posted: 8 December 2014 | Chris Chalk, Chairman, British Aviation Group

Chris Chalk, Chairman of the British Aviation Group, discusses collaborative innovation in the airport IT industry.

How important is it for airports to integrate new technologies?

It is perhaps more important for airports to firstly embrace new technologies, and to understand that not doing so will relegate their airport to the bone yard of the future. People think this is all to do with historical airport systems integration, however new technologies skip over much of this through the use of real-time public networks. Well-integrated technologies improve safety, security, customer experience, operational efficiency and perhaps most importantly, the commercial performance and investor return. Airports, with their clear ownership of end-to-end processes and demand for highly definitive measurement of passenger activity, are in a unique position to capitalise on the opportunities offered by new technologies.

What are the common challenges with implementing these innovations?

The biggest challenge for airports is to accommodate the rate of change to systems and applications, and their ability to derive commercial benefit from change. There is a continuing tendency to define and specify ICT infrastructure and associated systems as part of an overall construction project – a habit that means that airports are often built in obsolescence. Furthermore, airports do not usually comprehend the commercialisation opportunities of ICT infrastructure and systems which can be a huge inhibitor to investment in technology.

How important is it for stakeholders to work together?

It is vital to develop briefs that define the overall output performance, rather than detailed stakeholder-specific requirements. It is also becoming more critical to involve commercial if airports want to optimise the benefits from the investment in ICT infrastructure. Each generation of systems provides a step change in data acquisition, all of which offer beneficial use. However, human intervention and management of this data through systems is no longer practicable due to the volume of information created, hence systems need to provide intelligent decision support capabilities. Consequentially we are finding that systems are now capable of tracing behavioural patterns and identifying potentially inefficient behaviour as much as optimising the passenger experience.

Do you think suppliers could help airports with overcoming these challenges by incorporating their feedback in the initial R&D phase of a product’s development?

Feedback is essential and this does happen but the key is to have a balance of R&D investment between the airports and the systems suppliers. Having too much on the supplier side will result in systems becoming proprietary, locking in high service charges to recover the costs. Too little and they will be unadventurous and backward-looking. Airports and suppliers must remember that systems provide not just a platform for the management of the productivity and efficiency of an airport business and its operations, but can also help to maximise its commercial performance.

What work is the British Aviation Group doing to promote collaborative innovation?

The British Aviation Group is unique in its structure as a trade association, in that much of its work is collaborative development between its members as well as its outreach to external customers. This is demonstrated through members’ activities in all of the top 60 international airports in the world, as well as through leadership in the planning, design of ICT infrastructure and systems of many of the very newest airport facilities. We have a range of special interest groups including consultancy, security/IT and systems that meet on a regular basis to discuss their latest developments as well as cross collaboration. The level of collaboration that this produces is unique to this industry and helps deliver the best results for the customer.

What IT trends do you envisage coming to the fore over the next year?

You just need to travel to Asia to understand that everything happens on your phone. There is an insatiable appetite for data, and to plan what to do before you do it. Your phone will become your end-to-end guide and the development of apps that enable this are the prevalent trend. Knowing the status of passengers and bags, and where they are geographically located at any one time, allows useful information to be created to guide and inform actions that will reduce waiting times, delays and operational costs. Passengers will know which gate and which carousel and well as way finding with on route commercial opportunities. And real check-in will be an electronic transaction tethering a device to the person and trip.


Chris Chalk is Chairman of the British Aviation Group, the UK’s leading trade association in the aviation sector. He is also Aviation Practice Leader for Mott MacDonald a leading management and engineering consultancy. Chris has over 25 years’ experience in leading airport planning design and finance, including major airport developments around the world, including Hong Kong, Singapore, Delhi, Istanbul, St Petersburg, Manchester and Quito.

Send this to a friend