Interview Spotlight: Suhail Kamil Kadri, Vice President of Information Technology, Hamad International (HIA)
Hamad International (HIA) has recently embarked on a number of projects to improve the airport’s communication structure, ease the passenger flow and to ensure the notion of seamless travel deployed. In an exclusive interview for International Airport Review, Suhail Kamil Kadri, Vice President of Information Technology, reveals the airport’s journey to becoming smart.
What technologies has HIA introduced to enhance the airport’s digital capabilities?
Our goal is to provide a relaxed and seamless experience for the millions of valued passengers that depart, arrive, or transfer through HIA every year. Such customer experience is delivered by our skilled staff, optimised processes and innovative technology.
To provide a strong foundation for our digital agenda, we have continued to invest in upgrading and optimising our backbone technology infrastructure so that it remains secure, scalable and robust in order to sustain our record growth and enable resilient operations.
Furthermore, the development of passenger self-service capability has been a major focus; and so far self-service technologies have been implemented for check-in, bag-drop and border control. Additionally, jointly with our five-star home carrier Qatar Airways, we have successfully trialled biometric-enabled automated boarding gates, electronic bag tags and support home-printed bag tags.
Our automated border control e-gates allow enrolled nationals and permanent residents to swiftly pass through departure and arrival processes based on biometric and travel document verification; whereas the HIA mobile application provides a convenient alternative to airport information desks and static terminal maps, by advising your gate number, the distance to the gate, and the time it would take to reach the gate and so on. The app also sends notifications regarding shopping/dining special offers and any changes to your flight status.
How can the passenger experience be enhanced by digitalising certain aspects of the airport’s operations?
Today, airports around the globe are facing similar challenges: an increased air traffic with tech-savvy and demanding passengers who are looking for a smooth experience while in transit. Passengers no longer just want an airport that is a pit stop to their next destination. At HIA, we are converting these challenges to opportunities by positioning the airport as a destination on its own, such as with our substantial artwork displays, along with a solid digitalisation plan aimed at a hassle-free passenger experience.
Research has showed that passengers, naturally, feel anxious at airport touch-points with long queues. Therefore, our first priority is to reduce waiting times for our travellers. The aforementioned self-service capability and our fully-automated baggage systems go a long way towards achieving this.
However, there are many more opportunities for digitalising airport operations to enhance passenger experience. For instance, in 2017 we launched Phase 1 of our Service Delivery Measurement system that enables real-time monitoring of passenger waiting and processing times at key passenger touch-points, thus allowing tactical decisions for recovering service levels through deployment of additional resources, whenever the time exceeds set targets. The waiting/processing time trend analysis also helps inform design decisions for future terminal capacity and passenger flows.
Another example is our ongoing implementation of the A-CDM (airport collaborative decision making) platform. Once fully operational, this platform will facilitate all key airport stakeholders to collaborate more effectively to optimise flight turn around processes, further improving our renowned efficiency and on-time performance and thus passenger experience.
Our efforts are bearing fruit as demonstrated by the latest accolades at the Skytrax World Airport Awards 2018. HIA has been ranked fifth best airport in the world and the Best Airport in the Middle East for the fourth consecutive year; a solid sign of satisfaction and trust from our passengers.
How big is the issue of data storage for an airport like Hamad, which is planning to dramatically increase its capacity over the coming years?
HIA has welcomed over 120 million passengers in less than four years since the start of its operations, and our 2018 first quarter results look very encouraging. With a large passenger terminal complex of 600,000m2 and the second phase of our expansion plan to welcome 50 million passengers a year by 2022, the challenge of data growth and storage ranks high on our list of priorities.
Traditionally, the data storage demand for airports was led by the massive volumes of video footage from visual surveillance (CCTV) systems. With approximately 12,000 CCTV cameras across the HIA campus, coupled with regulatory requirements for security systems, HIA is no exception. However, increasingly the demand is being driven by new-gen systems that acquire and analyse data from sensors around the airport in near real-time and unstructured data from social media feeds – essentially what the industry refers to as ‘big data’.
How has the airport dealt with this issue?
Over the next few years, our CCTV storage requirement alone is expected to exceed 50 petabytes. Therefore, we have recently partnered with a global technology leader to redesign our storage platform to make it robust, scalable and greener in terms of energy demand, while occupying substantially less footprint in our on-premise data centre space.
To address the aforementioned big data challenge, we are now seriously considering Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service, and even Software as a Service models under private/hybrid cloud deployment architecture, within the framework of relevant national data sovereignty regulations.
What is the essence of a ‘smart’ airport?
The ultimate goal for HIA is to ‘empower’ our passengers at every step of their experience at our airport with proactive, relevant, accurate and timely information, along with self-service options. To put it simply, the essence of smart airport is to give the control back to the passenger for enjoying a memorable journey from the moment they enter the airport to the moment they are seated on the aircraft, with minimal human interaction, if they so desire.
Going forward, what changes do you anticipate seeing at HIA?
Our customer-centric ‘Smart Airport’ programme will continue to see us invest in innovative and best of breed technologies; and we will continue to develop and leverage strategic partnerships with industry leaders in both aviation solutions and IT infrastructure technologies spaces.
In the pipeline we have various initiatives to trial and roll-out robotics for passenger facilitation; block-chain technology for rapid and secure sharing of data across stakeholders; and an IOT platform that will enable the airport and its stakeholders to optimise the utilisation our assets, namely our people and equipment, to achieve the highest possible efficiency, security and comfort.
However, the most publicly visible changes will be seen in our wide-scale deployment of biometric identification and verification to facilitate fast and secure travel through not only at the mandatory airport touch points such as check-in, bag drop, security check, border control and aircraft boarding; but also for providing information assistance: for example, we are pursuing integration of biometric identification and language translation engines to off er personalised information in terms of content and language. This is often a challenge at our international hub airport where it is not unusual to serve passengers speaking hundreds of languages daily. It goes without saying that HIA’s use of biometrics will consider customer data privacy concerns, and comply with relevant local and international regulations.
SUHAIL KAMIL KADRI has been Vice President of Informational Technology at Qatar’s award-winning Hamad International Airport for over five years. He has more than two decades of experience in aviation technology at Emirates Airlines, Qatar Airways and Abu Dhabi Airports. At Hamad International Airport, he is responsible for all aspects of information, communication, security and screening technologies and solutions.