Riga Airport starts 2018 on a passenger high

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Riga Airport closed 2017 on a record-breaking high as it welcomed its six millionth passenger for the year at the end of December.

Arriving from Copenhagen on the Latvian low-fare carrier airBaltic, Egle Marcinkeviciute transferred through Riga en route to Vilnius.

The airport, which is served by a number of low-fare and regional carriers, has gone from strength-to-strength in recent years and has invested heavily in its infrastructure, helping to make it more attractive both to airlines and passengers. New retail and service opportunities, including a spa and beauty salon as well as a barber shop, were opened in the departures terminal last year enabling passengers to make the most of their time at the airport.

The past year has seen the airport increase passenger figures by 12%, with the airport continuing to improve its position as a convenient transit hub to travel to further destinations – the number of passengers in this segment has increased by about 30%. Cargo volumes also increased by about 25%.

Commenting on the success of the past year, Ilona Lice, chairperson of the board of Riga International Airport said: “Passenger records were broken each month: in July, the number of passengers exceeded 646,000, which means that we served almost 21,000 arriving and departing passengers every day. In the winter season, passenger figures also showed a positive trend.”

Lice concluded that she hoped the improvements will drive further growth in passenger traffic and new routes saying: “I am happy and satisfied that the airport is becoming more and more attractive not only to passengers but also to airlines.”

Just shy of 20 new destinations from Riga Airport were opened last year, while several airlines have announced new routes for the coming year, including links to Lisbon (Portugal), Kutaisi (Georgia), Gdansk (Poland), Bordeaux (France) and Malaga (Spain).


Inset image: Riga welcomed the six millionth passenger, Egle Marcinkeviciute, to travel through the airport during 2017 at the end of December

New direct route links Bristol and Gothenburg

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The British carrier bmi regional is launching its second direct route between Bristol, the UK’s gateway to the South West and Göteborg Landvetter Airport in Sweden.

Launching on 22 January 2018, the link between the two cities will be operated twice weekly on an Embraer 145 and will bring the number of destinations served by bmi from Bristol to nine.

“As part of our on-going strategy to connect key business regions, it was a natural choice to increase our service offering to/ from Gothenburg by adding a further Gothenburg route to our network connecting Sweden’s second largest city to our largest UK base in Bristol,” said bmi’s CCO Jochen Schnadt.

“Given our experiences on the Birmingham to Gothenburg market so far, we believe this new route will prove attractive to business as well as leisure customers alike enjoying bmi’s service of fast and convenient air services,” Schnadt continued.
bmi regional’s network out of Bristol already includes Paris, Milan, Munich, Brussels, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Hamburg and Aberdeen, but Gothenburg is the airline’s first Swedish route from its biggest UK hub.

Citing the UK as a popular destination for passengers travelling from Göteborg Landvetter, while Brits top the list when it comes to the number of incoming airline passengers to Gothenburg, Charlotte Ljunggren, Göteborg Landvetter’s airport director said: “We are really pleased that we can start the new year off with another new direct route from Göteborg Landvetter. This new route will give more people from western Sweden the chance to discover a new, exciting destination in a convenient way, and at the same time we can welcome more Brits to Gothenburg and everything the city has to offer.”

Home to Scandinavia’s largest port and a hub for global trade, Gothenburg is popular among those travelling from the UK as a minibreak destination. The city has garnered a well-earned reputation for its fabulous food, eclectic culture and vibrant nightlife and also serves as a gateway to the stunning coastline of West Sweden.

“We are delighted with the announcement of the new Gothenburg route operating from Bristol Airport. This extends the choice of destinations available to passengers from the South West and Wales, whether travelling for business or leisure. The route also provides inbound visitors, using Bristol Airport, ease of access, whether it is for a city break, visiting the various tourist attractions and conference venues the region has to offer,” added Nigel Scott, Bristol Airport’s business development director.

January 2018: At your self service

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Chris Gilliland, director of Innovative Travel Solutions at Vancouver Airport, discusses streamlining border control solutions in airports and why humans will always play a vital role in the border clearance process.

The innovation team at Vancouver Airport are pioneers when it comes to improving automated border control. Can you tell us more about this team?

Innovative Travel Solutions (ITS) is an independent business unit within Vancouver International Airport. The team specialises in developing and delivering innovative industry-leading travel technology to enhance the overall traveller experience and airport performance.

The team has primarily been focused on developing and selling BorderXpress – a self-service border control solution – with Canadian, US and global solutions available. The team has more than ten years of experience in kiosk design, kiosk user experience, kiosk layout, flow analysis and continuous improvement for automating border control systems at airports around the world.

What is BorderXpress and how does it work?

BorderXpress is the world’s first self-service border control solution that accepts all passports and doesn’t require pre-registration or fees. It automates the administrative functions of border control with a two-step process that makes it faster and more efficient.

First, travellers must complete the data-entry function themselves at the kiosk, which sends their encrypted information to a border control agency that assesses the data and returns a government response in seconds.

Once this is done and with their receipt in hand, travellers proceed to a border control officer who verifies the document. This additional step provides governments with an enhanced level of safety and security, as compared to competing technologies, as a border officer will always have the final approval to allow a traveller into the country.

Where are the kiosks currently in operation?

More than 1,300 BorderXpress kiosks are in use at 39 airport and seaport locations across Canada, the US and the Pacific. But ITS is looking to expand to new markets in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Is this technology suitable for smaller airports too?

BorderXpress works for every size of airport and can be installed anywhere in the airport’’s facility, with many different layout possibilities. ITS works with each airport individually to determine the optimal solution to their challenge and ensures the number of kiosks and layout is as efficient as possible and accommodates each airport’s individual needs. BorderXpress kiosks are also simple to install and can be moved around if there is a change in the floor plan.

Why are self-service solutions a must-have for airports and are these solutions realistic in terms of cost for regional airports and those serving low-fare airlines?

Eligible travellers experience an immigration process that’s 89% faster than typical border inspections. Non-eligible passengers see a 33% increase in efficiency because of the faster moving lines. And as an added bonus, airports save valuable space as the faster passenger flow reduces congestion and frees up room for other airport features, amenities and procedures.

BorderXpress kiosks are a highly cost-effective way to modernise and improve the border clearance process, resulting in shorter waits for travellers, fewer missed connections and cost and space savings for airports.

What are the implications of self-service kiosks in terms of the impact on employment opportunities for border control officers?

The kiosk’s primary role is to automate the administrative functions of border services officers. Border services officers still play a crucial role in verifying the document produced by the kiosk. They will always have the final approval to allow a traveller into the country so will remain a vital part of the border clearance process.

BorderXpress helps border services officers work more efficiently, processing up to four times more travellers. It also frees up agents to focus on valuable work such as intelligence and enforcement activities.

What are your key strategic objectives for 2018 and are there any new products in the pipeline?

We are continuously working to develop and deliver industry-leading travel solutions. ITS is currently looking to expand its BorderXpress offering to new markets in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Profit from the sales of the BorderXpress kiosks are reinvested back into our innovation programme, enabling the team to continue to look for opportunities to innovate and develop technology that enhances the overall traveller experience and improve the airport’s operations. The ITS team is excited to be working on several other products including one that automates passenger processing for tagging and checking bags. More details on these new innovations will be available in 2018.

January 2018: South Africa’s rising success

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Currently celebrating its 15th anniversary, Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport is blazing a trail for South Africa’s regional airports when it comes to safety and compliance. Clive van Zyl reveals why security comes first and why African aviation is key to South Africa’s economy

South Africa has plenty going for it. It boasts a wealth of natural resources, is a safari superpower and, with a population of more than 50 million, it has a burgeoning population of young professionals – a potential work force to drive development in the country and a huge prospective market in terms of airline passengers.

The country also has the continent’s largest economy and its most developed aviation market, although it still faces significant challenges around declining international passenger numbers and high airport taxes and fees, as well as the slow liberalisation of the African aviation market. But with air travel essential to South Africa’s prosperity, fostering the aviation industry will be one of the driving forces of regional integration.

Set in the eastern region of South Africa, Mpumalanga (which stands for ‘land of the rising sun’) is known for its incredible scenic beauty and its game viewing potential. For many, the region’s airport is a gateway to Kruger National Park, but beyond tourism it also plays a vital role in connecting those living locally with the rest of the world.

Recognising the continuing role that Kruger Mpumalanga International (KMI) Airport plays in driving long-term regional growth, Clive van Zyl, the airport’s safety and compliance manager, reveals that “KMI Airport serves as an important logistical node in the region, providing an anchor for tourism and a source of livelihood for thousands of Mbombela residents and their families.”

Cause for celebration

Having officially opened in October 2002, KMI Airport is currently now celebrating its 15th anniversary and is proud to have opened up the skies over Mbombela (Nelspruit) for over 3 million passengers. “As a team we are exceptionally proud to be celebrating this significant milestone, our airport is defined by remarkable staff who have a passion for serving people and who take pride in operating our airport at the highest possible standards.”

In addition to celebrating this important milestone, the airport is also flying high on being recognised for its commitment to ensuring it practices safe and secure measures, having been awarded the Airport Council International (ACI’s) Safety Award in October this year. Van Zyl divulges that safety is at the forefront of the airport’s operations saying “we are audited twice a year by SACAA [South African Civil Aviation Authority], who make sure that we are following certain rules and regulations,” but that he also oversees “internal audits to make sure that we comply to these standards.”.

The ACI Award is an important accolade which takes into account aerodrome physical characteristics, lighting and signage, operating procedures, fire and rescue, bird and wildlife management and safety management systems. Commenting on the award, van Zyl enthuses “it means the world to us and it’s so fulfilling to see that the hard work we have put in over the last few years has been rewarded.”

Spurring regional growth

Van Zyl concedes that, as a small, regional airport, “most of the traffic at KMI Airport is tourists and business travellers with a significant amount of international private charters. Although cargo is also growing substantially at the airport and will become a major part of operations in the future.” The airport currently has more than 12 scheduled flights (24 movements) a day with the most popular routes being Johannesburg (OR Tambo) and Cape Town, but growing its route network is one of the airport’s strategic objectives.

“We are in talks with various airlines to increase scheduled flights to and from KMI Airport,” van Zyl continues. “In terms of the immediate future we are investigating more routes from Maputo (Mozambique), while also pursuing several larger operators.”

As a gateway to the region, van Zyl also highlights how important it is for the airport to reflect the local style and heritage, especially as – for many travelling to or from the region – it will be their first or their last impression. “People see concrete, iron and glass buildings all over the world,” he says, so with its thatch roof (it’s the largest thatch constructed airport in the world) the airport blends in with its local surroundings. “The thatch gives you the feeling that you are in the bush and ready to go on your safari. The aura you get when you enter the building is a feeling that you can only explain once you’ve experienced it.”

Community focus

The sense of community and responsibility to the local region is key to KMI Airport’s success, as is its ability to work alongside other regional hubs to divulge knowledge and overcome challenges. “We live in an era where things are constantly changing in the world; we can only learn from each other and change to suit the customer needs. As such KMI Airport is part of the Commercial Aviation Association of South Africa (CAASA), where airports get together and discuss issues or ways to improve the industry,” van Zyl says.

While most other airports around the world are gearing up for fully automated services from baggage drops and self-service check-in kiosks to biometric border control, van Zyl affirms that the team at KMI Airport is currently “more focused on face-to-face contact with passengers to deal with problems more personally and in trying to create as many jobs as possible for the community.”

Van Zyl does however admit that becoming automated is not something that can be avoided in the long term and, although it will hinder job creation, he agrees it is something the airport will need to explore as it grows.

Unsurprisingly, given its remote location on the edge of Kruger National Park, KMI Airport is an important economic engine for the local community. “We are very involved in the neighbouring community –Dwaleni – to whom we pay a portion of passenger levies, which is used to uplift the community. It’s an important part of our strategy to empower and support local communities and as such an amount is budgeted for this cause every year.”

Improving air access

Looking beyond South Africa, van Zyl says that when it comes to improving air access across the continent, better flight connections and higher frequencies will be the key drivers behind growth of air traffic. “Better air connections would mean businesses will have access to more markets globally and with that more potential customers to sell their products and services to.” Greater liberalisation of the industry and opening up the skies will also have a huge impact on the continent’s aviation sector.

“As we recognise the impact that travel and tourism has on the economy, there’s an opportunity for us once again to acknowledge what achieving Open Skies in Africa would mean for tourism and business travel in general,” van Zyl says. With the African Union’s Single African Air Transport Market Policy due to be implemented in January 2018, van Zyl concludes that “in addition to fare savings, travellers would benefit from greater connectivity and convenience, making travel throughout Africa more affordable and enhancing the growth potential for a stronger Africa by 2035.”