27 Feb '14
Oleg Kouzbit, Online News Managing Editor
With travelers worldwide increasingly preferring planes to much slower trains or buses, airports across the globe face passenger congestions that translate into check-in holdups and customer dissatisfaction. To address the mounting problem, Asteros Labs, a Moscow-based start-up, offers an IT-enabled unified check-in solution that it claims would dramatically refashion the current check-in process, preventing excessive passenger line-ups, speeding up luggage check-in, and helping airports save at least 60% of check-in staff training costs. In a promising development— somewhat rare in this country, unfortunately—the solution (already tested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport) appears to now have its first commercial customer from among major government-owned companies in Russia’s mid-Volga region. The new Asteros Contact Avia system is but a hopeful first step, the Russian start-up says; its underlying technology may have a much broader range of possible applications.
Set up in December 2010 to immediately join the Skolkovo state-sponsored innovation hub outside Moscow, Asteros Labs has developed what it defines as a “common check-in solution providing access to a variety of departure control systems” in use at airports across the planet.
The start-up markets the innovation as a brand new approach to managing a swelling volume of passenger traffic. It could come in especially handy for overcrowded airports in the emerging markets that may a few years ago have been way below the radars of leading international airlines and are today scrambling to catch up.
From a messy multitude to a practical universality
The start-up’s Asteros Contact Avia is primarily designed to streamline the check-in process, minimizing passenger line-ups and stepping up luggage check-ins.
Today, each airline at an airport runs its own IT-powered interface to check in passengers and baggage, enabling airport staff at particular check-in counters to only serve the flights of a particular carrier. With some additional (and costly) training the staff can cope with a couple of other departure control systems (DCS) in use at their airport, but surely not with all of them.
Asteros Labs emphasizes that this leads to inefficiencies in the utilization of the airport’s resources and facilities. “To staff all scheduled flights with specially trained agents, airports have to plan their tight schedules well in advance and install an excessive number of check-in counters in order to divide them between airlines.”
The young Moscow developer provides its own answer to the snag. It has come up with its proprietary user-friendly interface which is reported to be fully compatible with a wide range of DCS options currently available. Using the Asteros Contact Avia at any of the airport’s counters, an agent can easily check in both passengers and luggage for any flight serviced by any airline.
Cost-saving, mobile, and interactive
In this unified check-in approach, possible changes in operation, whether it’s new staff or additional check-in data, entail no reconfiguration of a counter. Asteros Labs claims that with its solution, each airport check-in counter is used 10% more often and efficiently, thus unclogging check-in areas at peak load hours.
The Moscow start-up says it lends airports a hand in cost optimization as well. Tapping into the new technology is believed to save airport managements at least 60% of staff training costs. New agents won’t have to meticulously study a whole array of systems that different airlines currently employ—knowing one unified interface will do, Asteros Labs thinks.
The Asteros Contact Avia also comes as a mobile app for tablet PCs. With the solution, business-class passengers awaiting their flights in VIP lounges and having just carry-on luggage could check in without having to go to a counter at all.
Unlike conventional airline check-in systems, completely isolated from airport information systems, the new interface is said to support data exchange with airport operational databases. This could help airports collect useful passenger data on a real-time basis for a particular flight or a given time interval—a faster and more accurate way of getting insights and planning improvements of services.
Airports, banks, governments and then some
According to Asteros Labs’ Alexei Demidov, the new system was already tested in early 2013 at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport. In an experiment, airport agents at Terminal F (former Sheremetyevo-2), new and experienced alike, “showed equal adroitness in checking passengers in for all flights.”
The developer announced earlier this month that its IT-enabled unified check-in solution for airports was soon expected to improve passenger and luggage check-in in the Ufa International Airport in the large mid-Volga region of Bashkortostan, following an agreement inked between Asteros and the airport management.
Partnering with the young Russian company is part of the Ufa International Airport’s broader modernization program aimed at dramatically improving the quality of passenger service and making this fairly remote Russian region ultimately rediscovered by international tourists and business people.
Improving airport operation might become the first but not the only application for Asteros Labs’ IT innovation, though. The young company claims that its broader focus is “building an enterprise platform for the front-end integration of business applications and automation of client service processes.”
What has emerged as a reportedly ergonomic and user-friendly single-interface based technology platform is expected to provide the basis for developing a range of related B2B and B2G solutions for a number of other sectors. The start-up wants to grow enough muscles to offer products to banks and other financial entities, to government bodies, to public utilities, and to telecom operators.