The conference “Organization of transportation during large-scale events” was supported by the CIS Airport Association. It was held at the Novotel Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow, on November 27-28, 2014.+C70:C82
How do travelers check in with electronic tickets? How can this be arranged at a small airport that has no necessary infrastructure? How can passengers’ personal data be compromised — and protected? These were some of the questions that Zafar Kabilov, Regional Director of Zamar AG in the CIS, answered in a conversation with a CNews correspondent.
CNews: Could you please tell us what your company does? Which solutions do you promote and which markets do you operate in? How is your business developing?
Zafar Kabilov: Zamar AG is registered in Switzerland and specializes in solutions for automating check-in and boarding at airports. Apart from software, our product range also includes the necessary hardware, such as portable check-in desks, servers, and self check-in kiosks.
One of our vital markets is Tajikistan, where we have been operating since 2007. At the time, people departing from all of the country’s airports were registered manually. Zamar was a pioneer in automating this process in Tajikistan. We currently work with all the local airlines and airports. We started out by using third-party solutions, but in 2009 we started developing our own products, because foreign products were incompatible with the peculiarities of working in post-Soviet countries. Zamar has already started to operate in Iran as well; furthermore, we are testing some solutions in Kyrgyzstan and are currently in the process of entering the Russian market. In 2013, the Zamar systems processed 1.2 million passengers departing from Tajikistan. We are expecting these figures to increase by 40% by the end of 2014. Our revenue also keeps growing at the same rate.
CNews: So what are the peculiarities of working in post-Soviet countries?
Zafar Kabilov: Very often, we have to build the IT infrastructure from scratch. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the air travel industry went through a dire crisis. Many regional airports were shut down, and the overall passenger traffic decreased significantly. For example, it took the Minsk airport until this year to reach the pre-1991 level (1.4 million travelers). Air travel growth was limited to a few large cities. In fact, all of post-Soviet Russia has to fly through Moscow to get anywhere. I believe that the introduction of information technology in other Russian regions will help revive local air travel.
CNews: What do you think of the availability of IT solutions in Russian airports?
Zafar Kabilov: IT availability is very low, except for a few major regional centers like Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, as well as Vladivostok and Sochi, which recently hosted large-scale events. In all other cities the situation leaves much to be desired. Our solution will breathe life back into smaller airports, even ones that service just one or two departing flights a day. For instance, our equipment and software was used in 2013 to resume operations at the Bokhtar Airport (then known as Qurghonteppa), which had been shut down for 20 years. Thanks to the introduction of information technology, this airport now has a capacity of 5-6 thousand people per month.
CNews: The key product that you offered in Russia was the general access departure platform. What does this solution do?
Zafar Kabilov: This platform is a special software that you install at check-in desks. It handles passenger and luggage registration and prints boarding passes. This solution is notable for the opportunity to connect a single desk to several different electronic tickets processing services and departure control systems. This eliminates the need for setting up a separate desk for each airline. This is particularly relevant to small airports, which work with several airlines but, at the same time, have a fairly low number of total flights.
CNews: Which similar solutions will you have to compete with, and what does your general access departure platform have that no one else has?
Zafar Kabilov: Apart from our platform, there are five more solutions that offer a single “adapter” for all electronic ticket services across different airlines. These are SITA, MUSE, AirIT, RESA, and Ultra. In Russia, large airports use the international SITA solution, while smaller airports opt for the French RESA. Both platforms share data with servers located outside Russia, which poses additional risks in light of the current geopolitical climate. Fort instance, a precedent has already been set in Iran, when the Mahan Air company was disconnected from the SITA system for political reasons. Our general access departure platform is meant to be autonomous: all data are stored within the airport, and the system cannot be disconnected from the outside.
Another extra benefit is that the Zamar platform is not dependent on any specific type of hardware, so you won’t need to purchase any new equipment when you switch to our solutions. Nor are there any restrictions on any additional services that the airport may wish to use. For instance, it may integrate the platform with self check-in kiosks to make the registration process automated.
Another bit of know-how that we have is the autonomous back-up system. This module allows airports to start or continue registering passengers even if there is no connection between the airport and the departure control system (for example, in case of Internet outage). At present, it only supports the NIKA departure control system, but it may potentially be integrated into any other similar system.
CNews: You claim that one of the advantages offered by your general access departure platform is its compliance with Russian personal data protection laws. Could you please elaborate on that?
Zafar Kabilov: Historically, the standards for communication between the airline and airport information systems have been built upon the foreign SITA Link and SITA Express encrypted data transfer technology. Even if both sides of the communication process store their data locally in Russia, there is a third party involved in sharing the information. We suggest forgoing this go-between entirely. Upon the client’s request, we may set up data sharing by email. Furthermore, our experts are always ready to create any other encrypted communication channel.
CNews: What difficulties do users face when migrating to the general access departure platform?
Zafar Kabilov: From the technical standpoint, it’s very simple. Since we work with any types of hardware, all that’s needed is installing and setting up the necessary software. It takes about 30 minutes to set up a single workspace, meaning that the installation of the check-in system on, say, ten airport desks will only take eight hours. The installation process is completely free of charge, except for the experts’ travel expenses, which should be covered by the client. Right now, we are also offering a free trial version of our software; the trial period is 30 days.
CNews: If an airport doesn’t have its own equipment, do you have anything to offer?
Zafar Kabilov: Yes, that’s where our portable airport solution comes in. It consists of two modules. One of them is a portable check-in desk, which includes a computer with a self-contained power source and a general access departure platform, as well as a printer for boarding passes. This desk can be set up within minutes, even in the middle of a wasteland. The other module validates boarding passes. It’s also portable, with a built-in computer, self-contained power source, a general access departure platform, and a boarding pass scanner. The basic configuration includes one check-in module and one boarding module and costs i500 thousand. The standard configuration includes two check-in desks, two gates, a server, and two self-service kiosks. Its starting price is i6 million. We can also offer a customized configuration, tailored to fit the needs of the specific airport.
CNews: Would it be correct to describe your products as a niche solution for small airports?
Zafar Kabilov: Obviously, it’s very convenient for local air travel. You don’t have to build a permanent desk that will require further maintenance and security. But in fact, the system is perfect for airports of any size, from the biggest to the smallest. Our company policy does not classify airports by size. Our solutions will work even if an airport serves just one flight per day.
However, local airports are just one of the areas where our portable solution can be applied. It can also be deployed in VIP lounges. Another possible use is remote check-in at the traveler’s location. For example, a sports team can check in for their flight right at a hotel. And finally, a portable airport may serve as a back-up copy of the airport’s infrastructure in case of emergency.
CNews: Do any of your competitors offer anything similar?
Zafar Kabilov: There are several portable check-in solutions around the world. For example, Swiss allows first-class passengers to check in from their home or office. However, solutions like these are not available in Russia. As for portable boarding turnstiles, they are our know-how.
CNews: What else can you offer travelers aside from portable check-in equipment?
Zafar Kabilov: All our systems, including the NIKA departure control system, currently come with the seat selection option. One of the advantages of our solution is the option to view additional information on fellow passengers. Obviously, the system doesn’t disclose the personal data of the passenger sitting next to you, but you will be able to check whether it’s a man or a woman, whether they are over 12 years old, or traveling with a small child.
Our system functions autonomously, meaning that it doesn’t need an Internet connection, which eliminates the risk of flight delay due to connection outages.
Another solution that travelers will surely like is online check-in through the airport’s website. Right now, online check-in is mostly available through airline websites.
We have also simplified the process of getting a boarding pass through a self check-in kiosk. Passengers won’t need to scan their passport any more: check-in will only require the booking reference number and the last name.
All systems for passenger use (online check-in and self check-in kiosks) support several languages. Our system can enable any languages, which is particularly valuable in a country like Russia, where so many different languages are spoken.
CNews: Have you already signed any contracts in Russia?
Zafar Kabilov: It’s still too early to talk about this. We have just presented our solution here.
CNews: Which products are you currently working on, and do you have any plans for presenting them in the future?
Zafar Kabilov: First of all, we are developing a check-in system based on radio-frequency identification (RFID). In addition, Zamar is designing an electronic booking system specially for Russia.