A review of 2018, a preview for what’s next: Blockchain in travel

Throughout 2018, PhocusWire brought you in-depth coverage of
some of the critical topics impacting travel, organized by a different theme
each month.

As we prepare for 2018 to end and a new year to begin, we are
revisiting each of these themes.

We’ll look back on key developments of the
past 12 months and look ahead, with additional perspective from the topical
experts we interviewed throughout the year.

We begin with blockchain, which we covered in-depth throughout February.

There are currently dozens of companies around the world
developing blockchain-based initiatives for the travel industry. Most of these efforts
align with one of four categories: distribution, loyalty, identity or

Upcoming in our year-end coverage will be a closer look at what
some of the travel blockchain startups have accomplished in 2018 and what they
have planned for the coming year.

But there is also substantial blockchain research and development
being done by established travel companies, including Travelport, Tui Group and
SITA. In February SITA Lab lead engineer Kevin O’Sullivan explained how
blockchain can be used to manage flight data

For our look ahead, SITA Lab program manager Sherry Stein
provides an update on blockchain for the air transport industry and her
predictions of what to expect in 2019.

Blockchain predictions – Sherry Stein, SITA Lab

The 2018 SITA Air Transport IT Insights revealed that 59% of
airlines will have blockchain pilots or research programs in place in 2018,
while 34% of airports are planning blockchain research and development programs
by 2021.

It’s clearly on the air transport industry’s agenda, but what impact
can we really expect blockchain to make in 2019? Here are my predictions.

Closer collaboration

As interesting a technology as it is,
‘blockchain for one’ doesn’t really make sense. If there’s only one
organization involved, it’s typically easier and cheaper to build solutions
with standard database technology.

Blockchain really comes into its own and
offers something new when you have more than one organization involved – some
level of distrust between the parties and a mutual desire to get rid of ‘the

The reality is that we won’t scratch the surface of the
potential benefits of blockchain until the air transport industry works
together more closely. Easy to say, not so easy to realize. The challenge of
setting up a multi-organization blockchain network is not trivial. Who sets it
up? How do we interact with it? What governance is needed?

To help facilitate a more collaborative approach to
innovation, SITA has set up the Aviation Blockchain Sandbox, a major industry
research project. SITA Lab is building a cloud-based blockchain network and
we’ll be allowing industry partners to access it.

We’re building some
reference-distributed apps and making them available on the network. To make it
easier for everyone to get started, we’re providing some Application
Programming Interfaces and a Software Development Kit to allow different
aviation organizations to interact.

I predict that blockchain will encourage the air transport
industry to collaborate at unprecedented levels, working hand in hand to
understand more about the potential of blockchain to support new models of
doing business in a decentralized ecosystem.

Flight information

The flight data problem is a well-known issue in the industry: there is no
single source of the truth and the data that does exist is not easily accessed
by all parties.

The reality is that a passenger’s phone might say one thing,
screens in the terminal another and airline staff’s computers a completely
different thing altogether.

Blockchain really comes into its own and offers something new when you have more than one organization involved – some level of distrust between the parties and a mutual desire to get rid of ‘the middleman.’

Sherry Stein – SITA Lab

As demonstrated by the FlightChain trial, flight information
is a blockchain use case that could transform the current status quo.

For the
trial, SITA Lab teamed up with British Airways, Heathrow, Geneva Airport and
Miami International Airport to demonstrate how flight information can be stored
on the blockchain to provide a single source of truth and shared control of
data by airlines and airports.

During the trial, there was just one single version of the
data relating to the status of a flight. Passengers phones, airport screens,
and staff’s laptops all matching up beautifully. The principle issue with the
trial was the complexity of setting it up and maintaining it.

I predict that we’ll see more demand for “single source of
truth” across all channels and the need for user-friendly solutions in 2019.

blockchain matures, it provides the means for allowing us to expand trials and
involve greater collaboration across a range of airports and airlines. This
could include everything from identity management to baggage information.

Blockchain and Internet of Things

The combination of blockchain and IoT holds huge potential to change the way we
work in the air transport industry.

The potent mixture is triggering exciting
new applications that will build trust, reduce costs, improve transparency and
provide critical security.

It can also streamline and facilitate the many
processes across the air transport industry’s ecosystem. Blockchain allows
organizations to leverage their IoT data and automate business processes
between partners without having to set up expensive, complex IT

One such process is cargo management. SITA is working with a
strategic partner on a use case for cargo solution that tracks ULD containers
and records data on a blockchain.

The solution improves process efficiency and
cuts down on handling costs and lost cargo by giving stakeholders visibility of
ULDs status and location. Smart contracts will be integrated into the solution
enabling payment to be triggered once a ULD is delivered, optimizing the
shipping journey.

I predict blockchain will redefine the way the industry
approaches this and other complex areas in 2019. Many of the industry’s
processes remain paper-driven today and are now prime candidates for the move
to digital solutions.

Blockchain can add improved traceability and historical
records management; coupling this with IoT’s ability to capture environmental
conditions, location data and other important asset tracking can provide new
ways to add value.

Blockchain and biometrics

I predict we’ll begin to see blockchain ID management trials begin to emerge,
seizing on the joint power of biometrics and blockchain.

Biometric trials have demonstrated how the industry could
eliminate the need for passport and document checks across the whole journey.

The ability to leave your passport in your pocket may sound insignificant when
you think about each identity check in isolation but add them all up and it
becomes noteworthy. Also bear in mind how quickly our expectations evolve.

used to think waiting four to five seconds for a website to load was fast, but
now we’re impatient if it doesn’t load instantaneously.

Blockchain, teamed with
biometrics, could have the same effect on the passenger journey. We’ll get to a
point where instantaneous transactions at all identity check points become the

I predict we’ll begin to see blockchain ID management trials begin to emerge, seizing on the joint power of biometrics and blockchain.

Sherry Stein – SITA Lab

Another potential benefit of using blockchain as the basis
of identity management is that airports will be able to allocate resources more
intelligently and manage the flow of passengers on a more nuanced basis.

time a traveler crosses a border or passes through an ID check at the airport,
it’s logged on the blockchain and enables them to build up trustworthy status.
Consequently, regular travelers would not need to go through the same laborious
checks week-in, week-out and resources can be more heavily focused on unknown

IATA’s One Identity initiative has long sought to address
the challenge of paperless travel and a solution for single-token travel. SITA
has been an active participant in supporting these efforts.

Biometric solutions continue to become more common-place but
there is as yet no solution that allows a truly paperless journey from end to
end. When you leave the country, even if you use biometrics within the
departure airport, you must still show your passport upon arrival at the
destination country.

SITA joined the Sovrin network as a Founding Steward in July
2018 to accelerate its exploration into how a blockchain-enabled self-sovereign
identity solution that can be used in any airport anywhere in the world.

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