AI can do wonders for aviation

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AI can do wonders for aviation

Wednesday, 26 June 2019 | Maneesh Jaikrishna

The era of robotics and AI promises to change the way airports will be designed in the future, making for an easier journey. The air transport community can minimise the impact of disruption, improve passenger experience and streamline services

One of the most interesting technological developments that is going to benefit various sectors of the global economy is Artificial Intelligence (AI). It has gained significant interest on the part of global tech giants who understand the potential of AI. Added to this are rapid technological developments in the past decade. For example, we have seen the world’s greatest chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov being defeated by IBM’s deep blue computer. More recently, Googles DeepMind’s ‘Go-playing AI’ achieved victory of an even more complex game against a Korean grandmaster. This proves the significance of AI in terms of growth and the possibilities it can explore.

Aviation and AI: The future of air transport will be driven by digital transformation. The Asia Pacific is leading in terms of growth of this sector. By 2036, the region is expected to handle over 4.1 billion passengers — more than half of the world’s passenger traffic. As per IATA’s 20-year air passenger forecast, India stands as one of the top five fastest-growing markets in terms of additional passengers per year, with 322 million new passengers for a total of 442 million.

But with this growth come challenges and stresses on infrastructure and processes. In such a scenario, smart use of technology can help address issues of rising passenger numbers, limited infrastructure and increased complexity. The era of robotics and AI promises to change the way airports will be designed in future, making for an easier journey.

Smarter airports will need information and the required tools. A new era of real-time business intelligence and analytics is beckoning. And this demands a new approach to harness and exploit the massive amount of data at our fingertips. New technologies promise to help airlines and airports to “look ahead” and to predict future events that threaten to disrupt travel. The aviation industry has been severely affected by disruptions, impacting the passengers, cargo and operations. A recent IATA report showed that the average on-time performance for 26 million flights globally each year stands at 76 per cent. With rising passenger numbers and growth of the aviation industry, there is a risk that even this performance will deteriorate.

Beckoning a new era of business intelligence: AI has the potential to radically change what has really been a set of airport processes that have been manual and have not changed much over the past few decades. It can potentially allow these processes or steps in the journey to be automated using intelligent machines without having to stop to interact with a person first, enabling people to focus on more complex or personal tasks. Today, airports and airlines are seeking more control and predictability over the situation and AI is one of the emerging technologies that offers future strategic and operational benefits. For passenger experience, airlines are investing in digitalisation, especially new technologies such as AI and blockchain. As per our recent study, high on airline agendas are AI-driven virtual agents and chatbots, with 85 per cent of them using or planning to use AI for services by 2021. This will help deliver a more connected experience for travellers by answering questions and relaying flight status information.

Revolutionising operations: AI embraces the disciplines of machine learning, machine vision, natural language processing and robotics. Embracing the Internet of Things and connecting everything across the industry will produce more data that can be used with AI to create valuable insights and expose new ways of working. Over the next 20 years, the use of digital technology to improve service, operations and efficiency will have profound effects on air transport.

Airports and airlines can harness the potential of advanced machine learning and AI to forecast aircraft arrival times as far out as 24 hours, giving airports the opportunity to manage and mitigate disruption. Singapore’s Changi Airport is an example of how AI can be leveraged to draw valuable insights from masses of historical data accumulated from flights and delays coupled with real-time information to predict flight delays.

At present, human interventions are required to make decisions — from maintenance and crew connections to ground handling and scheduling integrity. In order to improve operational efficiencies, collaboration of human and AI is required. AI will allow humans to identify passenger value and process quick re-bookings of flights of those valued passengers first if their flight has been cancelled. By accelerating historical data value analysis using AI, we can create a list according to priority — at speeds and with levels of accuracy simply impossible by humans. AI will also help ensure better visibility of aircraft turnaround and identify issues before they happen. It can be used in the form of computer or machine vision to monitor all stakeholders.

Smart tech and AI also promise to ensure reduction in the number of bags lost. Using AI, intelligent machines will enable bags to be autonomously managed from the moment a passenger checks-in to when it arrives at the destination — all without human intervention. For example, in this vision of the future, autonomous loaders can be used to transport bags between the terminal and the aircraft. The data will also provide passengers real-time updates.

View ahead of us: The future for airlines and airports is undoubtedly getting smarter. AI is starting to link the players and the processes across the passenger journey, providing a smart way of managing an increasingly complex ecosystem. By adopting analytics and AI as part of the ecosystem, the air transport community can minimise the impact of disruption on passenger experience, support the customers and even make their services better. AI is taking us one step closer to operational excellence and we can expect the future to see more and more examples of AI starting to make an impact in the information security space alongside analytics.

(The writer is vice president, India and sub-continent, Eastern and Southern Africa, SITA)



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