2020/21 will go down in the history books as the airline industry’s most turbulent period to date, with massive fluxes in passenger volumes globally due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Regaining passenger confidence has become a critical factor for airlines to weather the ongoing economic storm and remain competitive in the uncertain year’s ahead.
Emerging technologies that were side-lined during the previous decade of industry growth, are now being examined with fervent scrutiny to evaluate their efficacy in solving crucial COVID-19 challenges.
Despite being synonymous with stalled economies and cancelled events, 2020/21 has been a period of accelerated technology implementation across the aviation industry. We know this because we work closely with customers globally throughout the industry, who are actively pursuing and adopting new technologies.
From head-mounted thermal scanning devices to technology-supported social distancing measures, airlines are adopting new and evolving technologies into their organisations to enhance both the customer experience and operational efficiencies. This pace of innovation adoption sets a scene for rapid industry transformation over the next few years. A smarter, safer, and more sustainable travel industry fit for both people and the planet is approaching.
The following are 4 technology trends set to underpin this transformation.
1. Big data & Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been a critical technology in transforming the operations of the aviation industry amid this crisis. Not only has the technology been used to collect flight data for optimising route and weather forecasting, AI has also been used to create virtual assistants for customer queries, enhanced logistics operation, facial recognition system replacing biometrics for security checks and self-service kiosks equipped with augmented reality.
According to a market survey, 97.2% of the aviation companies are working towards deploying big data, and artificial intelligence, with 76.5% of the firms are leveraging the value of collected data and empowering AI for cognitive learning initiatives. These numbers alone show that amid the crisis, airline companies and airports are rethinking technology to keep up their relevance.
Airlines are also involving artificial intelligence to improve their safety. Southwest Airlines for example, has already made significant strides in this area having partnered with NASA to indicate potential safety issues. By using machine-learning algorithms, they have built an automated system capable of crunching vast data sets to warn about anomalies and to prevent potential accidents.
Our valued customer easyJet is also using AI for predictive analysis. The airline is using a combination of these technologies to make sense of all the available data and use these insights to create offers and services personalised for individual travelers.
2. Biometric technology
With COVID-19 reinforcing the idea of frictionless travel, the pandemic has also put strong emphasis on biometrics as a must-have technology. In recent news, Star Alliance introduced a new interoperable biometric identity and identification platform for screening passengers, which went live in November 2020. Emirates also launched an integrated biometric path at Dubai International Airport and Etihad trialed facial biometric check-in for cabin crew.
3. Cybersecurity and the Cloud
Today, airlines are aware of the drawbacks of using legacy infrastructure. This is especially true in the case of delivering high-performance internal enterprise systems, booking engines, and other customer-facing applications. With a hybrid cloud infrastructure strategy in mind, airlines are focusing to become more agile with scaling up or down the infrastructure to meet the new demands of the fast-moving digital world.
Moreover, as the cloud market matures, it is now seen as the most secure and scalable way of holding and processing organisational data - such as document management for aircraft OEM data. By having all your airline’s documents within a centralised database, it can reduce silos of information that pose security risks and inefficiencies.
Sustainability is clearly an action item in the climate change discussions, since aviation is heavily implicated in its use of fossil fuel, and the resulting environmental impact. The pandemic has propelled this agenda forward – many aircraft manufacturers have embarked on their green journey. The main objectives in terms of sustainable development for the coming years is decarbonization and green technology investment. Companies such as IAG, Japan Airlines or Qantas are committing to net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2050. Finnair for its part aims to achieve carbon neutrality for 2045. Of course, this can be made all the easier with the digitization of the industry.
A Digital Future
There are already a vast number of benefits which can be seen in what technology is able to provide for operations, cybersecurity, and the customer experience, and this will constantly develop and strengthen as time goes on. 2021 looks to be the era of accelerated digital transformation with technology becoming an essential part of everyday life within all industries, particularly so in the airline industry. So, airlines must start to embrace technology advances to not only develop their current services and products, but to gain competitive advantage before they are left behind in the digital dust.
Image by Martijn Kort