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How technology can improve airline operations

Sep 29th 2017
How Technology can improve Airline Operations

New technology is revolutionising air travel across the world. It is making flights more efficient and eco-friendly. It is helping to improve security and make flight planning and operations more effective. And, of course, it is constantly changing passengers’ lives for the better – from faster check-ins and a better airport experience through to innovations that make flying more comfortable and rewarding.

In this post, we’ll not only take a look at some of the current technologies that are bringing positive change to the aviation industry, but give you a glimpse of innovations that are likely to make flying an even more attractive mode of travel in the future. 

1. The potential of Blockchain

Perhaps the biggest technological buzz in the air travel industry is centred on Blockchain technology, the system that powers the secure, virtual currency Bitcoin. Described as a ‘secure digital ledger of transactions and agreements’, Blockchain offers tamper-proof data that can be managed and shared via authorised access. 

Blockchain could be a game changer for flight operators, which can use it to transform their maintenance and safety regimes. Data entered into the blockchain would allow companies to track where every part on a plane came from and exactly who had handled it, and when – bringing security and safety to new levels.

The technology could be also huge for passengers. Blockchain has the potential to link biometric ID with check-in and baggage handling systems, passport control, hotels, car rental agencies and much more – making the passenger experience fast and seamless without the risk of compromised or counterfeited personal data.


2. Wearable technology

Wearable technology trials have already been undertaken by some airlines, both for cabin crew and engineers. Uniforms of the former include LEDs to provide additional lighting in an emergency and to display important information like flight numbers. Similar lighting in ground staff jacket cuffs can be used to help with aircraft movement.

Engineers can benefit from LEDs in jacket hoods to illuminate work areas and leave both of their hands free for inspection and maintenance. In-built cameras and microphones allow remotely based colleagues to help troubleshoot technical issues, while air quality sensors allow wearers to monitor their work environment. While relatively simple innovations, the net result is to improve safety and make maintenance and repairs faster – delivering efficiencies to the flight operator.


3. Maintenance drones

Some airlines use maintenance drones to make inspection tasks faster and more efficient. They can be used to inspect lightning-strike damage in about 30 minutes, rather than the 4 to 6 hours it takes to do it manually. The drones also have the potential to scan fuselages, check parts are in good condition and plan repairs. Some analysts predict drone images of aircraft sections could be compared with online image databases, allowing defects to be detected automatically. Unmanned aerial vehicles could also be used to deliver spare parts in the future, cutting down on sourcing times and making repairs faster.

FREE INSIGHT: 3 Ways to Make Airline Operations More Efficient  >


4. More efficient, environmentally friendly routes

Flight operators now make use of new technology to optimise their routes and cut their emissions. For example, on a range of services Emirates is using technology that optimises routes for the prevailing weather, saving fuel and emissions – not to mention getting passengers to their destination quicker.

Future developments are even more exciting, with a solar-powered plane already successfully completing a round-the-world flight. It’s a big step towards reducing airlines’ reliance on fossil fuels, but it is likely to be many years before we see the world’s first solar-powered commercial aircraft.


5. Electronic flight bags (EFBs) and document management software

Pilots began to use mobile devices as electronic flight bags in 2011, meaning they could access e-documents rather than relying on the hard copies of charts, flight manuals and other information they used before. Electronic devices quickly helped pilots to become more productive and reduced aircraft weight by a significant degree.

That said, airlines can still find it expensive, time-consuming and difficult to manage the huge number of documents that pilots and cabin crew need (and are required by regulators to have). Even if an airline has invested in document management software, they still have to spend huge amounts of time each year managing electronic document libraries and making sure that all information is correct. For example, aircraft manuals may change every 2-3 months, and because qualified pilots have to spend time making sure they are correct it takes them away from more productive and profitable duties.

Today this problem is frequently solved by outsourcing. Solutions such as the DocuNet airline document management system (now used by more than 40 airlines worldwide) can deliver all operational library items and critical content to users when they need them, no matter which time zone they are in. Compliance-checked updates reach all users at the same time and allow Flight Operations Directors to know that they can track and trace their distribution, which is a compulsory regulatory requirement. Furthermore, all personalised notes and annotations are update-resilient and shared across all platforms, meaning all users can benefit from critical observations and knowledge.

Getting crucial information to pilots in this way not only benefits flight operators with efficiencies and major savings – typically £500k per annum for a fleet of 100+ aircraft – but it gives passengers extra reassurance that their flights are compliant and safe.

Learn more ways that new technologies are bringing to the air travel industry in our free insight. Download today and find out why airlines need to be adopting technology and new ways of working in order to improve efficiency.