Skip to content

The Data Empowered Airline

Apr 04th 2023
The Data Empowered Airline

Insights from Aerospace TechWeek Europe, Munich, March 2023  

Unsurprisingly, Data and Digital were top of the agenda at the recent Aerospace TechWeek event in Munich where the aviation industry was out in force to network, learn and share insights & experiences.   

Becoming a truly connected, digital first airline – with digital at the heart of operations, safety, engineering and flight operations both on and off board - empowering airlines with the right digital tools and tech – and leveraging data in the right way – remains at the forefront of industry discussion and debate.

While airlines continue to be laser focused on their digital journey, there still remains a long way to go to truly realise a digital first approach to flight operations, safety and compliance for true transformation. That said, the airline ambition, industry intent and signals for change are stronger than ever.

Some of the interesting take aways on the topics of Data and Digital from the Aerospace TechWeek event include: 

The Data Empowered Airline

With 5-7 Terabytes of data within aircrafts imminent, the data-empowered airline is a must and requires the right talent and technology to enable a truly connected, digital first airline. McKinsey estimates that airlines could reap a  5-10 percent improvement in total revenue by leveraging advanced technology and analytics. Meanwhile, Oliver Wyman estimates new connectivity and advanced analytics can save airlines between 2% and 2.5% on total global operating costs, equating to $5-6 billion annually.*

Yet, airlines still have only limited capacity to process this trove of information and use advanced analytics and artificial intelligence to help inform operations and maintenance – and almost never in real-time. However - slowly but surely, the move to a truly ‘data-empowered’ and ‘connected’ airline is beginning. The promise of connectivity, as Oliver Wyman puts it, will deliver one of those rare win-wins for the industry, making flying more efficient, safer, more sustainable and ultimately more enjoyable. Now the investments need to be made.

Many airline data projects fail because they start with too big of a scope and it takes too long to show the value of advanced analytics. It’s about carefully choosing the first ‘data’ battle to get a quick win and partnering with a specialist technology partner to make it happen. 

Augmented Analytics and Digital Decisioning

Augmented analytics and digital decisioning are essential to the future of the connected, digital first airline. Every airline has data that holds critically important information that could transform their performance. But accessing, managing and using it can be a huge problem, especially when it’s stored in multiple formats across different departments, making it hard to identify, investigate, analyse and share in a productive and proactive way.

Sophisticated data analytics and digital decisioning tools are an absolute must to provide airlines with intuitive, intelligent tools for data preparation, analysis, and visualisation, helping them to make more data-driven decisions, faster. This is something we are laser focused on with Vistair Intelligence – which has simplicity of data access, a highly intuitive user experience and speed to insight at its core.   

With Vistair Intelligence, we are providing airlines with a dynamic business intelligence and data analytics platform that sets new benchmarks for the speed and ease of informed decision making across flight operations and safety.

Predictive Maintenance...

...has a long way to go. However the potential of realising the return on investment of a ‘Predictive Maintenance’ strategy is clear. To that end there is a strong drive to employ aviation engineers with a data-science background and move to ‘predictive maintenance’ for higher aircraft availability and lower MRO costs.

Digital to address the labour shortage and talent gap

With a reported 26% labour shortage, digital must be part of the value proposition to attract fresh new talent to the aviation industry, empowering them and maximising operations with the right technology. One example of a key pinch point in the industry is the looming shortfall of maintenance engineers. This challenge has been expertly documented in a recent Oliver Wyman report Not Enough Aviation Mechanics  

In order to attract and retain new talent into aviation industry, the tools and tech afforded to aviation staff to do their jobs most effectively must mirror the ‘digital first’ lifestyle they are accustomed to. Essentially ‘empowering’ teams with the latest digital advances in hand-held technology and with the ability to harness real-time data in their day-to day to optimise productivity. 


Focused AI to simplify the complex and drive efficiencies…. And build trust

Airlines need to focus on the right use cases for AI, be realistic about what it can achieve and when. It is the ‘intelligent’ and selective use of data that really adds value.  

At Vistair, our airline partners are telling us that they want technology, and the application of AI, to make things simpler for their users and to allow their teams to do more with less - scaling teams and saving time . They are not looking to completely automate flight operations, safety and compliance management systems nor remove humans from the processes. The goal is to enhance teams and supercharge efforts. Additionally, it is important for the industry to adopt a softly-softly approach with this sort of technology to gain low-impact confidence, experience, and trust. At Vistair, the use cases where we are looking to leverage artificial intelligence are mainly associated with building structure around unstructured data and finding patterns in data. This results in making intelligent suggestions to end-users in airlines and not making decisions for them. In this example, it’s a case of the technology flagging cases where data looks like something that has been seen before, to allow the user to act on suggestions, rather than triggering automation without consent. The integration of AI needs to be done with caution and with a lot of testing, and in doing so, gain the trust of the airline users and regulators – which requires transparency, testing, and time. 

The ‘Bionic’ Opportunity – AI as Co-Pilot

Building on the above point is the opportunity to use AI to drive Flight Ops efficiencies by leveraging AI to act as the ‘Co-Pilot’. For example, with machine learning,  AI could be used to detect and accurately diagnose problems in the aircraft's systems. This would allow a pilot or flight engineer to quickly identify and address technical issues without having to wait for manual confirmation from ground personnel.**

By automating complexity and reducing distractions, AI certainly provides a great opportunity to drive greater efficiencies in airline operations. The Bionic use and opportunity of AI is an important one – i.e. the blend of AI with human expertise, not replacing, instead creating efficiencies and supercharging efforts. As well as the need to build experience and trust in AI as outlined in the previous point, and to work with a leading tech partner as airlines build AI into their digitisation strategy.

Partnership is Key

While there is a lot of progress and exciting use cases, the industry still has a long way away from large-scale adoption of data and digital. Both the regulatory landscape and the skills needed within the industry lag behind. To address the latter – the importance of working with an agile, tech partner to overcome legacy constraints, adopt the latest tech including AI, leapfrog the competition and fill the tech skills gap – is more important than ever before.

At Vistair, we’re driven by a relentless desire to continually improve flight operations, safety, and compliance in the aviation industry through the intelligent application of technology, data and business intelligence. Enabling simplicity and digital sophistication with connected and agile software solutions for an increasingly complex fleet.

Learn more about how Vistair can help your airline on this digital journey – Contact Us today.


* Oliver Wyman 

** AI Plus Info