Can tech help airlines and airports avoid delays?

Ryanair, Google, NASA, and many others are working on using tech to help reduce delays and optimize operations.
31 October 2018

Are airlines too dreaming of becoming tech companies? Source: Shutterstock

There’s no doubt that delays and disruptions not only cost airlines a lot of money but also are the leading cause of frustration among customers.

According to Inmarsat, global flight delays cost the industry US$123 billion per annum. In fact, IATA data suggests that 24 percent of the 26 million flights each year are delayed.

The industry fears that if the problem isn’t tackled soon, the growing number of flights and the complexity of operations will only make the problem worse.

However, according to SITA Artificial Intelligence (AI) Program Director Stephane Cheikh, technology holds the solution. “With all eyes on the potential of AI, I can see several very promising signs,” said Cheikh — and it’s something he’s confident that airlines and airports are exploring.

According to SITA’s 2018 Air Transport Insights research, AI is one of the emerging technologies offering future strategic and operational benefits.

The research found that 66 percent of airlines are implementing or planning predictive analytics capabilities by 2021, while 79 percent of airports are using or planning to use AI for predictive analysis to improve operational efficiency (e.g. task automation) by that same year.

And Cheikh is quite right. Take Ryanair for example. The company has set out on a journey to adopt the latest technologies — to not only help reduce and minimize delays and disruptions but also to help improve the business — with a view to becoming “a tech company with an airline attached”.

“The competition is Google and Amazon, not Aer Lingus or EasyJet; our competition is digital,” Ryanair CTO John Hurley told local media. Of course, Hurley is right.

Google, for example, not only helps customers find the most suitable flights (on same or different airlines), but also uses complex algorithms to track and predict which flights are “often delayed” in order to help customers better plan (their connections and their pick-ups).

NASA too is working on new solutions to help airports and air traffic control towers better manage their operations using technology in order to avoid disruptions and delays.

According to the Scientific American, the US-based organization’s flight deck interval management (FIM) system combines satellite-based location tracking and automated computer commands to track the position of aircrafts and update pilots on appropriate landing speeds.

The system is able to, therefore, eliminate the padding between aircraft — which could save on fuel costs, reduce emissions, and bump up the number of flights that arrive on time.

“More aircraft landing per hour at airports means less delay for passengers,” William Johnson, former project manager for Air Traffic Management Technology Demonstration-1 at the NASA Langley Research Center told the publication.

Truth be told, there are plenty of technologies that can help airlines and airports reduce delays and disruptions — whether you look at predictive maintenance or creating digital twins — there’s always an opportunity.

With more and more airlines thinking like Ryanair, there’s a certain guarantee that airlines will soon function like technology companies, deploying innovative technologies in a smart way to optimize operations and experiences.