How IoT is powering the aviation industry to new heights

IoT could help make your next visit to the airport a bit more straightforward.
2 January 2020

IoT could enchance the experience of air travel in the coming years. Source: Shutterstock

In 2035, IATA (International Air Transport Association) forecasts that there will be 7.2 billion air travelers, doubling the 3.8 billion passengers chalked up in 2016. 

The dramatic increase of passengers means airports need to be able to accommodate a rise in traffic. While redesigning or restructuring an entire airport may be on approach, more forward-thinking leaders are looking at the potential of new technology solutions to improve the overall efficiency of existing solutions. 

Take a look at Kittilä airport in Finland, an airport with humble resources struggling to accommodate flocks of passengers during peak holiday seasons. Finland’s aviation body decided its time for an AI intervention, and the successful trial will see similar initiatives go nationwide. 

At a time when it needs it most, the aviation industry stands to gain from digital transformation, and IoT in particular— a network of intelligent and sensor-equipped devices that can gather data from a spectrum of endpoints, which can then be interpreted and acted upon by tech leaders. 

The role of IoT in aviation

One of the main features of IoT is its ability to collect a vast amount of data and provide a wealth of insights for airline managers to streamline systems and processes in aviation. 

# 1 | Maintenance  

Airline leaders are utilizing the concept of data collection to understand better their equipment and maintenance needed for an aircraft.

This year, Airbus has decided to launch an IoT platform for its cabin calling it the Airbus Connected Experience. By having IoT sensors from seats to overhead bins to the lavatory, they can gather real-time data and provide updates for cabin crews. 

Some examples of data include the time taken for passengers to fasten their seat belts and which particular seat is on recline before departure or landing. Besides that, the cabin crew can keep track of food availability and bathroom shortages.

Airline partners such as Seatmakers Stelia and Recaro can benefit from this data for “predictive maintenance” where they can monitor the seat conditions and anticipate problems before it arises. In the long run, manufacturers can utilize the gathered information for research and development, seeking out better materials to build high-quality seats. 

Meanwhile, Gategroup, the food caterer of airbuses, can use the data to analyze food preferences and retail products. 

Overall, the use of IoT data enables stakeholders to assess and maintain the quality of their products and services in the aircraft.

# 2 | Efficiency

Along with system and product maintenance, IoT data is also used to increase efficiency in aviation.

Virgin Atlantic has integrated IoT devices on a fleet of Boeing 787 plans and cargo equipment. The total data collected over a flight is stated to exceed half a terabyte. The rich data help Virgin Atlantic to detect the likelihood of aircraft equipment to go faulty and can deploy engineers on-site in a timely manner. 

As a result, delays due to defects and maintenance are reduced by 20 percent and airline engineers save 2 hours per day with predictive analysis at hand.

Similarly, Emirates is using beacons to monitor equipment such as toolboxes and life jackets. The air carrier also tracks its cargo by embedding beacon technology in bag tags, saving time by receiving real-time updates on equipment. Essentially, IoT increases the efficiency of cabin staff when inspection and monitoring are automated, leaving service crews more time to assist passengers. 

Even though IoT presents a sky full of possibilities in augmenting the aviation industry, passengers may not share the same enthusiasm and are not too eager for airlines to know how much time do they spend in the lavatory or when they are properly buckled up during the flight. 

As an example, United Airlines and Delta faced scrutiny and significant backlash from their passengers when inactive cameras were spotted in the aircraft. 

Clearly, privacy is a delicate topic and has to be dealt with much sensitivity. Airlines need to approach digital transformation with passengers in mind instead of jet speeding in innovation. As with everything new, setting regulations and educating passengers of the use of data could be the first step.