Wouldn’t the notion of an airplane flown Pilotless sound remarkable? Wouldn’t the mere idea of a “machine” being able to think and be decisive independently – as humans do, seem rather over-ambitious? But what if we already possess the technology needed to exploit the above? What if we possess the vision to make that happen? What if it has already happened?!!

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In its simplest form, Artificial Intelligence (AI.) can be the stimulation of human actions, cognition, intelligence in machines for better, faster, and more efficient and favorable outcomes. The area of Artificial Intelligence in its relevance to Aviation has been a matter of question and debate for as long as 50 years! The question of Artificial Intelligence is concerned with building, developing and making machines capable of performing tasks that typically require human intelligence. As such, Artificial Intelligence makes it possible for machines to learn from experience and adjust to new inputs and processes.

Artificial Intelligence is becoming a notion of vast discussion, a megatrend in the Travel and Tourism industry. Airlines and Travel companies capitalize on the maximum optimized use of machines and reliability via machine learning. For most industries, the primary goal of using such expertise would be to exploit efficiency, in a given time, at the lowest possible costs. For instance, in 2018, Delta Airlines opened its biometric terminals for boarding and baggage check-in in the form of self-service kiosks and systems built to make use of facial recognition to log in and match the passenger to the Border Control Database Agency. US customs and Border protection stress on how the technology at present allows for “hassle-free” traveler experience.

However, on the discussion of whether Artificial Intelligence will go as far as complete operation of airplanes with absolutely no human pilots will remain a subject of deliberation until years of procedures and approvals, legal, safety and otherwise, before flying pilotless, despite possessing the technology for it in the present.

The Good News nevertheless is that the Aviation industry does make use of the plethora of conveniences and efficiencies Artificial Intelligence offers; from Fuel Consumption Optimization to Revenue Management, Efficient Turnaround times amongst others.

With leading airlines having already invested and implemented Artificial Intelligence in various operations, most of their primary intent is to maximize efficiency and reduce costs worth millions. Most of these Artificial Intelligence-powered technology make use of various machine-learning algorithms, in real-time, to process and produce useful data that the said airlines then make use to make vast changes in the way they operate.

REVENUE MANAGEMENT

Revenue Management (RM) is the application of data and analytics aimed to define how to sell a product/service. This “system” also determines whom to sell, for how much, and the appropriate channel or medium necessary. As opposed to other consumer markets, demand for passenger travel is prone to subjectivity, depending on the destination, consumer demand, the season, price and reason for travel. As such it is vital for airlines to take into consideration these factors when catering their services. RM data specialists and scientists then make use of Artificial Intelligence to define accurately how each product/ service should be catered to suit the target market, taking into account the factors aforementioned in order to occupy maximum seat occupation while maximising revenue. It is also equally important for airlines to all this simultaneously with keeping their competitive edge and consumer-friendly services. RM helps apply “right place at the right time” strategy, using the right medium.

FUEL CONSUMPTION OPTIMIZATION

Airlines would aim to optimise efficient fuel consumption for one of two, if not both reasons; out of concerns of CO2 emissions and its damage to the environment and the cost that it bears.

According to a report by IATA in 2018, Airlines spent a whopping 23.5% of total expenditure on Jet Fuel. In efficiencies in the usage of fuel can render serious repercussions to airlines. In order to be fuel-efficient airlines globally need to be able to predict accurately how much fuel it actually needs for every scheduled flight. Southwest Airlines worked a solution for its fuel-consumption in a project that concerns the development of a series of predictable models using Time-series algorithms and a series of neural network, to produce efficient fuel consumption Forecasts on a monthly basis, in each airport the carrier flies to. The software takes into consideration the fuel price at present, number of trips, and the time period, while proving an increased accuracy by at least 12%.When otherwise forecasted by a team of experts, the said software managed to output about 9600 monthly forecasts as opposed to just 1200.

EFFICIENT TURNAROUND TIMES                              

In 2018 the US department of Transportation calculated the delays caused by plane-servicing amounted to 5% of all delayed flights. US passenger Airlines were losing USD 74.20 for every minute of delay! It was then that a Zurich-based start-up namely AASAIA provided an Artificial Intelligence-based solution that closely watches Turnarounds (the time between an airplane landing and its next departure), in real-time determining accurately the tasks completed, the efficiency and time taken. The software then offers predictive analysis based on the data collected from the observation to aid with better management of operations. The software does this using video streams from airfields via Image-Recognition Algorithms to capture the task(s) at hand in real-time, all the while under the close-monitoring of Airline employees. The solution provided by ASSAIA then aims to screen, analyse, predict and manage Turnaround times and operations accordingly as the airplane prepares for its next flight. ASSAIA claims to make ‘airplanes turnaround a little efficient’.

IN-FLIGHT FOOD SUPPLY ALLOCATION

As with Airlines sales and services, one of the most challenging tasks for Supply Management Specialists has to be estimating  just the right amount of food & beverage needed to cater for a given airplane on EACH flight, being mindful of little to no waste. A report by IATA in 2018, airlines managed to generate 6.1 Million tons worth of cabin waste, including food and drink particles along with plastic. Rightfully then did airlines like EasyJet, in a study done in 2018 by the Data Science team reveal astounding numbers of waste annually. The study took into consideration the destination, duration and time of flight and realized that the demand on a flight to Edinburgh, for instance varied from a flight to Ibiza. As a result, it became apparent that almost 800,000 fresh food items were being thrown after each flight. EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren deduced that such an appalling mistake cost the airlines millions of pounds annually.

The Data Science Team then created a ‘Demand Algorithm’ which aided the airlines in predicting consumer demand, and using the data to shift and cater demand to the right passenger group. This resulted in the carrier ensuring efficiency with minimal wastage, prevention of potential harm to the environment and the financial bearing it comes with.

As exhibited Artificial Intelligence is rather fascinating, and means different things to different scholars. In a world where self-driving vehicles exists, practically it may take just a little while longer till the dream of Pilotless airplane operations actually happen! Nevertheless, the Aviation industry makes excellent and innovative use of Machine-learning, Algorithms and the data that it yields in their processes, to mainly to exploit adequate efficiency, minimized waste, consumer-friendly, pocket-friendly traveler experience, while simultaneously maintaining  their competitive edge.

SOURCES: Altexsoft.com, Informationweek, Cbp.gov, Airlines.org & Assaia Apron AI