Aviation Business News

Comment: How Artificial Intelligence is reshaping the aviation industry

In 2024, Artificial Intelligence will remain the biggest trend in the business world, affecting the majority of industries. This is especially so for an advanced field like aviation.

AI has the potential to and is being proved to drastically improve air traffic management, flight operations, security, and in many more areas.

Drawing on more than a decade of experience developing aviation software for industry leaders like SAS and IATA, coupled with our proficiency in AI, the Sigma Software team will author a series of articles for Aviation Business News on AI in aviation.

In our first article, program manager Artem Shevchenko discusses how airlines and airports enhance passenger experience with AI using case studies from the major market players.

Сivil aviation has recovered, and it needs more innovation than ever

It’s finally obvious that the aviation industry has rebounded from the decline caused by Covid-19.

Global air traffic is nearing its pre-pandemic levels, with passenger numbers in Europe reaching almost 95% of pre-Covid levels in 2023. Recent aviation events indicate that the time for innovation has returned.

Today, big airports like King Fahd Airport in Saudi Arabia, Denver Airport in the US, and Shoudu International Airport in China serve 200,000 passengers daily.

More passengers mean airports need better ways to serve them. This includes using smart systems that analyse data to understand what customers need and using AI/Machine Learning to make services personalised.

This is a chance for airports and airlines to reconsider their approach through innovative thinking.

Using software products based on machine learning and AI algorithms will let airlines use an individualised approach to customer service throughout the entire air travel, from booking to boarding.

Let’s check how these AI-based applications help passengers at every step of their journey.

Intelligent passenger assistance

One of the earliest applications of AI was in the development of online assistants and chatbots.

These tools became highly sought-after by airlines and airports due to the large volume of passengers they serve.

As airlines still have staffing issues in the post-pandemic period, AI technologies can help fill the gap by handling many customer requests.

With the help of AI, passengers can get answers to frequently asked questions, generate recommendations, or any other kind of information.

Today, it’s hard to find an airline that doesn’t use sophisticated chatbots to improve the speed and quality of customer interactions.

But some of them are already taking an extra step. Let’s meet the first human-like aviation chatbot who can talk with the customer in real-time and is ready to answer any questions.

A few weeks ago, Qatar Airways introduced Sama 2.0, its new AI-powered cabin crew member.

This digital assistant has lifelike expressions and even simulates breathing, making the interaction more human.

Developed through a collaboration between Qatar Airways and UneeQ, a technology company based in New Zealand, Sama aims to redefine the passenger experience by combining technology with empathy.

Originally introduced in 2022 as the “first-ever metahuman cabin crew,” Sama initially served as a guide for customers navigating Qatar Airways’ immersive virtual platform, QVerse.

However, with the launch of Sama 2.0, its capabilities have been significantly expanded. Now, Sama can engage in real-time interactions with passengers, transforming the customer experience from a one-way exchange to a dynamic conversation.

And while not all airline chatbots are as human-like as Sama, there are other examples of brilliant implementation of this technology.

For instance, last summer, Lufthansa unveiled Swifty, an artificial intelligence assistant for business travellers based on OpenAI’s GPT-4.

It enables travellers to share their hotel and flight preferences via chat, select appropriate options and have them booked. Swifty then shares the itinerary and receipts.

Since the use of human-like digital avatars in the service business is growing at an unrealistic rate, we will soon see virtual cabin crews in the interfaces of many other airlines as well.

But it’s worth remembering that chatbots are still imperfect and can make mistakes. In 2022, Air Canada’s chatbot promised a discount that wasn’t available to a passenger, and he paid the full price despite the chatbot’s assurances that the discount would be returned to him after the flight.

The company later claimed that the chatbot had made a mistake but refused to take the blame for the error. The case went to trial, which ended in February 2024 in favour of the passenger. This is the first time an airline chatbot error has been tried in court.

What should you do to make sure your chatbot doesn’t make mistakes or does it as rarely as possible? That’s right, order its development from a good contractor.

Check-in process and passenger flow management

AI-powered facial recognition and biometrics services in aviation are widely used to authenticate passengers, simplifying the check-in and boarding process.

While its main purpose is in airport and onboard security, these technologies also help make the customer experience more pleasant and efficient.

The face of airport travel is evolving around the world. From Singapore’s Changi Airport to Beijing International and major hubs like Frankfurt and Munich in Germany, biometric identification is becoming more common.

Airports like Vancouver International in Canada or Oakland in the US use AI-powered biometrics for passenger processing.

Cameras with AI algorithms verify a traveller’s identity, replacing manual passport checks. In the future, fingerprints, iris scans, and even behavioural patterns could be integral to biometric identification.

The integration of AI and biometric identification in airport security brings numerous benefits. One of the main advantages is faster processing times.

Automating identity verification helps airports reduce security line waits, making it quicker for passengers to move through. This not only enhances the passenger experience but also lets security staff focus more on potential threats rather than routine checks.

AI-powered kiosks are at the heart of this change, offering a smooth self-service experience. They handle tasks like checking documents, distributing boarding passes, and tagging baggage. These kiosks represent a shift toward more independent and effective check-in processes.

New Delhi Airport is leading the way here. By using AI to analyse passenger data, flight schedules, and baggage handling, the airport can predict and prevent problems before they happen.

AI-powered video analysis monitors crowd density and security risks in real-time. These innovations help manage the growing number of passengers without needing to expand infrastructure or hire more staff.

The benefits are clear: fewer delays, better use of resources, and higher security, all thanks to data-driven decisions.

Artificial intelligence can not only improve the current passenger experience but also help to learn from passenger data and draw conclusions for the future.

In 2021, Athens International Airport embarked on a journey to measure subconscious drivers of passenger experience.

The AI model built by PathosAI, a Canadian tech company, measured human emotions from what passengers say (text), how they say it (voice/tone), and how they move (non-facial body movements).

The intensity, nature, and type of emotions determine the importance the passenger assigns to an interaction and how the overall experience works for them. This data provides valuable feedback to airport staff and allows for necessary process improvements to be made.

Intelligent baggage tracking and handling

Cool AI tools are really out there for baggage tracking and handling. They can provide passengers with the ability to track the movement of their luggage and counteract luggage loss.

Let’s dig into some examples. The US Transportation Security Administration already pairs AI algorithms with X-rays to speed travellers and their carry-on through security.

Frankfurt’s airport has tested autonomous robots as luggage porters. The Greater Toronto Airports Authority uses AI for predictive maintenance on the baggage-handling system, allowing it to replace parts before they break down and cause delays.

Seattle, John F Kennedy International, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International, and London Gatwick partnered with Assaia, an AI company whose software uses cameras and AI to track the physical preparation of aircraft at gates to relay updated data about baggage and departure times to airline operators and passengers.

Siemens Logistics, a global leader in airport baggage-handling systems, built Baggage360 system, which uses multiple sources of information to analyse baggage data and forecast baggage flows. It can even predict when a bag will finally be visible for the passenger on the arrival belt.

AI is on the way to reshaping the whole Aviation industry

It’s inspiring to see how the myth of omnipresent AI is becoming a reality right in front of us.

As we witnessed from the case studies in the article, it has already made a huge positive impact on the passenger experience. It’s important to move on, creating and improving new airline and airport applications and services based on AI.

At the same time, it raises some new challenges, which we’ll discuss in the next articles, along with AI adjustments in air traffic management, flight operations, and security.

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