Extended reality (XR) in aviation

by | Jun 23, 2023 | Airlines, Airports, Digital Transformation, Travel Tech

Extended reality (XR) in aviation


Apple recently debuted the Apple Vision Pro, “a revolutionary spatial computer that seamlessly blends digital content with the physical world.” The headset combines augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) capabilities in a feat of technology that caused ripples internationally. The Apple Vision Pro merges the virtual and real worlds; with AR, users can overlay digital information and interactive elements onto their surroundings while VR offers users a fully simulated and immersive digital experience.

Apple’s striking achievements have re-energised excitement around the potential of extended reality (XR) across industries. XR is “an umbrella term used to describe immersive technologies that can merge the physical and virtual worlds.” It includes VR, AR, and mixed reality (MR) which blends the two to create a hybrid experience. Here are just some of the ways XR has already been applied to the aviation industry.



One of the major ways AR and VR is being leveraged in commercial aviation is through training programs for employees. Airlines including Qatar Airways, Air France, Japan Airlines, and Lufthansa have implemented VR training programmes. The technology can simulate emergency situations, allowing crew to refine their responses within a safe environment. Last month, Emirates Group and Amazon Web Services (AWS) teamed up to craft an immersive Extended Reality (iXR) platform complete with 3D virtual hubs, virtual training, gamified environments, and simulated experiences. The press release detailed:

“Crew will be transported into a meticulously constructed digital universe with virtual classrooms, engage with and learn from seasoned facilitators and peers, and navigate the intricate interiors of the airline’s flagship A380s and Boeing 777s. The environment will feature cabin service trainers, photorealistic avatars, and spatial audio for an authentic, sensory experience that enhances Emirates’ hospitality ethos.

The hyperreal virtual world will enable the Emirates Group’s new recruits to quickly and visually learn more about the organisation and its extensive business, the people and its culture, their own roles, and living in Dubai. Embedded support services will create a seamless onboarding experience for successful candidates.”


Customer experience and entertainment

VR can provide users with high quality immersive entertainment. Giving passengers an escape from the confines of the aircraft on long flights, it lends itself to use onboard optimising the entertainment experience. VR was first tested as entertainment onboard years ago. Qatar Airways trialled an inflight VR service in business class on flights to London and Singapore, Alaska Airlines trialled SkyLights VR experience with first class passengers and British Airways trialled the same company’s headsets in first class flights to New York.

However, the technology’s use is not limited to the skies; it has also been used to craft a memorable airport experience. JFK Airport offered an interactive VR experience called ‘This is New York’ where passengers could appreciate the landmarks and destinations of New York virtually. Roel Huinink, President and CEO of JFKIAT explained, “the pandemic made it more difficult for visitors to see some of the iconic locations in the city, and this experience allows them to safely see some of the best landmarks New York City has to offer when travelling through T4.”


Image credit: PeriscapeVR


Operations and logistics

XR can also be used to optimise ground operations, streamlining processes to enhance efficiency. One of the best known applications of AR in this context was at Singapore’s Changi Airport. Understood as the world’s first use of AR in ramp handling, Changi introduced smart glasses for ground crew which supplied staff with instructions. Kevin Chin, VP of Projects at SATS, Changi Airport’s main ground handling firm outlined the following challenges that the glasses aimed to address, “limited real time information, we use manual loading instructions [in the form of paper reports] and are limited to walkie-talkies, [which] may be loud and hard to hear [with loud background noises].”


Image credit: yvette tan/mashable


The Apple Vision Pro may have re-ignited excitement around XR but the aviation industry has been leveraging immersive technologies that merge the physical and virtual worlds in a multitude of ways for some years. As the technology evolves, it will open doors to more applications across the industry giving way to transformative advancements in commercial aviation.

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Article by Jess Brownlow