How Airports and Airlines Are Using Data, AI, Digital Models and Mobile Platforms to Manage IROPs

by | Apr 30, 2019 | Airlines

Written by Marisa Garcia –

When the complexities of operations meet the arbitrary nature of weather, or the unforeseeable disruption of a systems failure. Still, as challenging as managing many changeable factors can seem, today’s advances in data gathering, artificial intelligence, digital modeling and mobile platforms can help lessen the impact of IROPs (Irregular Operations).

The global cost of delays and airport disruptions is considerable. SITA estimates that it costs the airline industry $25 billion a year, and Amadeus has said it is closer to $60 billion.

Beyond their initial and localized impact, irregular operations events can result in a chain of disruptions to airline operations at other unaffected airports and it can sometimes take days to return to normalcy.

Being able to predict the knock-on effects of ATC disruptions, severe weather systems, or personnel shortages can help airports and airlines plan ahead, allocate the necessary resources and minimize the time it takes to recover. Having digital systems in place to manage IROPs can also help airlines offer their customers options to avoid crowds of unhappy passengers gathering at airports. 

Wellington International Airport has recently adopted the new Veovo platform for Enhanced Operational Insights, which offers a real-time, predictive model of operations at the airport making it easier to deploy resources. The platform combines and analyses data from various IT systems including air traffic control, gate management, and weather services to paint a broader picture of operations and highlight potential problems. Staff can access the full insights via a web-based portal. 

“The new platform gives us instant clarity of what’s happening, and when, across the airport. It allows us to make fast, proactive decisions, particularly around events like changes in flight schedules,” said Wellington Airport’s GM Facilities and IT, Leanne Gibson.

SITA has been exploring the benefit of digital twins in optimized airport operations, with sensor data and data from various airport operation platforms, creating a clear visual model of airport operations in real-time with predictive capabilities. Working with Helsinki Airport, SITA Lab produced a HoloLens augmented reality model that could help operations personnel better visualize problems and foresee the impact of disruptions. 

“Artificial intelligence can boil down all of that noise of data into perception. What should we paying attention to right now?” said SITA Lab Director Gustavo Pina. “Being able to do simulations and experiment with future realities to optimize the operations and also to experiment knowing that something is going to happen in the future with alternative possible interactions.”

Because digital twins incorporate sensor and location data, they could also help passengers better navigate the airport. 

“The digital twin knows your position in the airport. It knows where your gate is, it knows the path to your gate, it knows the coffee shops, it knows the queues at those coffee shops. You pool all of that information together and you can respond with very precise answers, instructions and maps,” Pina said. 

Many airlines and airports have developed a strong social media customer service strategy which helps them update customers of possible disruptions and manage queries. Artificial Intelligence is helping reduce the burden of personnel required to keep up with volume, especially during IROP events.

BizTweet by TIC Ltd, applies AI to help airports communicate flight status and offer information on terminal services with personalized messages on Twitter, Facebook Messenger or WeChat. The system supports messaging in 40 languages and includes a cloud-based analytics platform to measure engagement. Airports have been pro-actively promoting the availability of their BizTweet-powered social media channels to ahead of IROPs, encouraging travelers to sign up for personalized updates.

“There is a direct correlation between IROPs and usage on of our service, seeing massive spikes during these periods which proves that during periods of uncertainty passengers relish accurate up-to-date (real-time) information. The volumes remain high for a period of 24/48 hours after the disruption after which volumes return to normal levels,” said Paul Brugger, Founder and CEO of TIC.

Air Canada tackles the impact to customers of IROPs with a Daily Travel Outlook page that predicts delays or cancellations and offers customers mobile or email flight updates. The airline has also deployed the re-booking capabilities of the Amadeus Altea suite, making it easier for customers to search for alternative flights or cancel their tickets.

The airline has also turned IROPs into an ancillary opportunity with its On My Way™ disruption service. For a small fee, ($25 short-haul and $35 long-haul) Air Canada offers priority rebooking on the next available flight of the customers’ choosing, which includes options for flights on other North American airlines, covering costs of meals, hotel accommodations and car rentals as needed, and dedicated agents to address concerns around the clock. Air Canada makes it easy for customers to add On My Way™ cover to their reservations via the Manage my Bookings feature of the website and their mobile app.