For aviation to be successful, many complex airport operational tasks must be accomplished efficiently and on time. Given today’s staff shortages, this is even more critical. Equally important are sustainable airport operations to achieve overall aviation sustainability.
The sheer number of tasks and inherent market volatility make this goal extremely challenging. The right resources must be in the right place at the right time. Real-time operational decision-making is paramount when there are unexpected disruptions. The most advanced technologies are needed to make the right decisions while concurrently addressing “what-if” scenarios.
Today, ubiquitous airport systems, the Internet of Things (IoT) and much-increased computing power enable airport processes to be digitalized in detail. Going forward, even more data will become available for analysis and utilization. According to Moore’s law, computing power will continue to increase exponentially over the coming years, while computing costs will decrease significantly.
From an Operations Research (OR) standpoint, this facilitates the simultaneous use of two algorithmic principles, each highly efficient when applied alone. This powerful parallel approach is called “hybrid AI”. It combines the benefits of “data-driven” (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) with “know-how-driven” algorithms such as Mathematical Optimization and Fuzzy Logic.
Hybrid AI supports airline, airport and ground handling operations across broad areas, above and below the wing, for example, in aircraft maintenance or cargo. Hybrid AI allows for better resource management of staff, ground support equipment, bays, and terminal resources, from strategic planning to the day of operations. Furthermore, Hybrid AI provides powerful decision support for managing disruptions.
Optimizing scenario planning and predictive disruption management
The past few years have been game-changing for aviation. We have seen the accelerated adoption of technology. The pandemic also provided a valuable learning lesson. Planning for the unexpected in aviation is more crucial than ever. Balancing “typical” day of operation needs with the ad-hoc resource demand created by unexpected disruptions requires sophisticated planning and decision-making. Gut feelings and repeating “yesterday’s” decisions are no longer suffice.
By applying data-driven AI and the underlying predictive modelling, planners use real-world data to forecast the right staff and ground support equipment demand. They correctly predict expected volumes, passengers, PRM, baggage, or cargo. Furthermore, disruption probabilities are considered.
This data enables them to effectively prioritize staff and equipment resources and physical assets to mitigate disruption impacts. Long-term, mid-term and short-term resource planning scenarios can be developed to enable more stability regarding potential operational changes using what-if analyses. All airport operations benefit from this optimized planning.
For example, if a weather-related disruption, fog, or ice storm occurs, hybrid AI-driven software will support effective staff scheduling by automatically learning from the past and considering previous, similar scenarios. Additionally, rule-based specifications (i.e., qualifications, preferences, SLAs) are applied. IoT helps by providing the real-time context, for example, in monitoring ground support equipment locations. The result is heightened situational awareness and automatic prioritization of tasks and resources. In this way, sophisticated decision-making support tools help planners minimize the effects of such disruptions and mitigate their impacts on flight schedules, operational costs, and passenger experience.
Optimizing cargo operations
The same predictive modelling is also applicable to cargo airline operations, addressing supply chain disruptions and facilitating the best decisions. With optimization software, integrating data from multiple sources (i.e., flight, truck, cargo, staff, GSE locations) and applying Hybrid AI, cargo airlines can identify the best plans and real-time tactics to maximize efficiency, customers’ SLAs, and sustainability simultaneously.
Optimizing workforce management
Successfully managing the workforce must consider such criteria as demand requirements, workplace regulatory mandates, individuals’ qualifications and preferences, and schedules. Integrating digitalization into workforce management, facilitated by optimization software incorporating sophisticated technologies, enables planners to better align demand fluctuations and operational needs with staff capabilities, scheduling preferences, and increased productivity goals.
Optimizing line maintenance
Leveraging aircraft data, hybrid AI and the IoT is helping airlines achieve enhanced line maintenance operations. Historical data and Machine Learning algorithms enable sound preventive line maintenance decisions, informing a LM Technician or Engineer proactively where to replace parts or make preventive checks to deter malfunctions. Additionally, hybrid AI helps to forecast the duration of various checks and replacements in LM for better resource schedules. In turn, this reduces flight delays, costs associated with unplanned overtime, expedited shipping costs for parts, and potentially stressful, rushed and, subsequently, inferior quality.
New aviation sustainability goals and requirements regularly occur within the industry and across regional governments. While sustainable airline fuels are not yet available in sufficient quantities, airport operations can significantly reduce an airport’s carbon emissions. For example, today, mixed GSE fleets are already in use. The numbers of electric and hydrogen GSE are rapidly increasing. Using advanced AI and predictive analytics, airlines, airports and ground handlers can optimize their planning of such mixed GS fleets to reduce fuel consumption and related CO2 emissions, while guaranteeing operational stability simultaneously. Reducing emissions by better planning applies to driver-based vehicles similarly as autonomous GSE.
The questions to ask today
The aviation industry is at a critical crossroads. Business as usual won’t suffice. We all learned this during the crisis. Software solutions must provide advanced technologies and a mature aviation model. They are crucial to supporting optimum aviation operations. The industry must adopt new solutions that help companies become more proactive in addressing the wide range of situations that disrupt static plans, moving away from pure reactive handling of such cases.
It is more urgent than ever that aviation companies find answers to critical questions such as:
How can we fully optimize, increase productivity and plan resources to meet our operational promises?
How can we build greater employee satisfaction?
What will be the keys in 2023 to driving maximum efficiencies and cost reductions?
What measures should we take to protect our earth now and in the future?
Advanced technologies will be central in answering all these questions and will be the essential building blocks to the aviation industry’s successful go-forward strategy.
As airports adapt to new environmental requirements, technology steps up to help them keep track of their carbon footprint.
Swedavia and Veovo have partnered to introduce environmental emissions incentives for airlines. The airport operator’s flexible airport charges scheme essentially rewards airlines for operating out of Swedavia airports Stockholm Arlanda and Gothenburg Landvetter with more fuel-efficient aircraft. In all, Swedavia operates 10 Swedish airports and is a leader in adopting environmental innovations.
The recently introduced CO2 and NOx Emission Charges follow a Swedish government requirement that airport charges be differentiated for environmental purposes. Airlines are charged more when operating aircraft with higher emissions and less when operating cleaner aircraft. The overall effect on airport revenue for Swedavia is neutral.
Lena Wennberg, chief sustainable development officer at Swedavia, says:” Swedavia wants the travel of the future to be sustainable. For many years, we have actively worked towards a transition to more sustainable travel via our airports. By the end of 2020, Swedavia became completely fossil-free in our airport operations. Fossil-free renewable HVO-diesel is now being fuelled at our airports. Within the Swedish government’s initiative Fossil-free Sweden, which we work within, there are also goals for domestic flights to be completely fossil-free by 2030. For international traffic, all planes taking off from Swedavia’s airports must be fossil-free by 2045″.
Veovo’s Revenue Management software will automatically calculate airlines’ environmental impact at the airport, using industry emission data sets and Swedavia’s innovative environmental charging approach. Swedavia shares the calculations with airlines on their invoices.
” The industry’s drive towards increased sustainability and carbon neutrality requires a toolkit of innovative technologies and approaches, including charging that rewards cleaner aircraft,” said James Williamson, CEO of Veovo. “We are pleased that our aeronautical billing engine with complete charge flexibility will support Swedavia in their initiative.”
Swedavia’s climate transition work was recently honoured by the Airports Council International (ACI), awarding the operator the Eco-Innovation Airport of the Year in 2021.
Airports embrace sustainability
Readers may be interested in the perspective of Jennifer Desharnais, Manager Sustainability at ACI World, who advises the aviation industry not to consider sustainability as a mere “box-ticking exercise.”
“Airports are not new to the practice of operating as sustainably as possible. Several show true leadership, and clearly have a solid sustainability strategy that cascades down and engages all employees. These airports typically create innovative partnerships, collaborate with both in-sector and out-of-sector stakeholders, invest in technologies and training, embrace change, understand the needs of the passengers and communities they serve, and measure their impact on society and the environment. Overall, the airport sector is one that recognises the intricate interdependencies of all three pillars of sustainability, and the associated risks and opportunities.”
But there will be a lot of measures to account for, and technology companies can help make progress toward a carbon-neutral future more transparent.
The future of flexible airport charges
ACI World has suggested that flexible airport charges might also result in the more efficient use of airport infrastructure. ACI World published a policy brief on this topic at the end of last year—Airport Charges: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom—with the assistance of InterVISTAS Consulting Inc. and the support of Oman Airports Management Company, ACI Africa, ACI Latin America-Caribbean, and ACI North America.
The brief suggests:
Policies on airport charges should ensure that they serve the travelling public’s and local communities’ best interests.
Strictly cost-based airport charges do not ensure that infrastructure is used more efficiently to benefit the travelling public.
The primary focus of charges should be on market needs and signals for the efficient use of infrastructure.
The best way forward in the changing competitive landscape is through commercial agreements between airports and airlines.
Light-handed oversight formats are preferable in exceptional situations where economic regulation of charges is deemed necessary.
More flexible policy
The environmental incentive scheme introduced by Swedavia appears to be a better solution to keep Europe’s airports on target than the Fit for 55 proposals put forth by the European Commission.
Fit for 55 refers to achieving a 55% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 relative to 1990 levels and encompasses the goal to meet net-zero targets by 2050. The European Commission has proposed mandating the use of sustainable aviation fuels (in its ReFuelEU Directive), requiring the supply of electricity to stationary aircraft (in the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation, AFIR), and putting an effective price on CO2 emissions and jet fuel (through the EU Emission Trading System, ETS, implementation of CORSIA, and the European Taxation Directive, ETD).
While well-intended and in some ways aligned with aviation’s environmental commitment, ACI Europe has pointed out that Fit for 55 could have an unintended negative impact on European airports, airlines and passengers alike.
The AFIR will require airports to upgrade or change their infrastructure to ensure electricity supply is available at aircraft gates and stands.
The other proposals will increase airlines’ costs— e.g. by introducing a kerosene tax. The extent to which airlines mitigate, absorb or pass through these cost increases to passengers and how passengers respond to any fare changes will determine the effect of these proposals on carbon emissions and demand and revenue at airports.
The Fit for 55 proposals will reduce demand at European airports.
Fares on direct flights could increase by 11% in 2030 and 13% in 2050, leading to a reduction in demand of 5% in 2030 and 6% in 2050.
However, the Oxera report points out that while these policies will dampen demand, the overall trend is for future passenger demand to exceed 2019 levels. These policies will not curb flying. Aircraft will remain a preferred form of transport for many. Instead, they will only lessen the number of flights operating in Europe.
Climate change is a global issue, and the solutions should also be global.
Oxera finds Fit for 55 might encourage more airlines to program connecting flights that avoid European airports and switch routes to connect through other airports instead. Even flights originating in Europe destined for long-haul routes may choose to connect through airports elsewhere. After building the infrastructure to attract connecting flights, Europe’s airports need to remain viable.
What is more, this policy shift would not effectively accomplish its mission.
The proposals reduce carbon emissions per passenger by 54% in 2050 on flights within the EU, but only by 20% on flights that connect EU and non-EU airports.
ACI EUROPE proposes the following policies:
Further incentivise and provide financial support to increase uptake of SAF (sustainable aviation fuels).
Allocation of revenues from taxation and ETS for aviation decarbonisation
Exempt small airports from supplying electricity for stationary aircraft
Engagement with the EU’s main trading partners and other third countries to accelerate international decarbonisation goals and actions
Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE, said: “The achievement of our climate goals is too important to proceed with anything other than the fullest body of knowledge possible. And the social and economic cohesion that comes with robust air connectivity is too valuable to our continent and communities to put at risk. Oxera’s report shows that the ‘Fit for 55’ package, whilst unquestionably valuable in its aspirations and directions, invites unwelcome and unanticipated consequences through a lack of a comprehensive and cumulative impact assessment. As we all strive to decarbonise our sector, let us go forward with our eyes wide open. The process will be costly and lengthy, and ours is by its very nature a global industry. The measures we propose today will help create a firm foundation for us to move forward whilst protecting Europe and its citizens from distortion and exclusion. We urge the European Institutions to incorporate these in their next steps”.
While the objective is to ensure a sustainable future for humanity, there are more gains to be made from flexibility.
Fresh green tech opportunities
In her article, Desharnais also raises awareness about the complexity of reporting, highlighting opportunities for the tech sector to offer solutions that will help keep aviation on track towards net-zero 2050.
“The spotlight on sustainability is resulting in a multitude of ESG ratings and rankings, sustainability reporting frameworks and guidelines, and target setting guidelines, popping up all over the sustainability landscape. Often dubbed the “ESG alphabet soup”, the topic continues to gain greater attention every day, demonstrating the pressing need for standardisation. For airports and many other businesses, it can easily become confusing. ACI’s ESG Management Best Practice aims to help airports better understand the differences between ESG and sustainability reporting, the steps they can take to start or improve reporting, and the reasons why investors are interested,” she writes.
The environmental commitments made by the aviation industry—to achieve net-zero targets by 2050—requires technological innovation not only in aircraft and fuel systems but in how we measure and keep track of operations. Governments, investors, and the travelling public will demand transparency along the path to net-zero. Ensuring accurate reporting will be essential.
After all, sustainability is nothing without accountability.
Aviation tech innovation in 2022 – time for a new mindset?
As the global travel industry finally is exiting the grips of Covid after 2 long years it is worth taking a step back and evaluate the new landscape we now are living in – because there has been some dramatic change in several areas.
The first development might not be fully visible, but a significant number of airlines have experienced a substantial talent drain in their internal technology department while being faced with severe restrain on capital available for new IT projects and products. This sets the scene for a new mindset where airlines suddenly are strongly motivated to work with external startups who have are agile and nimble and capable of providing new solutions very quickly for a minimum fee as they are prepared to engage in “software as a service” projects with “pay as you consume” business models.
The second development is more obvious, but still worth mentioning – during the last 2 years new technologies such as DLT (aka blockchain), elastic cloud infrastructure, edge computing, NFT and not least Web3 infrastructure have evolved at an incredible pace and are now ready for primetime. The combined potential of these exciting developments is substantial for the aviation industry and will likely result in completely new solutions for distribution, ticketing, payment, capacity planning, yield management, customer service and disruption management to name a few areas.
The third development is the new operational environment with limited workforce in multiple critical areas combined with high fuel cost and shortage of products in the global supply chain combined with short notice traveler behavior change in terms of preferred destinations as well as advance booking window and price sensitivity. These changes are making it much harder for airlines to plan ahead and implement a traditional schedule and pricing forecast model and therefore require more flexible automated software to analyse the latest information and provide the right recommendations.
The fourth and final development is the sustainability wave crashing over the global travel industry – gone are the days where airlines could focus on selling seats based on the best price, best cabin class service or on-time performance. Today’s airline customers – both corporate and leisure, are increasingly focused on the sustainability performance of the airline resulting in new demands for transparent operational data such as fuel consumption, SAF blend, carbon offsets, load factor, flight path efficiency and even on the ground tarmac movement energy efficiency.
When the 4 developments listed above are added together it becomes very clear that airlines must implement a new strategy for deployment of and usage of technology services – and it is highly unlikely the internal IT department will be able to adjust accordingly and start delivering new services and solutions on a few months – or perhaps just a few weeks – notice. The good news is that the majority of the travel tech startup community actually has strengthened during the Covid hiatus and the startups who have survived now appear to be stronger, leaner and better equipped to help the airlines embark on a rapid innovation journey.
See a few of the most interesting new solution providers
Obviously it is not possible to mention all the relevant startups in this article, but here are a few of the most interesting new solution providers with a short description of the service they provide.
Pat (www.pat.ai) : Provides a AI chat based virtual agent solution designed to replace a substantial amount of the work performed in a traditional airline call center including support for complex products such as “round the world” tickets
Vendia (www.vendia.com) : Provides a blockchain based data engine designed to enable real-time access to and usage of data located in legacy systems or in different cloud environments – all without compromising data privacy and security
3Victors (www.3victors.com) : Provides a real-time analysis of global travel search data designed to provide airlines with instant alerts when search pattern changes in order to optimize yield management, capacity and schedule planning
Envest Global (www.envestglobal.com) : Provides a detailed benchmark analysis of the sustainability performance of 50+ airlines designed to provide airlines with a better understanding of their own operations compared to their competitors while also providing the investment community with better insights to the carbon resilience level of each airline
Tryp (www.tryp.com) : Provides a new type of “inspirational search engine” for leisure travel designed to generate complex package offers in seconds without asking for a fixed destination to start the search which can help an airline sell more seats on to low load factor destinations
BlackBook (https://blackbookapp.co/) : Provides a super app designed to be a digital concierge for the traveler before, during and after the trip for both corporate and leisure travel which can help airlines provide a richer service and generate increment revenue
Medical Travel Companions (www.medicaltravelcompanions.com) : Provides a human assistance concierge service for travelers who are unable to travel alone due to medical conditions which enables airlines to service this 100M+ global passenger segment better
Kyte (www.gokyte.com) : Provides a modern JSON API service designed to sit on top of the legacy airline tech stack without going through the complex and time-consuming NDC development process which enable an airline to offer true digital retailing capabilities to any online travel or ecommerce solution
Aeropaye (www.aeropaye.com) : Provides a blockchain based smart contract engine designed to automate and optimize the cancel and refund process which can reduce the overall cost of payment for airlines as well as provide a way to service travelers who don’t have credit cards and bank accounts
Spotnana (www.spotnana.com) : Provides an open innovation platform for the travel industry designed to unite suppliers, agencies and technology providers through a single cloud-based tech stack using open API’s and unbiased content to provide personalized offers directly to the traveler
These are just some examples of startups who have survived the Covid crisis and are well positioned to help the airlines around the world become more agile and take advantage of new solutions faster without having to develop them internally – hopefully we be able to look back at 2022 in the future and view this year as the beginning of a new chapter in the aviation tech world where airlines work closely together with startups to accelerate innovation and modernize the tech stack rapidly.