According to the International Air Transport Association, 2020 marked the worst year in the history of the aviation industry. While many players in this sector are still emerging from the chaos reaped by COVID, the crisis has accelerated and demanded technological changes that address the critical issues the industry faces in a post-COVID world.
As part of our continued series of monitoring IT trends in key industries such as education and healthcare, we now take a look at one of the sectors most severely impacted by the pandemic – aviation.
Let’s review the information technology trends appearing this year that are set to deliver a new way of flying.
Smart Airports via Digitization
The aviation industry has had no choice but to adapt to the “new normal.” Concerning airports, this has led to making everything as contactless and digital as possible.
For example, many airports have already revolutionized the check-in process to minimize human-to-human interaction. Today, at many airport locations, automated kiosks have taken the place of traditional check-in desks, and digital signage helps guide customers through the boarding process.
Other examples of increased digitization include security clearance and advanced object and body scanning technology, paperless boarding passes, and automated boarding process. These are all linked via IoT protocols and analyzed and deciphered by AI and machine learning algorithms, as we’ll now discuss.
IoT and Cloud Technology
The entire aviation industry, like many others, is moving to the cloud. Not only does this help to reduce the most-criticized carbon footprint, but it also delivers many other tangible benefits.
Firstly, cloud-based networks will serve as the infrastructure for the myriad of IoT-enabled devices that are being installed across airports as we speak. The ability to track the passenger right through the check-in and boarding process autonomously provides several advantages, such as improved security.
Secondly, airports are costly operations themselves. Even just the slightest efficiency saving provided by IoT-enabled sensor-based PoE lighting can deliver considerable cost reductions.
AI and Machine Learning
Continuing with the same theme, the above mentioned connected devices (along with the data they send to the cloud) will also provide the basis for artificially intelligent algorithms to sift through trillions of terabytes of data to unearth meaningful operational insights.
While a hospital may use machine-learning-based algorithms to deliver improvements in care, airports will have to use the same technology to deliver insights into retail spending, security processes, travel patterns, bathroom facilities, parking, check-in habits, and much more. Such a wide-ranging analysis can only be carried out simultaneously with the help of AI-based programs and machine learning algorithms.
However, it’s not just airports. Aviation manufacturing is also benefiting from the insights delivered by machine learning. For instance, GE uses machine learning and data analytics to identify faults in engines, increasing the life span of components and reducing maintenance costs. Boeing, by contrast, has successfully built machine-learning algorithms to design aircraft and automate factory operations.
Social Distancing Technology
While vaccination campaigns are making inroads against the threat posed by the virus, social distancing will remain for the foreseeable future. Airports have been one of the most visible proponents of social distancing tech.
Camera-enabled crowd-density monitors already help to control passenger flows through high-traffic areas. In other cases, radar and 3D sensors have been repurposed to improve physical distancing and manage people flows across terminals.
Other social distancing tech being introduced to airports across America include virtual queuing, security checkpoint reservations, and “bingo boarding,” which all help to reduce crowding at the traditional bottlenecks along the passenger journey. These innovations will prove crucial once passenger numbers return to what the figures were before the pandemic while the threat of the virus remains.
Almost all industries are experimenting with blockchain, and aviation is no different. Currently, blockchain’s use is most widespread in aircraft manufacturing.
Since the scandals relating to the 737 MAX, Boeing has been at the forefront of harnessing blockchain technology to keep an immutable and shareable record of aircraft parts and systems during manufacturing and maintenance. As a result, they are better able to predict maintenance events, optimize production operations, and extend the life cycle of specific parts.
Airbus, by contrast, is implementing blockchain-based solutions into its supply chain tracking and procurement departments and hopes to use this technology to facilitate quicker, more secure transactions as well as increased efficiencies up and down the chain.
The tangible improvement in many environmental measurements, which resulted from the vast majority of the world coming to a standstill for much of 2020, has increased the pressure on the aviation industry to do its part in the battle against climate change.
Information technology will be at the forefront of driving those changes and can have as meaningful an impact as finding more environmentally-friendly biofuels. Many airlines, such as Southwest, have already switched to paperless tickets and continue to make similar improvements to their ramp operations and reservation systems to reduce energy usage and carbon output.
That goes for manufacturing and operations, too. Many of the technologies mentioned above will converge to help dramatically increase plane fuel efficiency, eliminate waste, and decarbonize the industry.
While many of the innovations we’ve spoken about thus far are aimed at increasing operational efficiency or capacity, many customer preference trends will continue to be served by advances in IT.
In-flight entertainment is one of those fields. Customers no longer desire complex seat-back computers running complex operations at hundreds of seats simultaneously — they expect them. Thus, airlines are scrambling this year to ensure that their in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems are appropriately matched to today’s consumer expectations.
That includes systems with hundreds of movies and TV shows to choose from, smartphone and tablet compatibility (including USB-C charging), interactive maps, surround-sound audio, and of course, in-flight wireless connectivity.
Advanced Self-Service and Biometrics
As highlighted above, a critical element of smart airports will come in the form of advanced self-service and biometrics technology. The frictionless and automated passenger experience of the future will come in the form of self-service kiosks loaded with biometric tech, such as facial recognition.
In some locations, it’s already being rolled out. For instance, Star Alliance airlines has developed a new full-interoperable biometric identity and identification platform that went live in Germany late last year and will come to the US within a few months. Spirit, on the other hand, has already rolled out biometric check-in at US airports to reduce face-to-face interaction. Meanwhile, the Fort Lauderdale airport (FLL) has introduced facial biometric check-in for cabin crew.
VINCI Airports has gone one step further by becoming the first airport operator in the world to deploy biometrics throughout the entire passenger journey from home to plane via its artificially intelligent travel assistant named Mona.
Futuristic self-service concepts cannot function without contactless technology such as Near-Field Communication (NFC) and Radio-frequency Identification (RFID). They have a pivotal role to play as airports seek to reduce the number of physical interactions and checkpoints in the passenger journey.
By the end of this year, most US airports will incorporate contactless technology, particularly during check-in and security processes. But it goes beyond that. Contactless technology will shortly penetrate almost all aspects of flying, including how we pay for items, how we board a plane, and how we interact with in-flight entertainment systems.
Perhaps the most intriguing development is the current rollout of Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology across many airports, which eliminates the need for retail interactions altogether.
2021 Marks a New Beginning in the Aviation Industry
While the pandemic has undoubtedly had a devastating impact on passenger numbers, the aviation industry is slowly but surely regaining the ground it lost to COVID-19. The pandemic might serve as an irreversible tipping point for the industry, particularly regarding the passenger and airport elements of the sector.
In just a decade, the passenger journey and airport experience will be unrecognizable from the human-dependent processes we encounter today. The roots of this paradigm shift will be planted this year via exciting advances in IoT, cloud, biometrics, AI, and contactless technology, to name but a few.
At NCS, we can design, install, and deploy a broad spectrum of networking solutions to help you achieve these momentous changes. Our expertise includes structured cabling, wireless network infrastructure, in-building 5G connectivity, and much more.
If you would like to learn more about how we can supply the infrastructure to rebuild your passenger experience or manufacturing processes, don’t hesitate to speak to a member of our expert team about upgrading your network infrastructure today.