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Source: Analytics India Mag as of 27-05-2020

Post the 60-day lockdown, as the Civil Aviation Minister, Hardeep Singh Puri issued guidelines to commence domestic flight operation with 1/3rd capacity from May 25, 2020, Bangalore International Airport (BAIL) has also decided to resume their domestic travel operations with a contactless journey from pre-entry of the airport to security check to the boarding of the flight. The BAIL press release has stated that “The technology will continue to enable a seamless airport journey, with greater emphasis on health and safety.” Starting from their pre-entry process, which includes e-boarding pass and thermal screening of people to facial recognition system at the check-in process and self-service kiosk, BAIL has been relying on new-age technologies to transform the whole process of travelling.

Alongside, Hyderabad’s Rajiv Gandhi International Airport has also planned to resume its operations with contactless flying for their passengers. GHIAL has deployed thermal cameras for monitoring travellers along with Automatic Information Management System, a virtual help desk for guiding travellers with their problems, which in turn, omits any contact with travellers. The COVID-19 created a halt for the aviation industry, with an 80% drop in the global flight activity at the end of April. Therefore, the aviation companies are strategizing differently to revamp their entire business process with digital technologies like AI, ML and RPA. In fact, from passenger identification and baggage screening to customer support and predictive maintenance, airports and airline companies can heavily rely on artificial intelligence to augment the industry work process.

How Can AI Be Beneficial For The Aviation Industry?

AI has been a critical technology in transforming the operations of the travel industry amid this crisis. Not only has the technology been used to automate the travellers’ checking processes with minimum contact but also collect flight data for optimising rout and weather forecasting. Alongside, artificial intelligence has also been used to create virtual assistants for customer queries, enhanced logistics operation, facial recognition system replacing biometrics for security checks and self-service kiosks equipped with augmented reality. Airline companies are also involving artificial intelligence to improve their air safety; read here, how. In fact, according to a recent survey, 97.2% of the aviation companies are working towards deploying big data, and artificial intelligence, with 76.5% of the firms are leveraging the value of collected data and empowering AI for cognitive learning initiatives. These numbers alone show that amid the crisis, airline companies and airports are rethinking technology to keep up their relevance. 

Futurist Rohit Talwar of Fast Future said to the media that the majority of the aviation firms would give more attention to digital transformation, “there could be radically different business models with a greater focus on technology and automation, designed for the era we are in.” These advancements are aiming towards minimising the impact of this pandemic on their traveller’s experience.

These firms are majorly utilising AI, ML and robotics to keep their finances stable amid this crisis. One of the main areas where airline service providers are implementing artificial intelligence is the customer service aspect, which provides great potential for leveraging new technologies. Along with AI-based chatbots, firms are also giving airport security and aircraft monitoring with artificial intelligence. Apart from these, aircraft manufacturers like Airbus have been using cloud-based systems for data collection and storing, and analyse the same to enhance the reliability of aircraft maintenance. Also, airlines and airports have deployed robotics technology to onboard passengers. Case in point: Bangalore International Airport, similar to Incheon, has been planning to use a humanoid robot, developed by a Bangalore-based startup Sirena Technologies, for assisting travellers with their boarding.

Also, AirIndia, the country’s leading airline, has been using Taxibot on their A320 aircraft — a robot-used aircraft tractor for their passenger boarding.

Many airlines and airport authorities are also partnering with the government to provide seamless travel for their passengers. In a recent development, the Ministry of Civil Aviation has also launched a connected application — DigiYatra, which will process information through facial recognition at checkpoints, provide digital guidance systems, offer interactive kiosks and augmented reality apps for travellers.

Globally, airports in Singapore and Hong Kong are relying on thermal screening for monitoring passengers and robots to sanitise the airport. Also, Airlines, like Etihad, has been working on developing interactive automated kiosks that are an all-in-one system to check travellers’ temperature and heart rate before issuing their tickets and can process the massive volume of biometric data. Jorg Oppermann, Vice President Hub and Midfield Operations, Etihad Airways stated to the media that, “We are testing this technology because we believe it will not only help in the current COVID-19 outbreak but also in future, with assessing a passenger’s suitability to travel, and thus minimising disruptions.” Even, Los Angeles airport has stated using an advanced biometric self-boarding solution to help passengers travel securely with no contact. 

Some Of The Critical Applications Of AI In The Aviation Industry Are:

Identifying Traveller’s Information While Checking-In

Security is a prime concern for airports, and therefore it is imperative for the authorities to have a proper check of documents and identification of the passengers travelling. AI-enabled systems and tools equipped with facial recognition technology can help airport authorities identify passengers by using the data and matching the same with their passport photos. For instance, one of the American Airlines, Delta Airlines have installed cameras and deployed facial recognition technology to identify their passengers while checking in. 

Alongside, airport authorities can also use the advanced technology in their security scanners to detect potential threats at significant and popular airports of the world. Many airlines have also deployed this technology in their mobile apps and automated the whole boarding process to provide a better travel experience to their customers amid their crisis. Technology like artificial intelligence and machine learning would also help in speeding up the process of attending customers, which in turn will help the officials in a longer run.

Luggage Screening For Passengers

 

Along with identifying travellers and checking their documents, it is also imperative for airport authorities to review and screen the luggage of the travellers in order to detect any potential threats. With traditional methods, the luggage screening process could be tedious. However, with AI-based systems, security officials can quickly identify threatful and illegal items in travellers’ luggage in a much-simplified manner. These systems help in automated screening, which can detect potential threats in the luggage through X-rays and computed tomography.  In recent news, in an effort to enhance security, Pune Airport, in India, has deployed a smart luggage screening system enabled with AI technology, designed to automatically detect dangerous objects and other potential threats in travellers’ luggage, and alert operators in real time. According to Ajay Kumar, the Director of Pune Airport, “This AI software technology can automatically detect various objects and other threats from the x-ray images produced during the screening of baggage and alert operatives.” By exploring the potential of AI in luggage screening, the aviation industry can enhance its operations.

                       Pune Airport

Better Customer Support With AI-Powered Chatbots One of the significant areas for the aviation industry to deploy artificial intelligence is to create a better travel customer experience for their passengers and customers. Not only it reduces employee costs but also speeds up the process with AI-powered chatbots as virtual assistants. According to a recent report, it is expected that by the end of this year, 4.72 billion passengers would be travelling via air, and that brings the necessity of having an efficient system that can handle such an increasing demand among travellers. Considering virtual assistants are cost-effective for airlines, it could be a preferred choice in the industry. Companies are using AI-powered chatbots to provide flight-related information to their customers and customised attention to each traveller with their queries, which in turn help in saving several human hours doing mundane tasks. Many airlines also build their bots on popular social media apps — Icelandair, a flag carrier airline of Iceland, has created a Facebook Messenger bot to communicate with its customers 24/7. These chatbots provide enhanced customer experience to the airline companies, and therefore are massively on the rise. In fact, according to a SITA report, 68% of airline companies and 42% of airports have implemented AI-powered chatbots to provide necessary information to their customers.

Predictive Maintenance Of the Aircraft

Maintenance of the aircraft in order to have glitch-free flying needs constant check of the machine. With AI-enabled tools, it is now easy for the airline authorities to predict potential failures of the aircraft, which not only saves a lot of money and time but also saves human lives. For this, the AI-based system collects a massive amount of real-time data and analyses the same to predict a systematic approach for the maintenance of the aircraft. This, in turn, reduces the failures of the plane, which could lead to crashes. Flights need to travel for long durations, and therefore it is imperative to timely perform predictive maintenance to detect if any part is broken and need to be repaired. The technology uses NLP to scan the data and predict failures and recommend solutions for the same. Apart from maintenance, artificial intelligence can also support in-flight management, aircraft monitoring and other critical operations in the aircraft. In fact, IBM’s Watson commercial for aviation stated that the technology could also help ground staff with repairing and maintenance of the aircraft. Wrapping Up Although the penetration of artificial intelligence in the aviation industry isn’t a novel discovery, however, the pandemic outbreak has forced the industry to rethink their strategies to continue their business post COVID world. Therefore, to stand out in this continuously evolving technology market, airline companies and airports need to rely on automating their processes with the help of artificial intelligence to provide an enhanced experience to their customers.

 

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