AI Promises Big Benefits to An Aviation Industry Experiencing Massive Change

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The end of COVID-related travel restrictions and lockdowns around the globe resulted in a massive increase in air travel. In fact, the IATA anticipates that 2024 will see more than 4.7 billion air travelers. That’s more than the 4.5 billion passengers the aviation industry saw in 2019 – the year before the pandemic slammed the brakes on business travel and vacations around the globe.

This drastic increase in air passengers is welcome relief to commercial airlines, which McKinsey estimates collectively lost $168 billion in 2020 alone. But, while the more recent increase in revenue from record air travel is certainly lovely for an industry that was struggling, the massive increase in passengers has created some problems for airlines.

Airlines are ordering new aircraft in record numbers and increasing the number of flights they’re operating to keep pace with increased demand. However, they face capacity constraints, airport overcrowding, delays, unpredictable flight cancellations, and rerouting. Together, these problems have resulted in travel plan disruptions for passengers. Worse, the waste and inefficiency in airline operations has cut into profits and kept airline margins tight.

Advanced AI solutions could predict flight arrival times, perform aircraft part prognostics, optimize turn management, and optimize flight path planning.

These challenges will undoubtedly be discussed at the upcoming Aviation Festival Asia event later this month. This conference is one of the most impactful in the region. It serves as an opportunity for the leaders of the world’s airlines, airports, and aviation technology innovators to network and discuss the trends shaping the modern aviation industry.

I’m honored to speak on a panel at this year’s conference. But I’m even more excited about the topic of that panel because of its ability to reshape how commercial airlines operate and deliver benefits and capabilities that are truly essential at this particularly challenging time in the aviation industry.

Of course, I’m talking about artificial intelligence (AI) – which is boundary-breaking and capable of driving the exact kinds of operational efficiencies that airlines need today.

The power of AI in aviation

In 2023, generative AI technologies matured and grew rapidly from large language models with a few billion parameters to those with a trillion parameters. This trend will undoubtedly continue in 2024, with AI technologies only becoming more capable and sophisticated. To put that into perspective, the human brain is estimated to have 700 trillion parameter processing capabilities, which means these models may soon reach the same processing capability as the human brain.

It goes without saying that generative AI is truly transformational. This is the first time in human history that machines are generating new intelligence – including poetry, images, videos, seamless natural language understanding, and translations. The sheer power of these advanced AI solutions is incredible and has the potential to be hugely beneficial to airlines that learn how to leverage them to improve their operations.

Adopting AI requires rethinking and redefinition of existing processes. It requires deep collaboration across entities in the ecosystem. It also involves retraining and teaching a workforce that might be hesitant to embrace and adopt new technologies.

As my associate, Seth Babcock, explained in a previous article on Connected Aviation Today, “Today’s advanced [AI] solutions can take massive amounts of disparate data, analyze it, find correlations and patterns that may have been imperceptible to humans, and deliver actionable insights that can be used to make business decisions.”

If acted upon, the insights delivered by advanced AI solutions could enable more predictability and operational optimization. Advanced AI solutions could predict flight arrival times, perform aircraft part prognostics, optimize turn management, and optimize flight path planning. Together, these capabilities would increase operational efficiency, improve the passenger travel experience, and eliminate much of the unpredictability that has always been inherent in air travel.

But that’s just the beginning. The advanced AI chatbots with natural language processing that are transforming retail and contact center operations can also be utilized in the aviation industry. Together, these technologies could help decrease overcrowding and long lines in airports by facilitating self-service and enabling the increased use of biometrics and automation in security and boarding processes.

But adopting AI technologies involves more than just pressing a button, sitting back, and reaping benefits and operational efficiencies. While airlines might be looking to AI to solve some of their large organizational problems, adopting AI will bring its own challenges that need to be overcome.

The challenges of AI adoption

Adopting AI requires rethinking and redefinition of existing processes. It requires deep collaboration across entities in the ecosystem. It also involves retraining and teaching a workforce that might be hesitant to embrace and adopt new technologies.

Then, there are issues with security, data privacy, and trust. I anticipate that this year’s Aviation Festival Asia will play host to many discussions about the trust, risk, and security management of large language models and small language models.

The sheer power of these advanced AI solutions is incredible and has the potential to be hugely beneficial to airlines that learn how to leverage them to improve their operations.

For airlines to embrace these technologies, they’ll need to have the right combination of skills, tools, and processes in place to ensure that AI adoption is done in a secure and trusted fashion that eliminates risk, ensures compliance, and provides observability and transparency as the technology evolves and grows.

This is truly a revolutionary time of change and innovation in the commercial aviation industry. Today’s airlines face massive challenges as they look to become more profitable, more sustainable, and more efficient, and as they work to increase predictability and improve the aviation experience for passengers.

AI can enable airlines to address and overcome these challenges – but only if they have the skills, knowledge, abilities, and processes to adopt the technology in an effective, secure, and trusted manner.

If you’d like to learn more about the use of AI in the aviation industry, be sure to attend my panel discussion at Aviation Festival Asia, where we’ll be discussing what the future of AI looks like and what the aviation industry has to do to implement these technologies effectively.

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