The COVID pandemic caused widespread shutdowns, impacting the economies of multiple nations and the daily lives of billions of people. But, with the impacts of the pandemic seemingly on the decline and life beginning to return to normal, the global aviation industry, particularly the Asia Pacific region, finds itself facing new challenges.
With the end of travel lockdowns, passengers have begun to travel en masse once again. However, many airlines, airports, and other aviation organizations find themselves with fewer staff resources to handle this influx of people – as well as new responsibilities and requirements focused on health and hygiene.
These challenges were a major topic of discussion at this year’s Aviation Festival Asia event, which was held late last month in Singapore. The event featured a number of panel discussions, speeches, and other side sessions focusing on the new normal that the aviation industry faces in a post-pandemic world and how new technologies and digital transformation can be leveraged to meet the operational challenges that airlines and airports now face.
While digitization, modernization, and digital transformation were hot topics and buzzwords across all industries before the pandemic, it’s clear that the past few years of the COVID-era accelerated adoption significantly. According to a recent survey from McKinsey, the pandemic accelerated the digitization of customer interactions by three years, with 58 percent of all customer interactions being digital from 2020 compared to just 36 percent in 2019.
The discussion explored the adoption of advanced technologies – such as data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and collaboration solutions – in the aviation industry across the Asia Pacific region.
But has that acceleration of digital transformation and new digital technologies made its way into the aviation industry? Have airlines and airports embraced new technologies to address the increased passenger traffic and staffing shortages that they’re facing?
That’s exactly what was discussed at the Aviation Festival Asia panel, “The role of digital transformation in ramping up airport operations in Asia’s post-pandemic recovery era.” The panel featured several aviation experts and decision-makers, including Kit Su Lee, Regional Head of Operations, Asia-Pac region, Collins Aerospace, and representatives from leading Asian airports.
The discussion explored the adoption of advanced technologies – such as data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and collaboration solutions – in the aviation industry across the Asia Pacific region. It explored how airlines and airports can leverage these technologies to streamline operations and introduce efficiencies.
And it should come as no surprise that the better use of airline and airport data was high on the list of ways the aviation industry can increase efficiency. Key insights shared during the Aviation Festival Asia discussion include:
Using data-derived insights to increase efficiency
One of the most popular ways that enterprises and organizations leverage their data is to identify patterns and use those findings to make more informed decisions regarding staffing and operations. And that’s no different for the aviation industry.
“We see how leveraging data to make staffing decisions is benefitting airports around the globe.” – Kit Su Lee
Airports and airlines are facing significant staffing shortages in the wake of the pandemic, and that problem is exacerbated by the influx of passengers – many excited to spread their wings again following years of lockdowns and restrictions. By analyzing airport traffic patterns and using that data to make smarter staffing decisions, airlines and airports can minimize their staffing challenges.
“We see how leveraging data to make staffing decisions is benefitting airports around the globe,” noted Kit Su Lee. “At many Asia-Pacific airports, big data and AI technologies are working in tandem to forecast passenger flow – giving the airport the ability to make better staffing decisions at security control lines and terminals and effectively enabling the elimination of passenger bottlenecks caused by the heavy traffic flow of passengers. In fact, we are working to incorporate holistic terminal and airside data to accurately forecast aircraft arrival and departure times with the goal of improving airport operations, the passenger experience and to enable stakeholders to monetize the data.”
But it’s not just about knowing where the passengers are. It’s also important that airlines and airports know where aircraft are if they’re going to make smarter staffing and personnel decisions.
Other technologies, including predictive solutions such as FlightAware by Collins Aerospace, leverage AI and machine learning (ML) to enable airlines and airports to have a better understanding of when, exactly, aircraft will land at the airport and arrive at their gates. This can enable aviation organizations to better schedule their staff resources and ensure that their limited personnel are optimizing their time.
However, to gain actionable insights, airports and airlines need data that they can analyze. And this is where another technology trend is playing a role.
IoT: not just for maintenance anymore
When we talk about the aviation industry’s adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and initiatives, it’s often in regard to aircraft maintenance and repair. Being able to identify problems with an aircraft’s landing gear or engine and make those repairs in advance can help eliminate equipment failures and potentially reduce an aircraft’s time out of service.
“Biometrics are incredibly beneficial for automating the terminal and eliminating the need for passengers to interact with limited staff resources,” — Kit Su Lee
However, there are more ways IoT initiatives are benefiting the aviation industry, and one involves making the passenger experience better and improving the flow of passengers through an airport.
By embracing network-enabled IoT sensors, airports can see where passengers aggregate and where bottlenecks are within their terminals – enabling them to identify problem areas and potential solutions. Other use cases include the implementation of real-time and accurate “wait time” notifications and signage for passengers, which can put frazzled passengers at ease by informing them that waiting in a security line won’t result in them missing their planes.
Finally, the wider adoption of network-enabled IoT devices can open the door to other advanced technologies – including biometrics – which can significantly decrease the number of personal interactions passengers need to have with airline and airport staff.
“Biometrics are incredibly beneficial for automating the terminal and eliminating the need for passengers to interact with limited staff resources,” explained Lee. “We’ve seen airports like Miami International leveraging IoT devices to identify passengers’ locations and give them personalized directions to their gate – this reduces the number of passengers crowding information desks and asking for assistance, which can help assuage the impact of staff shortages on both airlines and airports.”
The aviation industry in the Asia Pacific region is facing the unenviable situation of having to do more with much less. COVID has resulted in fewer staff resources and airport personnel at a time when lifting lockdowns, and travel restrictions have everyone taking to the skies. Luckily, as discussions at Aviation Festival Asia showed, new technologies – including AI, data analytics, and IoT devices – are helping airports increase efficiency, maximize the staff they have, and ensure a positive passenger experience even in the face of resource shortages.