ExCeL London - 30 Sep - 01 Oct 2021
18 October 2021 - Virtual
28 October - London, UK
Robotic avatars, cloud computing, airborne connectivity, drones and virtual reality glasses… It may sound like a prop list from the latest sci-fi blockbuster, but these are just some of the recent technological advances being utilised by the aviation industry to reduce delays, lower fares, improve environmental impact, increase safety and, ultimately, boost bottom lines.
In an industry as competitive as aviation, where small changes can have huge repercussions on the success of a company, many airlines and airports are constantly striving to find new ways of gaining that competitive edge. So what are some of these innovations that are helping shape the future of aviation?
Earlier this year Easyjet announced it was testing the use of drone technology to assist engineers in inspecting its aircraft for faults. The drones will be programmed to scan and assess the aircraft, reporting back to engineers on any damage which may require further inspection or maintenance work. Easyjet said the drones will help cut the inspection time on its 220-strong fleet of Airbus aircraft from a day down to “a couple of hours”.
The drones are currently in development with a view to trialling them in the coming months, and introducing them into operation as early as next year. Ian Davies, head of engineering at Easyjet, explains the airline’s aim is to have zero delays, apart from when caused by an act of God, by 2020. “We spend millions of pounds every year on disruption and, if we didn’t need to do that, then we could feasibly pass that saving on to the traveller and reduce ticket costs,” he says.
As well as drones, Easyjet is exploring other advances in technology, such as the use of robotic arms, lasers and avatars. “The idea is you can actually experience what the robot is doing from a different location,”says Davies.
The disappearance in March of Malaysian Flight MH370 prompted fresh calls for better tracking of aircraft. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has now confirmed that its initiative, the Aircraft Tracking Task Force (ATTF), will deliver draft options for “enhanced” global aircraft tracking to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) later this year. The ATTF, which includes pilot representatives and aircraft manufacturers, will look to plug tracking holes that exist in some regions, including over oceans, and in Africa and Russia.
Over the next few months, it will develop a set of performance-based recommendations to better ensure aircraft tracking. These recommendations will be developed through an assessment of available products and services used for tracking commercial aircraft against specific criteria, including factors such as performance parameters, coverage, security and cost.
New In-flight broadband
Although business travellers in the US have been able to use in-flight wifi for a number of years, it’s something European passengers haven’t been able to take advantage of – but that could be about to change. British Airways recently confirmed it is speaking with mobile services firm Inmarsat to roll-out in-flight broadband services on European short-haul routes. Inmarsat, which is also in discussions with five other European airlines, will spend £250 million on a new ground network and S-band satellite, called Europasat, to launch high-speed internet to the aviation industry. The service is expected to be ready by 2016, when BA will become a launch customer on the new aviation network.
Reducing repair costs
In the airline industry, reducing the weight of an aircraft is an important way to cut fuel consumption. Each kilogramme of weight saved lowers CO2 emissions and reduces costs.
Lufthansa is in the process of completing a two-year research project called Airtech, which focuses on developing new repair procedures and ways of improving shop-replaceable components by using new production methods, such as 3D printing.
Many of its aircraft components were designed more than 30 years ago, and repairs frequently involve processes that are based on the original design. Lufthansa is working on a plastic-aluminium composite that could be produced using a 3D printing technique, making it lighter and more cost-effective.
The data revolution
It’s not just new gadgets, robots and 3D technology that are dominating the tech space in aviation. Amadeus head of airport IT John Jarrell says one trend that will keep growing is the importance of data for airlines and airports. “We are only at the beginning of this data revolution, and the amount companies such as airlines use is nothing compared to what data they will have available in five years time,” he says.
Airlines are increasingly using different data techniques to directly target the traveller. However, a recent report by Amadeus highlights that in the battle for additional service revenues, airlines must “more effectively” use the customer data they collect.
With airlines now able to gather and analyse more traveller data through social media, session history from in-flight connections, travel history and previous purchases, the report argues this information can be used to create a single view of a customer. The report states that by better data-led targeted merchandising, airlines can increase individual traveller transactions by Ä35 – something for buyers to be aware of when considering direct distribution and New Distribution Capability (NDC).
Jarrell says the speed at which technology is advancing in aviation will only keep increasing. “The pace of change is incredible and you only hope these advancements will mean more savings on fares.”