The transportation sector has been ripe for a technological overhaul for quite some time now. As with other traditional industries, management reluctantly lets go of legacy systems in favor of more innovative, AI- and machine learning-based innovations. Connected cars and connected fleet maintenance garner much attention when speaking about adding new technologies to the transportation sector, but there is another industry that will see massive changes as well: air travel.
In 2017, 36.8 million flights were operated worldwide. Commercial airlines alone scheduled over 4 billion passengers last year, and both of these numbers are on the rise. Needless to say, a technological revolution in the air transportation industry will affect billions.
Airplanes are already seeing upgraded technology that collects a massive amount of data. From fuel use to weather systems, the amount of data from each aircraft is astounding. Furthermore, reports indicate that operations will create more planes with upgraded technology equipped to collect data; in fact, by 2027, 58% of the fleet will be new-generation aircraft. Naturally, airline carriers using these new-generation aircrafts will need a team to analyze the data and help create a better customer experience. With the help of data scientists, here is how the air transportation industry will evolve in the coming years.
Data improves baggage tracking
According to the SITA 2017 baggage report, industry baggage systems are expected to handle over 4.9 billion pieces of luggage in 2017. The report notes that for every 1,000 passengers, 5.73 bags are mishandled. While this is a 12.3% decrease from 2016, it still means frustrated passengers and misplaced belongings.
Luckily, on June 1 of this year, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Resolution 753 came into effect. According to IATA, airlines must track baggage at four key points: “passenger handover to airline, loading to the aircraft, deliver to the transfer area and return to the passenger.” IATA will be an improvement, but there is still more that airlines can do with the help of data science.
RFID (radio frequency identification) tags can monitor bag movement and give customers updated tracking information on their luggage. Using data analyzation, airlines can treat bags with short connection times more urgently, as that is the number one reason for baggage mishandling. This update is only available with the use of data science, which can better track baggage movement.
Better airline food from data science
Most travelers can agree that airline food is not the best. Carriers want to fill up passengers without too much concern on nutritional value or a wide variety of onboard options. The meals are more caloric than what passengers typically eat, and the taste is typically lacking. Furthermore, carriers include a percentage of food options on each flight, for example, 40% chicken, 40% beef and 20% vegetarian, nevermind the actual preferences of the diners. Big data can change that.
Imagine enjoying a glass of red wine on your outbound flight. That information is matched to your ticket so that red wine is available on your return flight as well. That treatment is only available through data science. Carriers can better predict what food passengers will want on long flights that serve meals and better cater to specialized needs.
Data science advances airline operations
Data analytics can forecast delays and weather patterns so airports can manage appropriately. This technology can reroute passengers during a storm and better prepare carriers if severe weather is approaching. Furthermore, connected technology means that travelers will be notified of delays or changes quickly or even before they arrive at the airport.
Scheduling can improve as well. Data can track flight attendant and pilot scheduling, for example, to prevent crew fatigue as well as crew shortage. Imagine never having to wait in those 15-20 plane takeoff delays that happen all too often while traveling. Data can keep the air congestion down as well.
Predictive analytics can make flying safer by alerting operators to parts that may be damaged. Operators can replace these parts before an accident occurs, instead of after a problem happens. Data means smoother operations for airline carriers and a much better experience for travelers.
The new air transportation industry
Honeywell’s 757 connected aircraft took off last year, ushering in a new era for the airline industry. Senior Director of the program, Erica Brinker, said that the idea behind the connected aircraft was to have it self-monitor. “For example, with an airborne maintenance issue,” she said. “The airplane will tell the company what needs to be done or fixed before the next flight so that maintenance can be waiting at the gate at the end of the current flight and mitigate or eliminate a future flight delay, which costs the industry 25 billion annually.” The company estimates the cost to diagnose an issue will reduce by 25% with this technology.
Big data has the power to revolutionize airline travel, and since more aircrafts are fit with upgraded technology, more data will come with it. Carriers with robust data science teams will succeed in optimizing operations, resulting in fewer delays, better service and happier, more loyal customers.
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