Eric Leopold, Director, Financial and Distribution Systems Transformation, International Air Transport Association
In its “Future of Aviation in 2035” survey published in 2017 IATA identified ten technologies impacting aviation and related industries. The role of IATA is to assess the impact of these technologies on airline processes, to the extent they impact existing IATA standards or services or enable future ones. Aviation having one foot in the digital world (e.g. mobile apps) and one foot in the physical world (e.g. aircraft), we foresee software eating the airline processes (with AI and blockchain) but also the physical world becoming more connected (with the Internet of Things – IoT– and 5G).
Among technologies, AI is probably the one with the highest number of applications and use cases in aviation. Benefits range from predictive maintenance to fraud prevention and risk management. In finance, software robots automate certain repetitive tasks, like verifications and fraud detection. This technology domain is called Robotic Process Automation or RPA. AI enables to optimize the performance of the software over time, while learning over large data sets.
Surrounded by a lot of hype, Blockchain or more generally Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), promises to bring efficiency, transparency and security in distribution and financial processes. The aviation industry being a globally-interconnected industry involving multiple partners and a high number of transactions, there is an opportunity to connect players and to streamline data exchange.
In the physical world, the main technology development is unmanned aerial vehicle, or drones.
While small drones can already carry parcels or baggage and deliver emergency supplies and medicine to remote areas, they will soon fly passengers in air taxis (urban air mobility), provided customers are comfortable flying without pilots.
Connecting all the assets to the Internet in real-time, with the IoT technology, promises a step change for asset tracking, whether assets are spare parts, baggage or Unit Load Devices. A world where every piece of baggage is always connected will not only satisfy customers who are anxious to know that their bag is on its way, but also enable airlines and airports to streamline processes to reduce mishandling of bags.
5G is the latest mobile technology that promises higher speed and ease of connectivity. This connectivity will be reliable enough to enable communication with autonomous vehicles, or actually among them. In the airport environment it means automated or self-driving vehicles servicing an aircraft during its turnaround, for a safer and more efficient cycle. 5G will also provide mobility to all the connected devices with IoT. The new year should see the first significant rollouts.
3D printing is a massive trend that will impact not only the operational side of an airline, for example, if spare parts can be printed remotely and on demand, but also the business of air cargo, if some parts can be printed and don’t need to be shipped by air.
AR/VR applications become popular with the new headsets. Promising areas include training classes, where students don’t need to physically be in contact with an aircraft, and remote inspections of an aircraft, where an expert can establish a diagnosis remotely.
The cloud is a major trend in the sense that airlines running all their IT applications in the cloud will benefit in terms of accessibility, efficiency and innovation. The aviation industry was one of the first to implement a global IT infrastructure connecting airlines, airports and travel agents. It is now migrating to new open networks.
Closer to aviation, the expectations are the highest for technology enabling sustainable alternative fuels and energy sources, and new aircraft designs that will enable a carbon-neutral journey and travel industry.
Of course, this summary is not an exhaustive list and these technologies can be combined, e.g. IoT data can be stored in a blockchain on the cloud. But as technologies come and go, what really matters is the difference that they make in the customer experience when travelling.