‘AI’ increasingly becomes the norm in North America as airlines innovate with artificial intelligence

16 May, 2019

In North America, airlines are increasingly touting their applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and their commitment to strengthening the expansion of AI throughout their business. Those airlines also are working to better leverage the volumes of data they collect on a regular basis. Research firm Markets and Markets has estimated investment in AI by the aviation sector should grow from USD152 million in 2018 to USD2.22 billion by 2025.

Back in 2017, Air Canada declared that data had become the new oil, and the company was in deep planning in exploring and drilling through and commercialising its customer rich data. At that time, Air Canada explained it was working Persado, which helps its clients identify AI generated language to create higher levels of resonance among customers.

In Sep-2017, the company explained it was using AI powered models to deploy new customer fare sales, and upgrade emails, that were “40% more engaging than traditional offers”. Now Air Canada is working to create AI labs bolster use of the technology in its operations and customer experience. To begin, the airline has launched an AI Centre of Expertise comprised of business leaders, data scientists and data engineers that collaborate with researchers and universities.

Similar to other airlines, Air Canada is touting the use of AI in predictive maintenance, particularly on its Boeing 787 widebodies. The airline currently has 37 787 Dreamliners in service, and highlights the aircraft generates 500 gigabytes of data in a single fight. The airline believes AI can help it leverage that data stream to improve maintenance downtime, operational performance and the customer experience.

During late 2018, executives from Delta Air Lines concluded the airline had been at scale with predictive maintenance for at least three years. Delta takes data streaming from aircraft and overlays it with machine learning to look for patterns and identify changes to proactively identify trends that would eventually lead to a mechanical issue possibly causing a flight cancellation or necessitating a flight repair.

The airline has also been working for about three years on an optimiser for possible use during irregular operations and has partnered with universities “around getting our heads around algorithms and approaches to those, and now we're operationalising those with a couple of partners that we've been working with”, said company Chief Operating Officer Gil West.

In early 2019, Air Canada completed the purchase of Aimia, which was the owner and operator of its Aeroplan loyalty business that it had previously sold off, and will debut a new version in 2020. The company stated that new loyalty scheme will utilise data that already exists for its frequent flyers. “We know what their flying preferences are and that will enable us to combine relationship-management technology with loyalty management,” said Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu.

Maximising the use of available data is perhaps one of the biggest challenges airlines of all business models face in the future. Speaking at the recent CAPA Americas Aviation Summit in Denver, USA, the CEO for Mexican ULCC Viva Aerobus Juan Carlos Zuazua remarked that the airline was capturing every bit of passenger information, but unfortunately it is only using approximately 5% of that information. During the past couple of years the airline has spent a lot of time on AI as part of its ancillary revenue strategy “to be able to know more about our customers”.