British Airways works with Hangar 51 accelerator programme partner to bring AI to its airside operation and boost punctuality and safety

21 November, 2019

British Airways says customers flying from London Heathrow's Terminal 5 can expect a faster getaway as the airline employs latest artificial intelligence and wearable tech for staff preparing aircraft to depart. The trial project gains from technological expertise that evolved within parent company IAG's Hangar 51 start-up accelerator programme.

In the latest phase of its GBP6.5 billion investment for customers, British Airways has introduced advanced neural networks, known as artificial intelligence, to its airside operation at Heathrow Terminal 5 to help its people ensure every flight departs safely and on time.

Currently, when customers disembark an aircraft, British Airways' ground staff manually check and record the details of eighteen different activities that need to be completed before the plane can depart for its next flight - including thorough cleaning of the aircraft interiors, unloading and reloading of catering, luggage and cargo and refuelling. An issue affecting just one of these tasks has the potential to disrupt the entire process and delay the flight's departure.

Now, using a network of cameras set up around the aircraft stand by technology start-up Assaia, an alumni of the Hangar 51 accelerator programme, artificial intelligence is employed to compare live footage of the complex turnaround process with the proposed schedule.

If the technology detects any issues that could put the aircraft at risk of a delay, an alert is sent to the manager in charge of the turn within seconds via a smart watch, informing them of the issue and empowering them to take action to get the flight back on track.

In this first stage of the trial, British Airways and Assaia have installed four cameras on three stands at Heathrow Terminal 5 and as well as potentially reducing delays, the airline is also able to collect data on every aircraft turn to help make its entire operation more efficient.

"Artificial intelligence is a rapidly evolving area of technology and I'm thrilled that we're the first airline in the world to harness it to further improve our customers' journeys through the airport," says Raghbir S Pattar, director of airports at British Airways. The airline operates up to 800 flights a day to and from Heathrow so any gained efficiencies could impact a significant number of passengers at the UK hub airport.

CHART - British Airways is the largest operator at London Heathrow airport and accounts for 45% of the current weekly passengersSource: CAPA - Centre for Aviation and OAG (data: w/c 18-Nov-2019)

British Airways has put itself at the forefront of airport innovation, with biometric technology and autonomous, driverless vehicles also being trialled by the airline. The latter, said by the airline to be another world first has seen the introduction of driverless baggage vehicles at Heathrow.

Carrying up to 40 bags in one journey, the driverless dollies use the latest navigating technology to memorise the airfield to determine the shortest route to transport luggage. Unlike the current vehicles, the new autonomous dollies depart for the aircraft as soon as each one is full, speeding up the aircraft loading process. In addition to improving operational efficiency, the trial also forms part of the airline's wider environmental commitment to run an emissions-free airside operation.

British Airways says that, if successful, the dollies could transport customers' baggage to and from the aircraft by 2021.

The Blue Swan Daily reported last month on how Assaia was already deploying its AI-powered solutions at London Gatwick airport to boost operational efficiencies of aircraft turnarounds and ultimately boost on-time performance. The system was initially trialled on two of its stands, but the solution has already been extended across 13 stands which are spread over three of its piers.