New technology adoption increases momentum as United and Delta continue to leverage blockchain, AI and machine learning

17 January, 2019

Studies and testing of blockchain, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning by US airlines continues at a steady pace, and will only gain momentum as 2019 unfolds.

United Airlines and Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) recently concluded a proof of concept to determine the viability of using blockchain in ARC's settlement system. ARC partnered with Blockskye to create an end-to-end test utilising ARC's private blockchain to report and settle United tickets. ARC's secure system tracked ticket life cycles, and identified transaction modification through smart contracts.

The US major concluded the proof of concept allowed it to demonstrate the capabilities of blockchain, and simplify the payment and booking process for corporate travellers and their employers. The airline stated time consuming processes including receipt collection for expense reports could be greatly improved. The next step is for ARC to work with United and Blockskye to test the technology with one the airline's corporate customers.

Delta Air Lines recently stated it was working on blockchain applications including putting chatbots in to production to "take some of the really low hanging queries and questions and interpret that in natural language and be able to respond to that in real-time, thus freeing up our customer service agents to focus on higher value-added, more meaningful conversations with our customers" according to its chief information officer, Rahul Samant.

Mr Samant remarked that not all of Delta's explorations into blockchain and other applications will "make it to primetime", but some, such as predictive maintenance "are going to a major force to reckon with within our operation".

Speaking at the recent Consumer Electronics Show Delta CEO Ed Bastian said the airline just received certification as the first passenger carrier to transport cold sensitive pharmaceutical materials as cargo, and explained that blockchain could offer "full transparency in terms of where that [the cargo] is and when it will arrive".

Delta is also using AI for some of its human resource functions and has been using machine learning and AI for predictive maintenance. The airline takes data that streams off aircraft and overlays it with machine learning to look for patterns and identify changes in those patterns to proactively identify trends that would eventually lead to a mechanical issue that could cause a flight cancellation or necessitate a repair.

The possibilities of those new technology seems endless, but airlines in the US and worldwide are also working to strike the right balance of ensuring they do not adopt new technologies for adoption's sake, and instead work to put those technologies into use where they can improve efficiencies, and ultimately profitability.