Passenger announcement: You've nothing to fear from AI

You can’t read any publication nowadays without coming across the term artificial intelligence (AI). The IT world seems to see AI as the next “big thing", but how is it affecting the passenger experience?


IN THE DRIVING SEAT: AI could eventually mean that aircraft may only need one pilot. PICTURE:

AI uses the ability of machines to perform tasks typically associated with human intelligence, such as learning and problem-solving. AI was actually developed in the 1950s, but has had a recent new lease of life as computing power has increased.

AI in the aviation market is said to be growing at a  compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 46%, according to research by Markets & Markets.

For the airline passenger, AI benefits start in the airport. AI can help travellers find their way around an airport more easily and consequently save time. In addition, AI is able to display real-time information on flight delays and boarding gates, which can have a positive impact on the passenger experience.

AI systems can monitor queues and prevent overcrowding in security areas.

Automatic passenger counting uses sensors and cameras to collect data on the number of passengers flowing through an airport; this data, says a report by Acorel, is processed by machine learning algorithms to estimate the number of passengers entering and leaving the airport, or at strategic points in the terminals.

Machine learning can then analyse this data, allocate resources at security checkpoints in real time, and predict the busiest times for airport retailers.

With the demand for air travel expected to double by 2040, anything that can speed up the airport process will be welcome. IATA’s 2022 Global Passenger Survey found that 75% of passengers would be willing to use biometrics instead of passports or boarding passes to improve airport processes.

A Thales report said recent studies have confirmed that time savings of the order of 80% can be made thanks to automated check-in and security procedures.

Philippe Keryer, executive vice-president, strategy, research and technology, at Thales, said: “With our expertise in new technologies such as AI, deep learning and biometrics, boosted by the acquisition of Gemalto in 2019, Thales is in a position to provide airports and their ecosystems with new ways to increase operational efficiency, better protect the health and safety of passengers and enhance the travel experience."

Once in the air, AI has a part to play in the IFE side of the passenger experience. For example, Panasonic Avionics’ Insight system analyses data from the IFE systems on all its flights to spot trends and popularity of particular video content.

This gives airlines the ability to add new releases or remove underperforming content without waiting for the next cycle update. To passengers, this can mean getting access to the latest episodes of popular television programmes.

AI also gives airlines the ability to personalise content and advertising. Panasonic Avionics found that 92% of passengers can recall an ad shown during a flight, and 49% have changed their minds about a product after seeing an ad.

Qatar Airways recently unveiled a deal with Google Cloud that will enable it to enhance the travel experience for passengers, providing them with offerings personalised to their individual needs, travel trends, and past travel history.

A T Srinivasan, Qatar's chief information officer, said: “Google Cloud brings us the opportunity to build elasticity and scalability on demand, as we increasingly look to leverage both structured and unstructured data to personalise customer and employee experience."

From a maintenance point of view, generative AI can analyse data from aircraft sensors, maintenance records, and flight reports to predict future repairs. This can help teams proactively schedule maintenance to avoid unexpected downtime and reduce operational disruptions.

Engine prime GE says each of its aircraft engines produces around one terabyte of data per flight – that’s information from 5,000 data points per second.

An Airbus A380 is fitted with as many as 25,000 sensors. But AI can break this data down, looking for outliers – data points that don’t appear to be normal – and so highlighting only potential problems. Inflight connectivity systems can relay this information to the ground automatically, so preparing ground crews before the aircraft has even landed.

Emirates president Tim Clark told CNBC that he believes AI could eventually mean that aircraft may only need one pilot. The airline industry should embrace AI, he said: “Harness it, use it. Don’t fear it.

Steve Nichols

Steve Nichols

Steve (BSc Hons, FIIC) is a journalist and communicator with more than 35 years' experience.