As Artificial Intelligence (AI) continues to evolve and expand, companies are seeing big changes in their field. Big name brands are investing in AI technology to enhance their products and services to better serve their customers.

The travel industry as a whole is disrupted by AI. From automobiles to railways, the way we get around is changing for the better. While the race for an autonomous car and improvements to our driving experience remain in the headlines, the airline industry is making strides as well.

Commercial airline travel is an economic engine which generated an estimated $168.2 billion in operating revenue in 2016. Ticket fares represented 74.5 percent of operating revenue or $125.2 billion, and airline passenger traffic is projected to double over the next two decades.

Today, leading airlines are exploring how AI can help them keep pace with customer demand and improve operational efficacy, speed and customer satisfaction. Below are a few changes we have seen, and what to expect in the near future.

Virtual Assistants

AI-based virtual assistants help airline companies improve the productivity and efficiency of their pilots by reducing their repetitive tasks, such as changing radio channels, reading wind forecasts, and providing position information on request, among others. These recurring jobs can be handled by AI-enabled virtual assistants. Companies such as Garmin (US) offer AI-enabled audio panels, which are useful for pilots.

Virtual assistants are also used by airline companies to improve customer services. AI-enabled virtual assistance can provide instant answers to simple questions. Common questions include things like flight status or services/offerings (audio, video, Wi-Fi) on flights. This allows the human customer service representatives to attend to more important issues.

Along with that, virtual assistants are helping passengers book and plan for their trips, too. Many different companies are creating their own apps to help customers automate different tasks associated with travel. Gone are the days where you have to book your flights and hotels, rent a car, and managing your itinerary all on your own. AI and the virtual assistants within these apps are able to collect data from you through simple prompts, then automate the tasks for you.

Aircraft Monitoring

Behind the scenes, companies are making changes on the back end to monitor the “health” of their aircrafts. Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu says advanced analytics are required to keep planes flying more than 16 hours a day to spread out its costs. AI systems can predict when maintenance is required even before a part is broken, allowing for quick repairs and minimized time on the ground.

“That kind of data on an ongoing basis will make our entire fleet much, much more efficient and that’s one of the real drivers, one of the real benefits of investing in new generation technology,” says Rovinescu.

So-called “health monitoring” of planes allows data to be analyzed more quickly and accurately, enabling preventative actions to be immediately conveyed to airlines. AI could eventually be used on all systems of aircraft, including brakes, generators, valves, engines, and avionics. This would extend the lives of parts and subsequently minimize disruptions, offering huge savings for operators. AI systems using natural language processing can scan millions of maintenance logs to predict component failure and recommend fixes as well.

Not only will this save money for airline companies and keep real-time data to project repairs, but it will keep travelers safer during their travels. Any issues with the planes are caught ahead of the flight and taken care of before a plane hits the runway. No more sitting on the runway for hours when they need to refuel or fix a part. With this upgrade to AI and aircraft repairs, companies are drastically decreasing the amount of delays passengers face due to malfunction. That is good news for all.

Traveler Experience

AI is already being used at airports and by airlines for a number of things. United Airlines has teamed up with Amazon Alexa to help customers check in and learn about their flights. Delta Air Lines is using self-service kiosks that use facial recognition technology to verify customer identity by matching customer faces to passport photos. Other airlines are using AI before customers even get to the airport, to upsell loyalty program passengers on business class upgrades or extra baggage by having AI automatically design the website checkout process to appeal to different groups of users.

AI can also help to reduce the problem of overbooking flights. By analyzing past flyer information and historical passenger data, as well as changing weather patterns for certain routes, AI could predict the likelihood that certain passengers won’t show up or will swap to another flight. The AI could then give ground staff up-to-the-minute information on how many people are likely to board. This could help the problem of having to remove passengers from planes that have already boarded.

AI is being explored in the commercial airline segment of the aviation industry and is being integrated across multiple areas including customer service, airport and flight operations. It’s projected that the cost of airport development, specifically improving and modernizing existing infrastructure and operations, will exceed $1 trillion over the next fifteen years. While the leading commercial passenger airlines are relatively early-adopters of AI, industry projections depict a business environment primed for innovation and automation.

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