What if the solution to London’s air capacity crunch was not another runway at Heathrow? What if a transport system could link Heathrow airport (LHR) to London’s other hubs, Gatwick and Stansted, in just 15 minutes.
That was the fascinating prospect raised by Nick Earle of Virgin Hyperloop One, kicking off the Financial Times’ Aerospace and Aviation Summit in London yesterday. Earle believes that connecting airports and urban centers is a compelling use case for the pioneering Hyperloop technology which can move people through on demand, app-ordered transport, at up to 670 miles per hour.
Earle’s keynote started a day of debate about the future of the aviation industry that was largely focused on shorter term issues, and particularly the use of data to benefit both industry and the passenger experience.
Discussions included the rising role of the Chief Digital Officer and the use of big data and machine learning to unlock the industry’s potential.
Baptiste Chatrain, data science manager at Amadeus, showed that innovation didn’t have to be futuristic to be impactful. He outlined how Amadeus had teamed up with customer Qantas to use big data analytics to optimize landing and take-off times, minimizing delays and cancellations by 60% during periods of disruption. Reflecting on a number of other discussions during the day, Chatrain said that often the biggest challenge to achieving optimal results was not developing the right algorithms, ‘easy’, but change management of people, ‘really hard’.
Later Pascal Clement, Head of Airlines Data at Amadeus, discussed in his panel the keys to unlocking the full potential of big data, advanced analytics and machine learning. Clement mentioned that 70% of the value of big data lies in improving processes and operations, and 30% in understanding the traveler. Panelists revealed that airlines are clearly using analytics for tangible gains such as optimizing fuel usage and technical maintenance of aircraft. But Clement stressed they are in the early days of harnessing data’s full potential with a vast amount still unused. Here, what’s needed is to build the capability to use data in a meaningful way, automate processes, and ultimately act on what the data can tell us.
One thing was very clear throughout the day: making a lasting impact on the air travel experience requires more collaboration across the travel chain – from airline, airport, ground handler and air traffic control to other transport modes – using data and digital technologies to place the traveler at the forefront.