A mind blowing revolution – the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things is mind-blowing. So too are its implications for a connected air transport industry.

Jim Peters, Chief Technology Officer, SITA.

Jim PetersHow mind-blowing the Internet of Things (IoT) can be. Its potential business value in the air transport industry isn’t even fully comprehensible in these nascent days of the IoT phenomenon. But one thing’s for sure, the air transport industry needs to be at the forefront of this revolution in connectivity.

Let me set the scene with a few mind-bending examples ready to impact our everyday lives, such as the fork with a sensor to measure how much you eat. Or the sensor-equipped cup to gauge how much you drink, and the toothbrush that makes sure you’ve brushed properly.

It won’t be long before we’ll be able to know remotely what our fridge stock levels are and what food we need to replenish, or what our exercise levels are thanks to shoe insoles that tell us where we’ve been, how many steps we’ve taken, and a whole lot more.

We’re already seeing the demise of door keys and the rise of Bluetooth-based door locks. And now we see the connected baby bouncing on the not-too-distant horizon. As another new frontier for the IoT, Bluetooth and wireless-equipped pacifiers to bottles and connected onesies will track a baby’s movements, monitor temperature and heartbeat, and a range of other activities.

Sensors everywhere

The message in all of this is simple: there’ll be sensors everywhere. Anything that can be sensed will be sensed, sometimes even if it doesn’t make sense. It’ll be all pervasive, embracing our health, our houses and cars, and our work places.

And at an enterprise level, of course, sensors will transform industry practices, managing all physical things everywhere, be it in our manufacturing plants, the electronic grid, or indeed, our aircraft and airports.

Connected aircraft

The connected aircraft is just one area where SITA has forged ahead with a major initiative to unleash the potential of ubiquitous connectivity. (See 'Nose-to-tail proposition'.)

New generation aircraft will be flying data centers, and by 2022, commercial fleets will include 10,000 of them. They’ll stay connected in flight and on the ground, and they’ll depend on IT and data exchange to reach optimum performance.

Aircraft manufacturers eagerly expound the capabilities of their new generation machines, like the GE engine with six sensors that produce 6,000 readings a second. Just as mind blowing is the thought that a Boeing jet engine generates 10TB of data every 30 minutes, which of course we need to scale that up to four engines per aircraft and 25,000 flights a day! 

The point is we’ll be able to harness the multitude of different data flowing off the connected aircraft, such as operational data from engines sensors for big data analytics and predictive maintenance.


These are early days, but with the IoT becoming a reality, we
can look forward to a game-changing and real-time revolution
in the way we do things in the air transport industry. 

Jim Peters, Chief Technology Officer, SITA

BLE's arrival

And, of course, there’s mobility, making for ever-connected and informed crew and passengers in the air and on the ground. But now as part of this revolution we’re seeing more things in the airport being connected up too, like buildings, equipment, bags, trolleys, tugs – basically all the ‘things’ that could emit a status.

So why’s this all happening now? The answer is Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), which is what beacon technology is about. To connect things with Wi-Fi you needed a power cord because it uses a lot of energy, and you can’t have a lot of sensors across the airport if it means power cords and Ethernet cables everywhere.

In the airport environment, sensors, which can be built into beacons, can help control the assets and environment in a way that just wasn’t practical before. BLE now allows connectivity everywhere with very low power usage, driven by batteries that last for years.

That’s why it’s flourishing. If you think of all the examples I opened with, none of them needs a power cord or Ethernet connection. They’re all dependent on BLE battery-driven types of sensors.


In the SITA Lab, we’ve been doing some trail blazing in this area, with several pilots and trials looking at what’s possible in the trend referred to as proximity, where sensors detect the presence of nearby objects.

Because of the advances, it’s an area ripe for progress. From our pioneering work it’s clear to see proximity is poised to hugely impact industry operations. We’ll get insights into passenger flow and behavior at the airport like we’ve never seen before, from new data sets generated by linking airport and airline technology to passengers’ mobile devices.

Data lakes

Something we realized quickly was that sensors emit a huge amount of data – so much data in fact that they don’t create a data set or database, they create a data lake. This is the realm of big data.

We began to ask what we can do with these data lakes because some of the information – such as flifo – is potentially of great value. It needs to get to the passenger.

A lot of this big data also needs to be analyzed and used as business intelligence in operations at the airport, to be smarter and more efficient, and to keep staff informed and able to make good decisions fast.

Business intelligence

Our work includes major deployments of beacons American Airlines and Miami International Airport, as well as 12 other airports so far, to provide location-based services and context relevant information.

It’s helped to drive the development by SITA of a whole new approach to its business intelligence portfolio that will give passengers dynamic information as they progress through the airport, as well as furnishing airport staff with real-time insights to smoothen operations.


In these early days, these are telling advances as the march of ‘sensorization’ continues. With the IoT becoming a reality, we can look forward to a game-changing and real-time revolution in the way we do things in the air transport industry.

See also

Gateway to the Internet of Things

As we step towards the Internet of Things, beacons are proving to be a crucial part of the mix in getting proximity and context information to mobile devices. 

Read the article

Miami's cool beacon use

Miami's cool beacon useMiami International Airport was the first in the world to have a complete and open deployment of beacons throughout its facilities. Director of Information Systems and Telecommunications Maurice Jenkins is a keen advocate.

Read the article

The American experience

The American experienceAmerican Airline’s Director of Mobile Apps and Wearable Technology, Phillip Easter believes knowing where a passenger is before sending information enables more effective communication.

Read the article
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