Aeroflot is one of the pioneering members of SITA, marking its 60th anniversary of membership this year.
Founded in 1923, Aeroflot is one of the world’s oldest airlines. Today, it is a leader in the move towards the digital transformation of air transport. We discussed the present and future of digitization with Kirill Bogdanov, CIO of Aeroflot.
Continued digital transformation is vital to the future growth and evolution of Aeroflot. As Russia’s flagship carrier, and a member of SkyTeam, the airline operates far and wide, serving 149 destinations in 53 countries and carrying more than 35.8 million passengers a year. Its 249-strong fleet is the youngest of any airline worldwide1.
Aeroflot has been granted the highest five-star rating for punctuality from the world's leading provider of travel data and insight OAG. The airline holds 4-Star Airline status from Skytrax and was named Best Airline in Eastern Europe for the eighth time at the 2019 Skytrax World Airline Awards.
Aeroflot has also been awarded a five-star global airline rating by US aviation association APEX. And it’s the world’s strongest airline brand according to leading brand strategy consultancy Brand Finance.
Q: Your airline has been a member of SITA from its earliest days. What key benefits would you cite?
A: Air transport depends on collaboration, whether it’s with airports across the country and the world, with other airlines, or with government and security services. There are also the many other service providers who help to ensure passengers arrive safely and on time.
SITA was founded on the principle of collaboration – working together to share costs and co-operate where possible. The principle made sense in the early days of communications, and it makes even more sense today.
Let me give you an example. Russia is an immense country, across 11 time zones, and much of the country underpopulated. Communication has always been a challenge. But SITA has played a key role in meeting that challenge with its shared industry infrastructure. As traffic has grown from east to west, so has the fleet.
SITA has responded, increasing the number of VHF stations in the past 10 years from 11 to more than 40. That has helped our aircraft maintain ground connections using differing means of communication. It has also improved levels of operational efficiency while enabling digital connectivity in very remote locations.
Another example is SITA’s commitment to international sporting and other major events. In our case, SITA’s experience and assistance was invaluable in helping us support the huge passenger flows created by the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 and the FIFA World Cup in 2018.
SITA is also working closely with us on a scheme to create an international hub in Krasnoyarsk, the third largest city in Siberia. The Krasnoyarsk hub will open in 2020 as part of our strategy to expand the route network of inter-regional regular flights bypassing Moscow. We’ll be able to offer flights between cities in the Urals, Siberia and the South, as well as to China and other parts of Asia.
Of course, I should add that as one of SITA’s top 20 customers, Aeroflot is represented on the SITA Council. We’re really proud to play a central role, along with our airline colleagues from around the globe, to represent and safeguard the interests of SITA's membership.
Q: Passenger numbers are rising and passengers want a more seamless journey. What challenges are you facing? How is technology helping?
A: In the first 10 months of 2019, Aeroflot carried 31.6 million passengers. That’s a year-on-year increase of 5.7%. The number of international passengers rose by 8.4%. Our response to increasing demand – and passenger expectations for a more personalized, smoother experience – is based firmly on the use of digital technology.
The digitization of our airline, which includes introducing cloud technologies and Big Data, is a top priority for us. Since 2017, for example, we’ve been using Big Data to massively improve our relationship with customers, particularly around customer inquiries.
We’re reducing the time it takes to deal with inquiries. We’re proactively communicating with customers via social media networks. And we’re including chat rooms, forums and moving towards integration with a chatbot. We want to deepen our use of machine learning technology too.
More than half of our passengers now use self-service check-in. Online sales are increasing rapidly as well. In fact, Aeroflot’s online sales are now the highest of any Russian company.
We’re also piloting passenger ID using biometrics, with the first use of digital boarding passes in Russia. Right now, this is only for domestic flights, but we’ll extend it to international flights as soon as possible.
We know we must be patient. Many of our domestic airports are less advanced with their own digitization, so there’s sometimes a disconnect between what we’re able to do in Moscow and what we can do in many of the more distant cities and airports. But biometrics is definitely the way forward for greater efficiency and a faster, simpler passenger journey.
Q: Of course, baggage is a perpetual challenge. How is technology helping improvements?
A: Well, tracking for one thing. Aeroflot was an early starter here, working with SITA to meet the obligations of IATA Resolution 753. At the end of 2017 we became the first airline in Russia to provide real-time location information for all the baggage we handle, using SITA’s end-to-end baggage tracking product BagJourney. It means we know where someone’s bag is located before, during and after a flight. It’s greatly reducing the number of mishandled bags and having a great impact on passengers.
Q: How about the use of mobile?
A: We totally understand the critical nature of mobility in air transport. That’s why our program of getting closer to our passengers is so important.
We’re working with SITA to expand the range of services available on our mobile app. It can already be used to plan for single or multi-destination trips, manage loyalty programs, check-in and track flight status. We also encourage feedback as part of our program of relationship building with our customers – and we use their comments to improve our mobile offering with each release.
We’ve been offering on-board communication services via SITAONAIR since 2012 on our A330 and B777 fleets. We’re also offering wireless entertainment on our A320/321 and Boeing 737 aircraft. And in 2014, Aeroflot became the first airline in the Commonwealth of Independent States to provide SITA’s CrewTab as the core of our drive to have a paperless, digital cabin.
Our crew like it a lot, as it gives them easy access to passenger and operational data in-flight, and they can use digital forms and reports. It’s allowed us to introduce improvements in service – such as at-seat ordering of meals for business class customers. The steward enters the order via the CrewTab and it’s sent immediately to the onboard kitchen via the network.
We’re also moving towards adoption of electronic flight bags, further enhancing operational effectiveness through digitization.
Q: What other examples do you have of the importance of digitization?
A: As I say, digitization is a top priority. It’s worth noting that, according to a study by Bain & Co, Aeroflot is the fourth most digital airline worldwide. That’s after Singapore Airlines, Qantas and Delta. Being a digital airline goes right to the heart of our operations. For example, we’re now using Big Data to determine the pricing of passenger traffic and to more accurately predict flight loads.
We’re looking at predictive repairs as well. We’ll identify in advance when a spare part is needed, based on everything from the type of aircraft to the analysis of weather conditions, the quality of the runway and other factors.
That helps reduce costs, but more importantly it helps ensure a smoother journey for passengers, not least in timing. I’m pleased to say that in September and October 2019, Aeroflot ranked first by punctuality among the world’s top 20 airlines, according to OAG. In October 2019, we operated 89.8% of flights on schedule.
We’re always looking ahead, staying on top of the trends and technologies. We’re working hard on the potential uses of artificial intelligence, for example, as part of the group’s 2023 Strategy. I have no doubt that SITA will remain a key partner on our journey, as they have for the past 60 years.
1among airlines with active passenger aircraft fleet of more than 100 units.