SITA’s strategy identifies key technologies of potential benefit to the air transport community. To explore their potential, SITA constantly co-innovates with members and customers. Two areas of high innovation activity include blockchain and Digital Twins.
Blockchain is fast emerging as the priority technology for future exploration among airport and airline CIOs, according to SITA’s Air Transport IT Insights 2018.
Nearly 60% of airlines have pilot or research programs planned around blockchain for implementation by 2021. Airports also continue to experiment with blockchain with 34% planning R&D projects by 2021.
“The biggest obstacles standing in the way of a seamless passenger journey and truly efficient air travel are the siloed processes across the many stakeholders,” says Gus Pina, Director of SITA Lab.
“That includes airlines, airports, ground handlers and control authorities. By collaborating as a single industry, we can smoothen the journey. Blockchain has the potential to make that possible. This explains the industry’s significant interest in it.”
SITA’s strategic focus is on leveraging data to enable better collaboration across the industry. “Blockchain is a promising fit for this purpose,” says Pina, “as it enables parties with trust issues to share a single source of truth recorded securely in a decentralized ledger.”
A decentralized approach means the overall system is not owned by any one controlling entity. Yet blockchain protects individual interests through smart contracts, which are programmable agreements, integrated into the distributed ledger network and protected with the same cryptography as the data.
“Because blockchain could answer our collaboration challenges,” adds Pina, “for the last few years SITA has been an active participant and advocate of blockchain research, including the launch of our Aviation Blockchain Sandbox.”
One of SITA’s major research projects, ‘FlightChain’, used blockchain to create a single source of truth around flight data across SITA member British Airways (IAG), and London Heathrow, Miami and Geneva airports. SITA continues to build on that work with other members, and has also started to explore new use cases across baggage, identity management, cargo and flight data.
“The interest and requests to participate in research from SITA members and others across the industry has been overwhelming,” according to Pina, “because of the learning curve and the need to think differently about business processes and trust models.”
By Sherry Stein, Senior Manager of Projects & Innovation, SITA Lab
The first phase of SITA’s Aviation Blockchain Sandbox has taken place with the onboarding of more than 40 participants, around half them SITA members, who have signed up to participate by integrating their data into the SITA FlightChain project.
The ‘Sandbox’ is a platform for continued industry research and community collaboration on use cases for blockchain technology.
This first phase will focus on helping the participants learn about the technology’s usage and business process implications, developing governance models, and understanding the role of smart contracts.
Future phases of the ‘Sandbox’ will include helping customers write and deploy new chaincode and smart contracts, either independently or with the support of SITA Lab.
In addition, we will focus on establishing peer-to-peer communications where customers or suppliers have their own infrastructure, allowing us to begin to assess interoperability across platforms.
Open to all members
Launched in June of this year, interest in the Aviation Blockchain Sandbox is high, from both airlines and airports across a variety of use cases. The ‘Sandbox’ is open to all SITA members.
SITA Lab continues its evaluation of blockchain in the identity ecosystem. In August, SITA announced its membership of the Sovrin Foundation as a Sovrin Founding Steward.
This will help support the development of an independent network for decentralized identity management and self-sovereign identity, to give travelers or identity holders control of their data, without requiring management by a central authority.
The vision is to enable privacy by design, supporting GDPR requirements, and helping to reduce the risks and liabilities of fraud and identity theft. This foundation is heavily supported by contributors such as IBM, Evernym, Hyperledger Foundation, Microsoft and Cisco, as well as legal, financial, university and technology providers from a number of business sectors.
The second example of high SITA innovation activity is in the area of Digital Twins. SITA Lab Director Gus Pina explains: “Our members have been working with us mature their digital transformation for years. The plethora of data is often a huge challenge. The familiar idiom of ‘sifting through a giant haystack’ comes to mind.
“The noise will only get louder as the Internet of Things (IoT) evolves, with every part of every piece of machinery at the airport emitting more and more data,” he adds.
“The sheer amount of data will make it impossible to build applications, dashboards, or reports to consume it all, which is why SITA is exploring how Digital Twins will help people interact with information in the future.”
Pairing the virtual and physical
Virtual data models pair the physical world with the digital. This pairing allows rapid and easy data analysis and system monitoring to head off problems before they occur, to prevent downtime, develop new opportunities and even plan for the future by using simulations.
Digital Twins have the potential to be the universal interface to get the needed value out of data across all the stakeholders in the airport.
The Digital Twin concept links the IoT, Artificial Intelligence, conversational voice interfaces, and 3D visualizations via a set of immersive mixed reality interfaces. This creates a shared, communal experience when assessing operational performance and decision-making.
“The SITA Lab is building on innovations taking place in SITA’s Predictive Disruption program,” says Pina, “as well as our projects in machine learning and predictive analytics, and our Helsinki Airport HoloLens project, which reimagines an airport control center.”
Three key Digital Twin projects now taking place include one at a major US airport which focuses on creating a 3D, interactive model of the airport to help illustrate how new data models can enable collaboration.
The second, with Virgin Atlantic, allows the airline’s cabin crew to use augmented reality and a Knowledge Chatbot to familiarize themselves with new aircraft. And the third, with another major US airport, is creating a voice bot for the airport app.
“The end result of exploring Digital Twins will be to empower everyone in the air transport eco-system with a collaborative consciousness to maximize efficiencies, accelerate the time it takes to recover from problems, and – more importantly – prevent problems from happening in the first place,” concludes Pina.