The view ahead of us

The view ahead of us

New technologies promise to help airlines and airports to ‘look ahead’ – to predict future events that threaten to disrupt travel. So says a new report from SITA.

Passengers want certainty on their travels – whether taking a quick weekend away or heading for an important meeting with colleagues or customers on another continent. Uncertainty leads to anxiety and stress. And it’s no different for the thousands involved in delivering air transport. 

One thing is certain. The status quo is not acceptable. Air traffic is doubling every 15 years. From a couple of hundred million in the early 1960s, by 2035 the numbers traveling by air will have passed well over seven billion, double the 2015 figure.


More than two thirds of that growth will come from today’s existing network and there will be some 33,000 new passenger and freight aircraft. (Source: Airbus GMF 2016.) Yet the number of airports won’t have doubled in that time and border controls will remain under pressure.

So airports and airlines must work together to be smarter at ensuring smooth-running operations and dealing with the estimated US$25billion cost of flight disruptions. And as always they continually need to consider how to make the whole experience easier and less stressful for passengers.

Tech insights

This is the sub-text for SITA’s latest 360 Degree report, ‘The Future is Predictable’. It provides insights into some of the innovative thinking by airlines and airports already emerging to tackle disruption – harnessing artificial intelligence (AI), cognitive computing, predictive analytics and other progressive technical capabilities.

Anything that airlines and airports can do to predict and reduce the high level of anomalous disruptive events – including the time-consuming and costly special management required to resolve them – will be a cost saving for their businesses and a benefit for everyone, including their passengers.

Underpinning everything are the very human opportunities this can open up for airlines and airports to forge better, more meaningful connections with customers during irregular operations. What businesses experience as process exceptions, individuals experience as anxiety. Passengers will prize facilities and services that help them minimize their personal disruption and stress.

Tech investments

The report affirms how strongly the industry is taking these opportunities. For example, in the next three years, more than four out of five airlines will be ramping up investments in predictive technologies including business intelligence (BI) and predictive analytics. More than two-thirds will be investing in the Internet of Things.

“Over the next 10 years,” notes Nigel Pickford, Director Market Insight at SITA, “more than four out of 10 airlines and airports expect to trial or pilot some of the new and emerging technologies that are based on artificial intelligence and cognitive computing.

“The idea is to give themselves the tools to be more responsive to sudden operational issues, to mitigate operational impact and provide improved information for passengers.

“Meanwhile, over the next three years, almost half of airports will either have put in place, or will have planned, one or more technology solutions to deal with flight disruption – including processes for recovering from disruption, as well as providing quality proactive responses for passengers.”

Orlando International Airport

uses the Business Intelligence (BI) capabilities of SITA’s QueueAnalyzer tool to create a real-time view of security checkpoints, which enables it to respond quickly to unexpected conditions.

It also uses historic data to establish wait-time profiles for different times of the day, days of the week and seasons, allowing the airport to better allocate resources. The airport has halved the number of passengers spending more than 15 minutes waiting in a queue.

“The technology has helped us better inform checkpoint resources and process management, reduce wait times, and better inform passengers, reducing the stress of uncertain wait times,” says IT Director for the Greater Orlando Airport Authority, John Newsome.

Mobile focus

Not surprisingly, smartphones feature strongly. A majority of airports already provide real-time disruption information to passengers’ mobile devices – and more than nine out of 10 will have this in place over the next three years, by which time most airlines will also be providing mass notifications via social media as well.

And around two thirds of airlines are planning to enable automatic rebooking for all passengers, offer different re-booking services for high-value customers, and provide self-service tools for passengers to rebook their flight, via a kiosk or mobile.

Warning system

One example of innovation in this area is the SITA Lab’s current development of disruption warning and prediction capabilities using industry-specific and public data feeds such as Twitter, to help tackle the huge challenge of disruption and reduce the cost to the industry.

This year SITA Lab will be validating delay predictions with airlines and airports. It expects to complete up to five trials with industry partners, before incorporating its delay prediction algorithm and disruption warning feeds into SITA’s services.

The warning system is one of SITA’s community innovation programs.


We’ve moved from ‘how did we do?’ to ‘how are we doing?’ – and now, ‘how will we do?

Chris Howell, Head of Business Systems, London Gatwick Airport


One lesson from ‘The Future is Predictable’ is that the industry needs to be ready to harness a vast range of data, structured and unstructured, from a wide range of sources if it’s to benefit from the possibilities of predictive technologies.

As the capabilities grow, so will data sources. But data will only flow freely – and predictive services given greater depth – if it’s liberated by development and investment in the right systems and technology. It can be a tough call. One of the greatest challenges cited by easyJet is to integrate different data silos and bring the data into the airline.

“There’s going to be a lot of trial and error across all industries,” comments Alberto Rey-Villaverde, Head of Data Science at easyJet. “You might have a fantastic algorithm, but how do you digest the stream of knowledge that’s coming from these algorithms in terms of decisions?

“Airlines are high volume businesses. We might be able to personalize the needs of each customer, but how do you implement that on the front line? Current processes will need to change, people might need to change the way they work. This is where difficulties lie.”

Gatwick Airport, in the meantime, cites its evolving capabilities in monitoring data so the airport can dynamically change crew breaks, or call in more resources to meet demand.

Gatwick’s ’s Head of Business Systems, Chris Howell, sums up their work succinctly: “We’ve moved from ‘how did we do?’ to ‘how are we doing?’ – and now, ‘how will we do?’”.


At the same time, airlines and airports must bring their passengers with them on the journey. They will buy into processes that give them more control over travel arrangements and offer better services in times of disruption.

“Once our industry can develop and introduce the tools to reduce disruption and better manage that reduced level of disruption, then we have the tantalizing prospect of a sea change in passenger satisfaction with airlines and airports alike,” concludes Pickford. “For all concerned, it’s a prospect worth striving for.”

Critical topics

Three key areas considered in SITA’s 360 Degree Report ‘The Future is Predictable’:

  • Work currently underway to deploy predictive technologies
  • How to gain better visibility of potential issues, to address them before they become problematic, and so reduce the incidence of flight disruptions, to the benefit of passengers, airlines and airports alike
  • How the industry is seeking ways to offer opportunities to ease the passenger journey using predictive tool-based additional services and information that are also revenue-driving
Read the full report

April 2017