Last week I was in Antwerp, where we hosted our customers and members at the SITA Innovation Forum. The topics were wide and varied but data – and how we put it to best use to drive better collaboration – was the one topic that persistently came up over the two days.
It was these discussions about data that really resonated with me. We live in an increasingly interconnected world and travel is no exception. The invisible strand that links the various parts of any journey is data.
A unified and seamless experience
It has been predicted that through the thousands of sensors and sophisticated digitized systems, the newest generation of aircraft will generate 98 billion gigabytes by 2026. If we add the data derived from the exponential growth of air travel – and here I am talking about passenger, baggage and operational data – the volume will soar even further.
So, as I see it, the challenge does not lie in the lack of available data. The real task will be sifting through the massive abundance of data, to identify and extract what is relevant, and then put it to use.
Connecting the dots
Today, SITA shares and bridges 60% of the air transport industry’s operational data, handling 3.9 billion business and mission-critical messages each year across airports, airlines and border control agencies. This includes data about everything including bags, flights, passengers and aircraft operations.
This puts SITA – as a neutral provider supporting the industry for the past 70 years – in a rather unique position to connect these various elements that make up a typical journey as well as the organizations that provide these services.
Together with our customers we are exploring how we can share common data with the relevant stakeholders, while enriching these data streams to provide predictive analytics. By analyzing and interpreting this data, we can enhance cross-company services such as staff planning based on real-time data, measures to predict disruption and prevent delays, or door-to-door baggage services.
By leveraging the tremendous amount of data available to us, I believe that we at SITA can help bring it all together. This means passengers can experience a fluid journey from the moment they leave home to when they arrive at their destination, moving imperceptibly between airline, airport, ground handler and border control authorities.
We have already embarked on this journey. Working with Changi Airport, for example, we have used flight data, flight notifications and weather data, from various sources to accurately predict arrival times from the time an aircraft is airborne, thus indicating which flights will be delayed and by how long.
With one in four flights arriving before or after their scheduled time, flight predictability is a challenge that the industry faces every day. This not only affects the airline operations but impacts the entire airport arrival flow process — from the arrival gate, to immigration, baggage claim through to the taxi queue.
Similarly, we are working with ground and cargo-handling group Swissport to explore not only how we can provide them with the right data to help make intelligent, proactive decisions on their day-to-day operations, but also to develop a broad framework of how this information can be shared across the industry.
Data science center of excellence
That brings me to my recent visit to Montreal. I went there to visit our team of data scientists who are setting up our center of excellence for machine learning and artificial intelligence. Over the past few years, the city of Montreal has established itself as an important center for data science exploration. It is home to many potential partners and employees, as well as leading universities in the field. That makes Montreal extremely attractive as the location to support our ambition of developing new data management solutions and business intelligence services for the air transport industry.
It is from this base, over the next few years, that SITA will build on our expertise in big data, AI and machine learning to develop new data solutions that will enable airlines, airports, governments and other stakeholders to work better together, to create a seamless travel experience.
In the short term, our focus is to take the input and learning from co-innovation programs and our customers gathered in Antwerp and ensure that SITA develops and drives new data-based solutions for the air transport industry, a vital element in delivering more sustainable, connected journeys for passengers in the future.