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Efficient, effective, and flexible digital airline solutions

Kemal Ahmed, Product Portfolio Director of SITA’s Applications business, takes us behind the scenes during this pivotal time in aviation history when the focus on safety and operational efficiencies is paramount, alongside a keen appreciation of the overall passenger experience.

What do you like most about developing airline applications?

For me, it is all about being able to contribute to and drive the direction in which the aviation industry is heading. Ever since I was a child watching Boeing 747s and Concorde taking off and landing over London, I have been fascinated by the aviation industry. I am lucky now that by being able to develop innovative airline applications, I can help ensure the growth of the aviation industry and its future fitness.  

How is enhanced competition impacting airlines when it comes to flight operations?

Post-Covid, it has been hugely difficult for the airline industry to jump back and support the increased demand for travel. Competition is fierce, and airline schedules are exceptionally dense, with thousands of flights every day, but with generally fewer resources to deal with them.

These considerations are in addition to the fact that airport space around the world is in demand and expensive to use, which makes any unnecessary delays extremely costly. In a place like Scandinavia, it costs up to US$100 a minute to have an aircraft on the ground for additional time, not to mention the financial outlay for compensation and hotels from passenger delays, as well as the negative reputational impacts.

So, ensuring passengers get to their destinations on time and without any issues along the way is key to maintaining high customer satisfaction. Constantly ensuring that everything is driven by high safety levels and staying in line with regulations are other big issues facing airlines. And, of course, a significant concern currently is around climate change and the need for sustainable solutions that reduce the airline industry’s impact on the environment, like optimizing fuel to reduce emissions. 

How are airlines responding to these challenges?

Efficiency in operation, efficiency in process, and efficiency in managing the course of a flight are, right now, critical to any airline’s response.

Can you break down the approach airlines are following to effectively manage the complex task of ensuring safety, punctuality, and passenger satisfaction?

There are two aspects to this. Firstly, rigorous preparation in ensuring that the plan for the day and the operations of the day are understood and have a clear critical path. This requires the use of technology to support the execution of that plan. For example, SITA eWAS and SITA Mission Watch are digital solutions that provide pilots and dispatchers with accurate weather situation awareness throughout the day so they can better plan and anticipate situations.

Secondly, there’s the effective management of issues and disruptions. This could be anything from a storm that is moving, or an issue such as traffic around an airport delaying staff getting to work. In all instances, the key is getting the right available data to the correct person clearly and simply, and in one place. This makes operations as efficient as possible and enables airlines to deal with any issues that might come along.

What’s your approach to developing applications?

I think one of the things that has made SITA so successful in this industry is that we take a human-centered approach to developing our products. When we build our products – be it for use in the cockpit or for ground staff – we ensure that we know who is using them, and why. For example, suppose a dispatcher is concerned with the flight itself and is looking at the weather conditions. In that case, they need to see the location of the aircraft, all the weather information, some details about where the aircraft is going, and other flight data, such a fuel and timings. However, a freight or luggage handler on the ground who is waiting for that aircraft to start off-boarding cargo or baggage does not need all that information. They just need a very accurate and automated prediction of when the aircraft will arrive.

How can these automated systems help to mitigate disruptions?

Predicting weather hazards has long been a challenge for airlines, and this is becoming even more essential because of the growing climate change impacts on flights. For instance, flying through adverse weather causes turbulence, which will have consequences, from passenger discomfort to crew injuries, or even aircraft damage in the worst scenario.

Inspections may be required, and delays in taking off because of weather disruption could prevent passengers getting to their destination or missing connections. Delays can have further implications if crew duty time is exceeded, meaning they can no longer fly and a replacement crew is needed.

How do they solve this challenge?

Predicting - and predicting accurately - is the solution. In terms of the weather, this requires having multiple sources of information available in real-time for the pilot and the operations control center to enable quick and effective decision-making. Of course, operations in general are hugely demanding for airline staff, so having effective digital tools is really the key to anticipating any situation that may occur to make sure operations are smooth and safe.

We help airlines to remove the silos within their organization and make it easier for them to work with multiple parties throughout the world, from catering companies to fueling companies to work together to deliver a very complex operation. A holistic, collaborative approach is fundamental to enable this.

This collaboration must be essential for such complex operations?

Absolutely. At the end of the day, it’s a huge team effort. We are trying to bring all of these different stakeholders together to get aircraft off on time, and efficiently. We don’t just concentrate on one or two stakeholders who perform a different task, we understand that this system has tentacles all over the place. Fortunately, thanks to data transparency and having a real-time view of a flight, all parties can see the same information. This alignment of stakeholders enables more informed decision-making, easing the mission.

Finally, can SITA tailor solutions to suit regulatory changes across regions and airlines?

Airlines work in totally different ways in different parts of the world. There are different types of operations, regulators, and protocols. We have solutions that work across the board, whatever part of the world you are in or the type of aircraft you are flying.

Our applications are capable of working in all scenarios and can be tailored to the way that airline is operating or wants to operate. If an airline is transforming, and they want to change for multiple reasons, including efficiency or sustainability, then we want to help them grow using our digital solutions. Our applications are flexible enough to do that.