Airlines Look to IoT to Improve Service, Operations

By 2018, 16 percent of the 200 major airlines surveyed plan major IoT programs, and a further 41 percent plan to invest in research and development.

iot and sita

The vast majority of airlines (86 percent) expect that the Internet of things (IoT) will deliver clear benefits in the next three years, and more than one third (37 percent) already have allocated budget to it, according to a survey by SITA, an air transport communications and IT vendor.

By 2018, 16 percent of the 200 major airlines surveyed said they plan major programs, and a further 41 percent plan to invest in research and development.

The results of the survey indicate that IoT investments will be focused in the areas of check-in, bag drop and bag collection.

"IoT is a technology that cuts across many areas of an airline's operations and processes, including maintenance, catering, and so on," Jim Peters, chief technology officer for SITA, told eWEEK. "It is not just customer -facing, so the investments will be in multiple areas, sized to the opportunity the technology offers for a return on investment, or improved passenger experience. It will be on a case-by-case basis."

As part of the IoT revolution--where physical objects are connected to the Internet, enabling tracking, data collection, analysis and control--more things in the airport are being connected, including buildings, equipment, bags and trolleys. These all are things that could emit a status.

The report noted that in reality, however, because the vast majority of today’s passengers (83 percent) carry smartphones, passengers and staff are connected and can be part of the IoT revolution too.

The survey also revealed 94 percent of airlines are investing in business intelligence (BI), with nearly three-quarters (74 percent) planning major investment programs by 2018.

In addition, 68 percent have a major investment program planned for data centers in the next three years, with a further 14 percent investing in research and development (R&D) or a pilot program.

The use of beacons, which will allow airlines to reap the benefits of sensors and the ability to match location with other information, is used by just 9 percent of airlines today, but that number is set to rise rapidly to 44 percent by 2018.

The most common use of beacons is expected to be for bag services—44 percent of airlines are planning to use them at bag drop and 43 percent at bag claim.

The survey found close to 60 percent of airlines offer flight notification services to passengers through smartphone apps.. By 2018 the figure is expected to increase to more than 96 percent.

This is already the number one service for which airlines are using beacons, and in three years, 57 percent will use beacons to inform way-finding apps.

"It is early days, and initially, there will be subtle changes, and unlikely to be noticed by the customer--it may be a phone alert that they need to move to the gate now, if they are detected too far away before boarding," Peters explained. "But airlines are working on ‘beaconizing’ their apps and when they launch then passengers will start to enjoy the benefits. We at SITA expect the first airlines to launch later this year. For other IoT devices, it will be a several decades-long journey until everything that can be sensed will be equipped with sensors, in planes, in catering carts, in all kinds of airport infrastructure,” he said.