Digitalization of Aviation will Continue to Evolve

Janifha Evangeline | Monday, 27 September 2021, 03:43 IST

Vinod Bhat, CIO, Vistara, in interaction with Sudhakar Singh, Editor, CIOReviewIndia, shares his thoughts on how the aviation industry is evolving from a technology implementation standpoint, the challenges involved, and how they can be addressed.   

How do you see the adoption of digital technologies in the aviation sector today?

Over the past 15 to 18 months, one of the hardest-hit industries due to the pandemic has been aviation. The industry has witnessed challenges as well as opportunities. Most of them pertain to customer safety and customer hygiene, which were driven by precautionary measures and government regulations. From a customer's perspective, there has been a substantial change in the entire journey of the customer lifecycle, including pre-flight, during the flight, and after the flight.

Also, there has been a significant change on the backend such as the engineering work, engineering systems, the data exchange, the whole ground services, flight operations, safety data, etc. However, from a customer experience perspective, it has allowed the companies to look at the multi-channel experience because most of our customers now have gone from offline to online mode. Whether they go to the web, or the mobile, the whole channel experience was very important, and ensuring that they have an option to leverage the services across the channels was imperative.

Since companies like Vistara were already on the cloud we didn't have any challenge on the infrastructure side, right from the scaling, BCP, and cost perspective as well.

How is the internal IT structure of aviation Industry players evolving?  

What we are doing internally is that we are looking at our core systems. For instance, all the corporate systems, which are helping the finance, the HR and the other horizontals within it and the whole airport operations known as the ground services, the whole disruption management of the flights known as the irregular operation management had their focus on obtaining the real-time data, planning the crews, pilots, technicians, and ensuring that there is less disturbance not only from the strategic planning perspective but also to the end customer.

From the engineering point of view in the Indian case of maintenance of the flights, it is about the whole turnaround time whether it is about obtaining information related to any maintenance upfront before the flight lands so that the technicians can be on the job. Therefore, these are factors that are internal to the airline industry organization to ensure that the backend is also geared up from a Digital point of view while delivering the services.

Could you elaborate on the major challenges of leveraging big data to improve efficiency in flight operations?

The whole airline industry is full of data. From the customer’s point of view, a huge amount of data gets generated either during the flight booking or during the flight. Similarly, from post-flight as well as during operations there is a huge amount of data that gets generated, whether it is flight data or the engineering data. The safety of the data is very important.

Once the data is generated, the first area we focus on from the back-end perspective is maintenance. There is a lot of technology within the aircraft where the data is automatically transmitted between the aircraft and the ground systems and whether the flight is in the air or flight is on the ground.

MRO (Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul Operations), is important from a data perspective because over 30% of the delays happen due to unplanned maintenance. Therefore, addressing this aspect would lead to providing a better experience to the customers.

On the revenue side, by using the data, we get to know the routes, the pattern, the historic data generated on each route, the customer searches and the profitability around that route. This helps us look at the new routes we can start to fly to the destinations, the market conditions, and the channels that can be used.

Thirdly, fuel cost is one of the major expenses in the airline industry, which is almost 29 to 30% of the cost of the operation. So, there's always a focus on cost reduction from fuel optimization.

The challenge in the operations comes only when the data is not integrated. From the flight perspective, if the sensor data is not properly generated, and not collected by the engineering department and Safety Department on time, we cannot decide whether the flight is safe or any part needs any maintenance or not. Therefore, there are several use cases. However, the challenge is that ‘is the data coming in real-time?’ ‘Is the data an integrated view of the data? ‘Is the data being used to take the proactive to predictive decisions?’

How is the aviation industry adopting IoT and using it in combination with AI to leverage analytics?

From a use case perspective, firstly by using IoT Sensors, you can automatically control the climate within the aircraft. Secondly, safety is an important aspect where the technicians can take a call before the aircraft is deemed fit to fly or during maintenance of the next flight. Furthermore, IoT sensors can also help in planning numerous things based on where the aircraft is coming from, its speed, and details of the next aircraft and more.

IoT is a big use case. There are smart airports and passengers can communicate with each other. From the airport’s perspective, if you're building a smart airport, we need huge investments to install the sensors and configure the tools, which collate and exchange data.

Where do you see the aviation market evolving in the near future in terms of new technology adoption? And what is the future roadmap for Vistara?

What we're seeing today is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of changes that are occurring in the aviation industry. The whole digitalization will continue to evolve. However, in terms of specific technologies, you will see more biometrics-based experience, authentication, seamless travel, supported by the self-service solutions evolving soon.

The IoT, AI/ML will also continue to grow, particularly with the emergence of 5G and other technologies. Also, due to the pandemic discussions are happening on how to integrate the whole vaccination data, health data into the health passports. So, this may also be integrated in the next one or two years. From a data privacy perspective, there will be identity and access identity management for the customer because of the digital passport.

From Vistara's perspective, we have the digital Center of Excellence - a separate department from IT focusing on the emerging technologies that include working with our service providers, the OEMs, and the platform providers. Here we work on different solutions, some of which include off-the-shelf, while some are customized for us to have a differentiation in the market.