The pandemic posed unprecedented challenges for the aviation industry. It slowed plans for growth, and forced change across virtually every level of the industry, in a way that would have been unimaginable before 2020.
But as with many industries, there were already plans in place to adopt a digital strategy, the pandemic just accelerated things.
Airlines have been investing in cloud services, data management, and automation, all of which have existed for years, but are now at the forefront of every industry’s digital strategy.
Many airlines operate on incredibly tight margins, and are highly dependent on fluctuating market forces, such as fuel prices. It is because of this that it is vital for the industry to modernize and implement new digital strategies if it is to meet the demands of a new generation of customers who have come to expect a digital-first approach.
One of the main benefits of a digital strategy is that it captures and generates data points allowing for faster delivery of services, as well as analysis into how things could be made better or more efficient.
If the aviation industry focuses on digitalisation and integrates AI, data, and other technologies, we could see improvements in fuel efficiencies, cost savings, new revenue opportunities, increased passenger engagement and brand advocacy from customers, better passenger flows through airports, and most important of all, increased levels of safety.
With everything from food shopping to paying bills becoming easier to do online, every industry has had to start thinking about their service in terms of digital impact.
The aviation industry is no exception, and while we’ve been able to book flights and tailor experiences online for years, the industry has stepped up the online experience considerably in the wake of the pandemic.
Digitalisation, when implemented correctly, should offer a seamless experience for the customer.
Omnichannel delivery allows for a continuous customer experience no matter which device is being used to access information. Customers can book using their laptop at home, and purchase extra luggage space or entertainment add-ons via their phone on the way to the airport.
Notifications and updates allow customers to stay informed of changes to the flight schedule, rather than only finding out once they get to the terminal.
Lastly, more and more of us are expecting to be able to check-in via mobile, instead of going through long queues.
Digitalisation helps improve customer control, and in turn, customer satisfaction. According to an IATA report, around 65% airline customers are willing to share their personal data in exchange for better service. Over time, this builds loyalty, which is of course vital in building a competitive brand.
Three years ago, Delta Airlines earned over $9 billion through their loyalty programme. As digitalisation continues to grow and offers a deeper, more customisable experience, we’ll likely see more airlines creating robust digital platforms where customers can engage with the entire range of products and offerings, as well as earn additional rewards thanks to loyalty points.
Digitalisation doesn’t just help customers, it can also help the aircraft pilots by assisting with every stage of the flight, improving overall operations.
A network of apps help with flight processes, improving operational efficiency, situational awareness, collaboration ability between pilot and co-pilot, and compliance with safety protocols.
Each digital tool helps reduce the burden on pilots, improving efficiency, as well as safety. Establishing a single digital ecosystem for application testing and training makes it easier for pilots and ground-based operators to interact more efficiently, sharing data in real-time.
Greater consistency and communication can be achieved by providing everyone involved in flight operations with the same information, regardless of where they are situated. Having more eyes on the same data increases the likelihood of detecting problems or opportunities for improvement.
It’s not just the operations and customer service areas of the industry that can be improved with digital tools. The very design of aircraft is changing thanks to new technology.
New prototype models are designed and tested in an entirely digital space, with computers able to simulate weather patterns, stresses, emergency scenarios, and more, to completely test a new design in ways that couldn’t possibly be accurately recreated in the real world.
When prototypes are built and tested in the real world however, again data is helping make things more accurate, with the testing of a new aircraft design requiring thousands of data parameters be tested, capturing tens of thousands of data points every second. Even a full team of scientists couldn’t analyse all that data, but machines can.
Mechanical computer-aided designs (MCAD) and electronic computer-aided designs (ECAD) are widely used across aviation and other technical industries, but new technology allows for systems and designs to be synced automatically, while also highlighting the changes for human review. These designs can then be viewed in virtual reality, allowing designs to see the project from all angles, in greater detail than ever before.
This kind of virtual reality-mapping can also be used in maintenance and repair, with engineers working with virtual reality glasses that display what needs to be done.
To reap the real rewards of digitalisation the industry needs to put it at the centre of every decision moving forward. Digitalisation should not be an afterthought but the first point of call for new initiatives as well as existing processes. The aviation industry shouldn’t see digitalisation as a challenge but rather, an exciting opportunity to grow.
Read more about how the pandemic has changed the aviation industry, or learn about new strategies for sustainable aviation.