AWS for Industries

Tracking the latest trends in air travel: Notes from this year’s FTE EMEA event

What does the future of air travel look like? We enjoyed a closeup view of what’s in store at the Future Travel Experience EMEA, a gathering of air transport’s digital and innovation leaders held this year in Dublin from June 7–9. A gold sponsor of the event, Amazon Web Services (AWS) was there in force, joining experts in the airlines, airports, and ancillaries industries and featuring vendors selling a range of innovative solutions, many built on AWS.

As a solutions architect at AWS, I work closely with customers to help them design solutions to enhance the customer experience and optimize operational efficiency. In this blog, I’ll share some key takeaways from the conference and highlight how the aviation industry is tackling both of these challenges. I’ll also look at new solutions from AWS that are helping shape the future of travel and how many airports and airlines are already showing the way.

Airlines are embracing personalization

Airlines and airports are sitting on gold mines of data, but much of that data goes unused. That is changing as airlines realize that delivering the right message to the right customer at the right time is key to winning tomorrow’s travelers. These messages could be in the form of everything from a marketing campaign to a dynamically priced offer – all tuned to the personalized needs of the customer.

Airlines are taking personalization a step further by offering travelers the right price at the right time. Aer Lingus, Ireland’s flag carrier, recently launched an artificial intelligence (AI)-based dynamic pricing trial with Datalex, an AWS Travel and Hospitality Competency Partner. The trial will use AI and machine learning models (ML) to offer real-time intelligent pricing that flexibly adapts to fluctuating customer and market demands.

While airlines have collected troves of first-party data, the key to personalization is the ability to collect, store, and act on that data to accurately model forecasts and predict the right pricing. Airlines may choose to ingest and manage that data in a cloud data solution such as AWS. They can work with AWS Travel and Hospitality Partners that offer revenue management tools or they can build customer models using Amazon SageMaker, used to build, train, and deploy ML models for virtually any use case, or Amazon Forecast, a time-series forecasting service based on ML, to accurately predict the most profitable demand and pricing strategy.

To develop more accurate forecasts, these models can also be paired with other sources of third-party data, like weather forecasts, economic data, and other feeds available from the AWS Data Exchange.

Airlines and airports are seeking innovative ways to drive sustainability

Airlines are exploring ways to lower their fuel consumption as a means of reducing their environmental impact and costs. At the EMEA event, I learned about aviation companies seeking to innovate in this area by harnessing hydrogen power and other experimental fuels. While exploring these alternatives is important, a number of customers are already moving forward with practical fuel-saving projects. For example:

  • Australia’s Qantas airlines cut fuel costs significantly using cloud-based flight analytics. Called Constellation, the system plots the most efficient route aircraft can take to reach their destination. “That’s going to save us $40 million in costs each year by a 1–2 percent improvement on these flight plans,” says Rob James, chief technology officer at Qantas. It’s also helping the company meet its sustainability goals. “We’re going to reduce our carbon emissions…by around 50 million kilograms each year,” James says.
  • Ryanair is using AWS ML to go paperless in its cockpits, saving 20 million sheets of paper, or 90 tons of paper per year, which results in a fuel burn savings of more than 600 tons annually.

AWS can help airlines and airports understand their carbon footprints and help identify solutions to improve the sustainability of their operations. Using the Customer Carbon Footprint Tool, for example, AWS customers can understand how their cloud usage contributes to their overall emissions output.

Just moving to the cloud can help improve sustainability. For example, migrating workloads to AWS has been shown to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon footprint. The results of a study by 451 Research show that the infrastructure of AWS is 3.6 times more energy efficient than the median of U.S. enterprise data centers surveyed. AWS data centers are  more energy efficient than the average enterprise site due to comprehensive efficiency programs that touch every facet of the facility.

­Optimizing plane turnarounds improves profits and customer experience

Airlines only make revenue when their aircraft are in the sky, not on the ground. That’s why one of the hottest topics at the conference was figuring out ways to optimize every moment airplanes spend on the ground and to turn them around quickly. A lot of companies are now leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT) to get to the bottom of travel delays. Many are getting the data they need by attaching IoT devices to vehicles such as fuel trucks, passenger buses, aircraft tugs, and other vehicles, often in combination with computer vision. Airlines can now get ahead of potential delays and respond in real-time, helping ensure smooth airport operations.

AWS offers an Aircraft Turn Tracking reference architecture to help customers get started in this domain. We see more customers building applications that integrate AWS Panorama, enabling them to install computer vision on edge devices. Customers can now deploy ML models to cameras within airports, helping them identify and track different stages of the aircraft-turnaround process.

United Airlines, an all-in AWS customer, worked alongside us to install over 20,000 IoT devices and cameras to monitor equipment and activities. This included tow trucks, fuel vehicles, catering and cleaning activities, as well as monitoring on-the-ground equipment, such as baggage tugs, and the movement of airline personnel and passengers. As a result, United saved more than US$120 million in ground equipment purchases and over 1.3 million hours of personnel search time.

Delivering better customer service with cloud solutions

A growing number of airlines are looking to Amazon Connect—an easy-to-use omnichannel cloud contact center—for efficient cloud-based telephony solutions and using Amazon Lex for Travel, which offers prebuilt solutions, to build chatbots and other customer-friendly service interactions.

Many are working with AWS Travel and Hospitality Competency Partners to build compelling customer experiences. United Airlines is working with NLX to create a multimodal customer-service solution that features a voice AI bot that walks customers step by step through their travel experience.

Sparking innovation, reducing risk

These themes were echoed in the panel discussion entitled Technologies to Solve Key Industry Challenges, where worldwide head of airports at AWS, Bob Kwik, talked with Southwest Airlines, AENA Spanish Airports, and Aeroporti di Roma. They discussed the need to break down data silos and how to combine data with sensors and AI to accelerate operational improvements. For example, both Southwest and AENA use computer vision to improve aircraft turnaround time while Aeroporti di Roma’s has launched a data-driven digital transformation to improve sustainability. The discussion highlighted what can be achieved when airports and airlines collaborate, and how cloud technologies enable data sharing and innovation.

Leaders are putting greater focus on giving staff more freedom to experiment, test, and “fail fast” to innovate and create new customer experiences. By using AWS, organizations can quickly deploy and test applications and pay for only what they consume. If they decide not to continue with a project, or if it fails to produce the expected outcome, they can just pull the plug and stop paying for usage. We are also seeing more organizations build “sandboxes” that provide developers with safe and secure environments to experiment with innovative solutions.

AWS is helping airlines innovate rapidly in response to changing customer needs. For example, Ryanair embedded a digital wallet to store travel documents, including Covid-19 vaccination forms in different formats, into its digital app in only 3 days.

The future of travel never stops

Many of the discussions during this year’s Future Travel Experience EMEA pointed to the extra focus that airlines, airports and ancillary companies are placing on acquiring and pleasing customers. I’m excited to help airports and airlines continue to break down data silos and to work with industry organizations to adopt data standards that can be used to deliver the seamless, connected experience passengers desire.

Learn more about AWS Travel and Hospitality aviation services and solutions here.