Updated: Jan 15, 2023 14:42 IST
New York [US], January 15 (ANI): Airlines should take advantage of new cloud-based tools to help prevent the recent collapse brought on by the use of outmoded and siloed technology at Southwest Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the industry consultants told the Wall Street Journal.
These tools, some originating from startups, offer the potential to make airline systems more automated and less dependent on older technologies that can require manual updates and are increasingly expensive to maintain, airline-industry consultants told WSJ.
The meltdowns at Southwest and the FAA, just weeks apart, were because of weaknesses in systems scheduled for upgrades — underscoring the urgent need to give priority to efforts to modernise those systems, as well as the consequences of waiting to do so, the consultants said.
While starting over wholesale with new information-technology infrastructure is likely unrealistic, consultants told WSJ, the sector should take advantage of cloud-based tools that can integrate the fire hose of real-time data driving airline operations.
Consultants told the Wall Street Journal that newer, cloud-based infrastructure and databases could scale horizontally–meaning they can take advantage of distributed computing resources across the internet as needed. This design allows information to flow more freely, reducing the likelihood of glitches that cascade into system-wide shutdowns. Older, legacy systems are limited to the amount of computing power available.
According to the WSJ, the FAA estimated that the costs of US flight delays totalled USD 33 billion in 2019, the latest year for which data is available. Digital solutions can reduce costs of irregular operations by about half, according to market research and consulting firm Frost and Sullivan, making airline-disruption management a growth opportunity for technology providers.
California-based Couchbase founded in 2011 said it helped United Airlines Holdings modernise its operations by providing a cloud-based database for its crew-scheduling software.
United Airlines was using mainframe computers and other database systems for running functions such as reservations, pricing, baggage tracking and plane loading, said Couchbase’s chief technology officer, Ravi Mayuram. Those mainframes weren’t exchanging data between them, or put simply,
“The left hand wasn’t talking to the right hand,” Mayuram said, according to WSJ. United declined to comment on its operations technology.
Unlike prior systems, the new programmes developed by United on top of Couchbase’s database technology can now scale up or down depending on peaks in usage or demand, and aren’t limited to the geographic region where its mainframes are located, Mayuram said.
Airlines generate a massive amount of data every year from their aircraft, passengers, suppliers and internal operations, according to WSJ.
Connecting data points from separate systems–like United has done–will help airlines train artificial-intelligence-powered systems that can unlock the biggest leaps in innovation such as predictive maintenance and passenger personalisation, said Robert Beuerlein, a Frost and Sullivan principal consultant in aerospace and defence.
Gurobi Optimization, a company that develops mathematical-optimisation software for industries including aviation, said it provides optimisation technology for airlines such as Air France-KLM. Gurobi said the Franco-Dutch carrier is using its software to power its decision-support tool, which recommends optimal flight and aircraft assignments and can take constraints like fuel consumption and an aircraft’s flying hours into account.
Gurobi’s chief scientist, Edward Rothberg, said while optimisation solving has been around for decades, the company has applied new mathematical techniques to spit out results faster.
Barcelona-based startup Big Blue Analytics is similarly using techniques like linear programming to solve optimisation problems such as aircraft assignment.
The company also aims to create a comprehensive platform that finds solutions for flights, aircraft, maintenance, crews, and passenger itineraries all at once, rather than sequentially as current systems do, Chief Executive Officer Pau Collellmir told WSJ.
“The government in general has the same problem that industry has, in that these systems get old and modernising them is really painful, both in terms of money and time,” said Ira Gershkoff, a principal consultant at airline IT consulting and research firm Travel Technology Research.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the airline IT market for decades was dominated by a few large companies including Amadeus IT Group SA, Sabre Corp, TravelSky Technology Ltd, Deutsche Lufthansa AG, and Societe Internationale de Telecommunications Aeronautiques, or SITA. In addition to startups, aircraft and engine manufacturers such as Boeing Co, Airbus SE, Rolls-Royce Holdings PLC and General Electric are also developing their own portfolios of digital solutions. (ANI)