British Airways to use AI in efforts to improve operations

The airline aims to accelerate its digital transformation efforts and use artificial intelligence (AI) to maintain aircraft and improve customer service

British Airways (BA) last week announced that it aims to use AI to automate parts of its business, including maintenance of its aircraft.

As reported by The Financial Times, the airline company plans to update its IT infrastructure and use AI tools to predict when a plane is likely to develop a fault. This will allow BA to make pre-emptive repairs, rather than waiting for failures to be identified when passengers are on board, hopefully resulting in less delays.

Increasing numbers of airlines are turning to AI platforms to enhance customer experience, with Virgin Atlantic accelerating its own transformation with Amperity to handle data.

Aviation AI: Cutting cost and lowering risk

This news comes in the wake of BA having experienced multiple long-term delays and system outages as a result of IT failures. The Times recently reported that the company’s executives have identified more than 600 areas of improvement and are planning a huge company overhaul. 

The proposed changes are planned to be implemented over the next three years at a cost of roughly £7bn (US$8.87bn). Technology is expected to be at the crux of these plans in attempts to improve its IT infrastructure, reducing costs and improving customer satisfaction as a result.

BA was originally ahead of the curve when it comes to deploying AI technology. In 2019, the company announced that it was one of the first airlines in the world to use next-generation AI and video technology to improve flight punctuality.

As part of a £6.5bn (US$8.25bn) investment at the time, BA introduced an advanced neural network trial at London Heathrow Airport, Terminal 5, to ensure that flights depart on time. Using cameras set up around the aircraft, AI compares live footage with the proposed flight schedule. If the technology detects any issues that could cause a delay, an alert is triggered to allow management to take action.

Further information about the company’s digital transformation efforts will be announced at the start of 2024. A BA spokesman told The Times: “We have ambitious plans to deliver a world-class experience for our customers at every stage of their journey. We’re starting to make improvements across our business and look forward to telling our customers more about these over the coming months.”

Technology as an industry-leading tool

There is not currently enough evidence to suggest that AI could drastically improve airline services. However, it could continue to benefit the aviation industry in numerous ways as technology can be used to make processes for both staff and customers more seamless. 

The market is only continuing to expand, with plenty of companies already using the technology to advance their services, including Virgin Atlantic, Air India, Swiss Airlines and Lufthansa. Airlines have plenty of AI ‘pilot programmes’ helping human workforces complete tasks like booking flights and performing maintenance, hoping to boost productivity.

Enterprises are already seeing other potentially revolutionary use cases, including Google trialling AI to mitigate contrail impact. Google Research has collaborated with American Airlines to develop a prediction software and hope to reduce climate impact. 

Whilst this is not yet being developed at scale, it offers a glimpse into the future of how AI could look in the aviation industry moving forward.

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