The Internet of Things (IoT) has really taken off in aviation. We look at which airlines are emerging as early innovators.
EasyJet may be a budget airline specialising in affordable travel, but the firm has really done something quite innovative in the Internet of Things (IoT) space through wearable technology.
Claiming to be the first airline to use wearable tech, it has equipped cabin crew and ground staff with wearable tech uniforms.
The new suit is fitted with LEDs on the shoulders and hems to provide visual guidance to the passengers and built-in microphones for direct communication with passengers, pilots and amongst the crew members. The uniform also has an LED based scrolling ticker, on the lapel jacket, that displays basic information such as the number of the flight, the flight destinations and lighting guidance in case of emergencies.
EasyJet is also using drones to inspect to its fleet of airplanes.
Helsinki Airport in Finland is using Wi-Fi and iBeacons to track passengers and offer location- based services.
Airport operator Finavia teamed up with local company Walkbase to install dozens of sensors throughout the terminal, and these are able to track all smartphones from the car park to the terminal. By doing this, the airport can prevent queues and bottlenecks where they appear, and also allow retailers to send push notifications to travellers based on their exact location.
Every single component of Virgin Atlantic’s Boeing 787 is attached to a wireless airplane network, providing real-time IoT data on everything from performance to required maintenance.
The aircraft can produce more than a third of a terabyte of data per flight and each one makes hundreds if not thousands of flights a year. Virgin has to collate and analyse this data, but is already seeing benefits.
For example, a jet engine that is performing poorly mid-flight is relaying that information to ground staff throughout its journey. When the plane lands, airport engineers can then be ready to look into the issue.
“The Internet of Things, in a broad sense, is where we are starting to see everything from planes to cargo devices getting connected,” said Virgin Atlantic’s then IT director David Bulman in 2013. “The latest planes we are getting, the Boeing 787s, are incredibly connected. Literally every piece of that plane has an internet connection, from the engines, to the flaps, to the landing gear.
“If there is a problem with one of the engines we will know before it lands to make sure that we have the parts there. It is getting to the point where each different part of the plane is telling us what it is doing as the flight is going on.”
London City Airport claimed to be the world’s first airport to test IoT after receiving approximately £800,000 in UK government funding to launch a pilot project in 2013. That pilot project, which has since become a full-scale deployment, was to develop an interconnected sensor network and data hub to track and understand passenger flow and behaviour in the airport.
The project enables them to measure passenger journeys (via a sensor/camera network tracked individuals through the airport), track assets (GPS, 3G and Wi-Fi devices) and deliver location-based services to customers. Wi-Fi enabled tracking devices also enables, as London City Airport claims, a faster turnaround of planes.
Miami Airport has a network of some 500 beacons providing detailed information and personalised services to customers at its terminals and various concessionaries.
Miami International Airport’s new localised app, ‘MIA Airport Official 2.0’, communicates with these beacons, giving gate information, as well as shopping and dinner details.
Users are able to scan boarding passes and receive turn-by-turn, blue-dot navigation guides to their gates which will include estimated walk times, real-time flight updates, even suggestions for nearby shopping and dining, based on a customisable personal profile.
A little less than six months ago Lufthansa went live with the launch of its RIMOWA Electronic tag, a mobility solution designed to track luggage from the terminal to the flight.
The RIMOWA Electronic Tag is an electronic luggage tag which displays baggage info in the same format, size and appearance of typical paper labels, but on a digital screen built into the luggage unit and located near the handle.
Travellers with a Rimowa electronic tag-enabled bag can send their digital boarding info via Bluetooth from their smartphone to check their bag before they leave home, with details appearing on the bag’s electronic display. After arriving at the airport, they simply hand it in at the airline’s automated check-in station.
In October 2015, Delta Air Lines partnered with Bit Stew Systems to deploy an IIoT analytics systems on part of its fleet, with the goal of improving airplane maintenance.
Aiming to improve aircraft performance, Bit Stew’s Mix Core platform is designed to unify “billions of traditionally siloed data points across aviation and air traffic management to increase awareness, discover new business insights, improve operations and asset performance”.
By ingesting and analysing vast amounts of aviation data, Bit Stew says it can help airlines by reducing downtime and lowering fuel costs.
Delta is also using tracking technology from Sendum Wireless to offer GPS tracking for pets shipped. The system provides real-time location, temperature and humidity data. As of 2015, the service was offered at a number of U.S. airports.
KLM has been working with application PaaS provider Mendix to help boost engineering and maintenance efficiency.
Working with the tech company and using its rapid application development platform, the Franco-Dutch airline built an equipment tracking app which pulled data from the countrywide KPN LoRa network. This provided engineers with a real-view (on iPads) as to where each piece of airline maintenance equipment is located.
This increases the efficiency of engineers (engineers spend less time looking to equipment like generators) and thus KLM expects the project to generate significant cost savings and process improvements. It is also expected to improve the customer experience by providing more reliable, on-time flights.
KLM and Dutch airport Schiphol have also invested in local IoT start-up Undagrid, which uses mesh networking to locate objects in real time.
Qantas worked with Samsung Electronics Australia to launch an entertainment service that uses Samsung’s Gear VR headset to offer passengers a 3D experience in an interactive 360° cinematic video format.
The in-flight VR headsets enable viewers to watch the latest inflight movies, view the latest Qantas products or see possible destinations.
Rolls Royce recently partnered with Microsoft to use IoT technologies to make its airplane engines ‘intelligent’.
The engine manufacturer has adopted Microsoft’s Azure IoT Suite and Cortana Intelligence Suite to diagnose potential faults in engines fitted to aircraft in service around the globe.
Information on engine health, air traffic control, route restrictions and fuel use will be collected from hundreds of sensors inside the engines, and analysed to detect any operational anomalies or signs of developing faults.
Using Azure Stream Analytics and Microsoft Power BI dashboards, the goal is to uncover data insights that will enable airlines to improve their operational performance and increase fuel efficiency.