Airlines are looking to artificial intelligence to turn age-old processes upside down and make flying more efficent.
While the industry has traditionally relied on long-term planning across maintenance, schedules, crew and other areas, AI could mean a move to flexible processes.
Lufthansa Group chief digital officer Christian Langer believes AI could spell the end of planning.
“Airlines have an inflexible asset base - aircraft, hangars, spare parts - it’s expensive and inflexible. Then, we have a very flexible customer base, so it’s how do you mitigate that? It’s with plans.”
He points to the long-term planning of crew and summer schedules, adding that airlines also typically plan for groups of things such as customer segments and part numbers.
“With upcoming data, computational power and finally AI, it is going to shift from long-term to real-time and from groups of things to individuals, and this turns all the planning systems upside down.”
Speaking during last week’s Aviation Festival in London, Langer says small companies were tackling parts of the equation such as Hopper and Flyr for price predictions and Dohop and Kiwi for the network side of things.
“We’re trying to rethink and rebuild all the planning systems we have to find out what would be the real-time, individual alternative. Companies like ours are proud of their planning, but if you want to turn this upside down you have to rethink or someone else will.”
Langer says areas such as revenue management need rethought, and new technology is needed to adapt to the demand for more flexible tickets from millennials and the unmanaged business travel segment.
The creation of offers is an area where Lufthansa has made strides using data and has created what Langer dubs “decision as a service,” a platform to serve customers by responding to individual requests.
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At the event, Langer wasn’t the only executive with high hopes for AI, with Matthias Forsberg, SAS chief information officer and executive vice president, calling AI one of the best opportunities for the industry going forward.
Forsberg says the airline industry was early in digitalizing and has customers used to interacting in a digital way, but it needs AI to help with complexity.
“You need to get the passenger from A, B and C, and the crew and aircraft have to be there on time. There are lots of things happening you can’t control such as the weather, but AI can empower and help you make better decisions. In all areas AI is going to be the difference.”