Many articles are being published these days on the impact that COVID-19 has had on aviation at different levels such as maintenance, training, licensing, traffic forecasts, airline selling processes or production cuts. The negative consequences of the current crisis on the aviation sector appear every day both in media specific to aviation as well as in general news. While there is still a high degree of uncertainty surrounding the (also high) recovery time, our sector is sure to face a difficult transition process where cost-saving will be a top priority, after safety. Will this crisis become the catalyzer of aviation digitalisation?
Social distancing has fostered the development of technologies that automate services traditionally offered by people together in close proximity. Some of these services are now being offered remotely or have been automated. Some such examples include remote screening and monitoring of patients, touchless elevators or automated reception desks at hotels, to name a few. Regardless of the application, all these services will foster increasing levels of data sharing and, as a consequence, privacy-preserving solutions.
In Europe, the European Institute of Innovation and Technology has mobilised EUR 60 million of additional funding to support the European innovator and entrepreneur ecosystem in developing high-impact solutions to face the COVID-19 challenges. Parliament has published a document entitled “Ten technologies to fight Coronavirus” where the most promising technologies or technological concepts are identified, including AI, blockchain, open-source technologies and drones, along with its policy-making needs. Although the application examples collected in this report are specific to the health sector, most are also applicable to many other sectors, including aviation. Will aviation adopt any of these emerging technologies? Will COVID-19 facilitate a larger adoption of drones and foster its regulation?
The most immediate technologies to be adopted are probably implemented by airports. Enabling a safe and satisfactory passenger experience though contactless and self-service technologies will facilitate the recovery of passenger trust and the protection of citizens. Congestion monitoring, health checks, automatic sanitisation, self-service baggage check-in, etc. are all technologies that can definitely benefit from technologies such as biometrics, image recognition and sensorisation. While some of these technologies are already in place, others will still need further development. The common factor among all of them is the increasing need of data acquisition (including personal data) and management enabled by secure technologies to protect passengers rights.
Apart from how technology can help airports ensure social distancing and minimise contagious risks, this is a great opportunity for other aviation areas to improve their capabilities through technology and manage the current uncertainty. Digital solutions can help airlines and airports achieve higher flexibility and scalability in resource planning and allocation, enabling them to match capacity and demand needs in a more efficient way that may, in turn, allow airlines to reduce operational costs.
This crisis can be a great opportunity for aviation to become ready for the digital era. In our view, the key enabler for undertaking this challenge is the adoption of an operational data platform for aviation stakeholders.