Millions of people around the world excitedly grabbed their passports and dusted off their suitcases, buoyed by the disappearance of coronavirus travel restrictions. But upon arriving at the airport, they were met with utter chaos: security lines snaking around the terminal, departure boards flashing red with thousands of canceled flights and luggage that left seas of suitcases jumbled and separated from their owners around the world.
The number of travelers is not expected to decrease anytime soon, so the airline industry must look for ways to make the experience more efficient using new technologies, according to CEOs of startups participating in “Investing in solutions to jet lag in the airline industry”, an online forum hosted by Jerusalem-based OurCrowd.
Behind the chaotic wings of many airports, hundreds of moving parts contribute to widespread delays. The process of righting a newly arrived aircraft ready to take off for its next flight requires 360 different activities, says Udi Segall, CEO and Founder of IntelAct. These include baggage unloading and loading, catering, refueling, winter de-icing and much more.
Managing this complex process currently relies on rotation coordinators watching video feeds with a manual checklist on a clipboard, trying to ensure multiple planes depart on time – a nearly impossible task. If there is a problem in any of the 360 steps, flights are delayed, costing the industry more than $20 billion annually. From June 14 to 23, nearly a quarter of US flights were delayed by up to 55 minutes, creating huge losses.
IntelAct uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning algorithms to monitor the same video feeds, identify aircraft progress through each of these processes, and report any delays or hazards in real time. The system identifies and mitigates bottlenecks, improving safety for staff and passengers.
The company has just signed a contract with Indra, a multi-billion dollar supplier of airport management systems worldwide, to integrate Intelact’s technology into Indra’s platform.
“They get service alerts when things aren’t progressing as planned. For example, if baggage loading takes longer than expected, we can raise an alert,” Segall explained. A coordinator could dispatch additional workers before the problem delays the plane, sending staff to the area where they are most needed – essential when labor shortages affect all parts of the industry.
Surveillance, using existing CCTV cameras, has other advantages. This can help avoid crashes and give airports an accurate picture of when an aircraft is expected to be at the gate.
“One of the themes we talked about at all the trade shows was sustainability,” Segall said. “The smoother the operation of the airport, the less you keep planes in the air, the better it is for the environment and the better it is for the aviation industry.”
“People see that the status quo we had before the pandemic when it comes to the aviation industry is not sustainable, both operationally and also from a climate perspective,” Segall said. “Our partnership with Indra is a step in the right direction. We offer airlines, airports and ground handling operations a multi-billion dollar proposition. The room for improvement is huge.”
One of the most visible issues at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport these days is security screening, with queues exiting the terminal. It’s a scene being repeated at many airports around the world, as widespread labor shortages take their toll.
According to SeeTrue, a company that uses AI to speed up the process by up to 30%, speeding up the security process could have a huge impact on these lines.
“Security Control cannot handle post-pandemic request loads,” said Assaf Frenkel, CEO of SeeTrue. The company’s automatic threat detection is faster and more accurate than security guards watching an X-ray scan, reducing the time for each bag to between eight and 12 seconds. The technology can identify prohibited items more quickly and more accurately than human sight, with fewer false positives, Frenkel said. It also allows passengers to leave items inside their luggage, speeding up the process even further.
“When people stare at the screen for hours and hours, they obviously get tired and less alert over time,” Frenkel said. Because the initial screening process is automated, it requires fewer screeners who only intervene after a bag has been flagged.
The company is seeing an increase in demand as airports grapple with the difficult combination of growing numbers of travellers, labor shortages and increasing security requirements.
Despite rising costs and inflation, air transport is growing. Even with all the challenges in the aviation industry over the past few years, 10 new airlines have taken off in 2021, said Melissa Drew, executive adviser in digital transformation at IBM. These low-cost carriers are proving to be highly adaptable and forward-thinking companies that incorporate technology to increase efficiency and reduce costs.
“We always felt that for a brand new airline, the cost of entering the market was too high,” Drew said. But it’s the older, more established airlines that are struggling. “When you look at the big airlines, the ones that have been around the longest, it will take them longer to get around.”
“Adopting these AI technologies and adopting these other emerging technologies is no longer a trend. This is really what will differentiate this airline from its competitors. And if it doesn’t move quickly, or at least doesn’t start in that direction, then they’re going to fall behind,” she said.
“Investing in Airline Industry Jet Lag Solutions” hosted by OurCrowd is available to stream HERE.