The Internet of Things, known by the twee moniker IoT, is one of the today’s defining tech trends. The concept is a catch-all for the connectivity of inanimate objects. This means a future where our devices can communicate and interact with one another. For example, a connected car that speaks with the infrastructure around it or a coffee maker that has its own app.

These connected devices number in the tens of billions. The visualization below from SemiWiki shows how massive this group of interconnected electronics has already become. And at this rate, there won’t be a so-called “dumb” device in the whole world by 2040.

https://www.semiwiki.com/forum/attachments/content/attachments/16749d1457382694-iot-history-min-jpgIn order to accommodate the additional data usage, the world will need to add 750 percent in capacity within the next 5 years alone.

For airlines, this growth offers a unique opportunity to deliver new value to travelers, cargo customers and shareholders. Here are three key ways airlines can use the Internet of Things to do better business.

Operational precision

With a business of millions of moving parts, precision is key. The Internet of Things offers several key improvements to operational precision:

  1. Real-time data. When individual parts can speak to the whole, maintenance can use real-time system checks to identify problems before they cause delays.
  2. Reliability. Airlines can increase their performance through enhanced knowledge. The IoT offers more precise insights into workflows and potential bottlenecks that slow performance.
  3. Transparency. Shining light into the darkest corners of any operation can be scary. But in the case of a logistics business, those dark corners cost money. By bringing everything into the light, operations managers can optimize everything.

Data can be pulled in from various aircraft systems to create operational dashboards that allow airlines to maximize fuel efficiency through optimized trajectory and navigation. Even with areas such as crew management, catering, load balancing and on-board provisioning, connected devices can bring data closer to the operation itself. Each small tweak has great impact at scale, says Pranay Das from Sabre Airline Solutions:

 Airlines will have a constant, extremely detailed, live picture of their network. This will include aircraft, crew, gate, hub and schedule information encapsulated for airline management. The internet of things will enable a truly connected airline to be a smart airline as well, deliver exceptional customer services and win in the marketplace.

Why Delta invested $50 million to track bags

Delta recently completed one of the most ambitious deployments of the Internet of Things. The U.S. carrier has invested $50 million in RFID bag tracking technology that allows both travelers and the airline to move to real-time tracking. Rather than rely on periodic scans on a bag’s journey, the technology locks in a precise location of a tagged bag.

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Delta now embeds RFID chips in each bag tag.

 

And it’s not just installing new bag tag printers. There has to be a systemwide rollout of the technology to match the tags. And in order to communicate with baggage handlers, there has to be a quick visual system to identify which bags need to be handled directly as they are loaded onto a plane. Delta has solved this by adding a “red/green” light system to its baggage loading process while also deploying new readers to its handlers.

This investment gives Delta real-time data on passenger’s bags, increasing both its perception of reliability and its actual performance. The transparency also builds trust and makes for fewer flareups between passengers and airlines. As more passengers experience this sort of transparent, real-time experience, the demand will increase. As will the appetite and acceptance for other areas of the travel experience.

Increasing information to the traveler

Before the ubiquity of smartphones, traveling was a “hurry up and wait (in the dark)” game. There was precious little information to be had. Gate agents held enormous power as both literal gatekeepers and figurative keepers of the information. There was little that travelers could do to empower their own experience.

The Internet of Things changes this significantly. Now airlines are pushing more information into travelers hands than ever before. The most visible example of this commitment to the traveler experience is Delta’s recent investment in bag tracking technology, seen in the example above. It’s one of the great triple wins: the company wins through reduced cost, the traveler is happier and employees have less disgruntled travelers.

Another excellent example is EasyJet’s Mobile Host at London’s Gatwick Airport. In this pilot, travelers’ flight details are combined with the live data from the airport’s Google indoor maps. This allows the airline to deliver updated check-in reminders, gate updates and even personalized directions.

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Not only are travelers more happy with this self-service, real-time platform, employees are freed up from the rote duties of updating passengers. This translates into more time per passenger who has a query that requires help. This enhances the traveler’s experience when interacting with the employees as well.

How to get started with IoT

Whether you’ve already experimented with IoT or not, now is the time to pursue how the technology applies. Sensors are cheap and plentiful; many technologies and devices are built with the capacity to be connected to the Internet. As procurement and planning cycles can be lengthy, focus on small pilots that create data to inform a future full-scale rollout.

In comments to GE and FlightGlobal, Virgin Atlantic’s Tim Graham offers the following advice to airlines considering their IoT strategy:

“Target the areas where you can demonstrate improvements in customer experience or employee productivity…That will help build awareness around IoT and also start collecting data and information that could be used to unlock other opportunities. It’s all about showing the business what is possible and what the technology could do for them and their customers.”