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Airline and airport CIOs embrace AI

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Airlines and airports are embracing new technologies and turning to artificial intelligence (AI) to support their customer service. Over the next three years 52 per cent of airlines plan major AI programmes or R&D and 45 per cent of airports will invest in R&D in the next five years, according to the SITA 2017 Air Transport IT Trends Insights. Airlines are looking at how technology can help minimise the impact of disruption on the passenger experience and their business. Over the next three years, 80 per cent of them plan to invest in major programmes or R&D into prediction and warning systems, which rely heavily on AI.

Another technology that is catching the attention of the industry is chatbots. Currently, 14 per cent of airlines and nine per cent of airports already use chatbots. The report showed however, that there is significant appetite among air transport CIOs to embrace this technology over the next three years. By 2020, 68 per cent of airlines and 42 per cent of airports plan to adopt AI-driven chatbot services.

SITA’s report also showed that mobile app development is a top priority among airlines and airports. Over the next three years, 94 per cent of airlines and 82 per cent of airports plan major mobile programmes or R&D. The main area of focus is in the commercialisation of their mobile services with airlines looking to boost both direct and ancillary sales via their apps. Airlines expect sales via their mobile apps to double by 2020 and reach 17 per cent of their total sales. Streamlining services into one single app to deliver a seamless experience is a priority for almost every airline (94 per cent) and a high priority for more than half (58 per cent).

Jim Peters, chief technology officer, SITA, speaking at the Future Travel Experience conference in Las Vegas, said, “We know that passengers prefer to use technology and when it is well designed it can really improve the passenger experience. Airlines and airports are investing in AI and mobile programmes to make services even better for the passenger, supporting sales and providing customer support, particularly during times of disruption. The industry is using a healthy mix of in-house and outsourced development which will combine expert and industry-specific knowledge with emerging approaches to tech offerings.” Nearly three quarters of airlines use in-house developers for their passenger apps, but 42 per cent also use bespoke developers or large tech companies. In contrast, 46 per cent of airports develop their passenger apps in-house and the same proportion use external developers.

Airports plan to use chatbots for services such as notifications and airport guides. They are also looking to beacons and sensors to help provide context and location-aware services. SITA’s research showed that 40 per cent consider this area a high priority for app development and a further 43 per cent consider it a priority.