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Building the new technology flight path

Rebecca Merrett | Jan. 22, 2014
The aviation industry is increasingly tapping into mobility, analytics and real-time IT solutions to drive efficiencies and new customer experiences both at the airport and in the air.

"The instructor does everything straight on the iPad, which goes straight into our database," he says. "They used to spend four to five hours a day just entering all the [hardcopy] forms. We can reduce data entry time down to almost zero.

"It's not only about saving time; it's the accuracy as well. In the past, when they would get a hardcopy form, how do you know everything was entered into the system correctly? If somebody disputes it, you need to go back and check if everything was entered correctly and that's time consuming."

Thanabalasingam is also developing an electronic flight log application for iPad, as well as an electronic version of its flight operation manuals on-board the aircrafts. It's also converting an in-house Windows application called FLaPS for flight planning, load control and performance calculations to the iPad.

Estimated cost savings are about $40,000-45,000 per annum, and will help staff save time by having access to systems anywhere, anytime via the iPad. The project is in the implementation phase, and Thanabalasingam aims to have all 110 iPads installed or mounted inside the cockpit across Rex's 55 aircrafts around April 2014.

On the customer-facing side, Thanabalasingam is working on a mobile-friendly website using Microsoft's ASP.NET model-view-controller (MVC) framework. The framework allows content to be rendered for optimal viewing across different screen sizes and mobile devices. He expects the site to be rolled out in about a year's time.

"Our corporate customers are on the run all the time and want to access our online services using their mobile phones or iPads," he says. "Everything is all about mobile nowadays; nobody really sits in front of a [desktop] computer all the time. So we just need to keep up with the world."

Analytics takes off
Mobility is not the only type of technology driving businesses forward in the aviation industry. QAL is using video and analytic tools to measure passenger queue dwell times at airport departure and security gates.

Nelson says he is looking at ways of using this technology to monitor queues over an extended period of time rather than having someone manually observe to see if a queue is continually growing, or people have been queuing for a long time.

"We can instantly look at heat maps of queues through camera systems that have been monitoring for hours on end and over time it builds heat maps of where people are, what they are doing, and how long they are spending in a particular location," he says. "It helps us with opening up extra screening points, or pulling in extra security staff, or the security checking process. It's all about getting the passengers through to where they have got to go quicker and easier and with less frustration." Nelson adds analytics is becoming crucial for business. One of the biggest challenges for airports is being able to support growing passenger numbers globally, as facilities are not generally expanding as quickly as needed to keep up with the demand. "We have to find smarter ways to get people to move through to their flights more efficiently," Nelson says. "To do this, we need to look at better ways at utilising space, and try and automate as many of these processes as we possibly can. People don't travel to airports, they travel to their destinations." Another way Nelson is planning to use video cameras and analytics is to monitor all aircraft registrations flying in and out of the airports. This will ensure its record keeping is up to date and meets regulatory reporting requirements. Nelson is working with companies outside of the aviation industry, where video monitoring and analytics technology is commonly used, to work out how it can be applied. "We are not aware of any cameras being used to recognise aircraft registrations, whereas it's very commonplace to recognise number plates on cars on motorways and tollways," he explains. "People have not yet worked out how to do that with aircraft registrations. "We are pushing the boundaries with this, trying to get these companies to take that technology and apply it [to airports]. You see their [company executives] eyebrows rise and they think 'that's interesting, we never thought of that'." Dunsford is also using analytics, which will be enhanced once it moves from Airservices' current air traffic control system, Eurocat, to next generation air traffic management technology, OneSky. The $1 million project will unite both military and civilian air traffic into one management system so there's more flexibility with routes or flight paths for aircraft. He says analytics will be used to see if a major weather event is coming in real time so that the pilot can change course and fly another path to the destination.


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