Accelerating the uptake of AI in aviation

by Camille Uylenbroeck - Data Scientist | minutes read

The two most significant challenges facing European aviation today are capacity and the environment. Artificial intelligence (AI) and, more particularly, machine learning (ML) can help us tackle both.  

Earlier this year, the European Aviation High Level Group on AI, featuring the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation, better known as EUROCONTROL, as well as a wide range of key representatives from all aviation sectors, published the first edition of its ‘FLY AI’ report. With this timely initiative, the newly established group aims to advance the understanding among aviation and air traffic management (ATM) actors of AI and its potential, to demystify the new technology, and ultimately to help accelerate its uptake in the aviation industry. To that end, the report also includes a practical ‘FLY AI Action Plan’. 

Sustainable growth 

Accommodating sustainable traffic and passenger growth is the main challenge facing the aviation industry, as European Commissioner for Transport Adina Valean points out in her welcome message in the report. “With European aviation facing growing pressure to reduce its environmental impact, as well as persistent capacity bottlenecks, we need more sophisticated changes on the ground and in the air, and quickly,” she warns.  

Innovative new technologies such as artificial intelligence can be a key ally in pursuit of those ambitious future goals, the European Commissioner firmly believes. According to her, “it is now important to exploit these new technologies, more rapidly than has been the case up until now, to address airspace capacity shortages, optimise aircraft trajectories, boost punctuality and support decision-makers, pilots and air traffic controllers.” 

Capacity issues 

In a previous blog post about this topic, I came to the conclusion that AI as a system lends itself perfectly to setting up all kinds of collaborations between man and machine. In other words, it is ideally suited for assisting people with their work, not for actually replacing people. A conclusion that is clearly supported by this first ‘FLY AI’ report, as it finds that AI has a huge potential for use in areas where it can reduce the human workload or increase human capabilities in complex scenarios, e.g. to support air traffic controllers, pilots or airport operators. 

More specifically, the report highlights four opportunities for AI to address current and future challenges in aviation and air traffic management. What’s more, it effectively states that “the availability of data, advanced algorithms and massive increases in computing power means that AI can already offer genuine advances to Aviation/ATM.”  

I will only mention two of these opportunities for advancement here. First and foremost, AI can help in mitigating the all-too-real ‘capacity crunch’ that Europe’s crowded skies and increasingly congested airports are facing. And it can do so, in short, by simply enabling a better use of data. This in turn will lead to more accurate predictions and more sophisticated tools for air traffic managers, increased productivity and an enhanced use of airspace and airports. 

Climate urgency

Secondly, by improving the structural capacity of the European airspace, AI could make a real difference to mitigating the environmental impacts of aviation. This is achieved by optimising trajectories, creating ‘green’ routes and increasing prediction accuracy. All of those measures are required, if the EU wishes to reach its goal of becoming the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050. 

Would you like to find out what the other AI opportunities are for advancing aviation? Please check the ‘FLY AI’ report in full. It is available for download here

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