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How the Covid Crisis Has Accelerated the Evolution of Airlines' Tech Strategies | In Detail

Covid-19 has created significant challenges for airline IT departments. Not only were we suddenly forced to adopt new remote work practices across our business, but we were also inundated with calls from affected passengers, rapidly automating a number of customer service functions and in some cases building new digital platforms from scratch. had to build. You can check the different health documents required in different countries.

But a silver lining in the dark clouds cast over the airline industry by the pandemic has been accelerated investments in digitization and automation. The need has arisen to replace face-to-face interactions with technology-enabled, touchless, low-touch solutions. It has become more urgent than ever.

According to the latest SITA Air Transport IT Insights study, the Covid-19 crisis will help channel resources into digitalization and streamlining passenger journeys, and investment in these areas is expected to remain high.

“As airlines seek to ensure long-term growth and success in the post-pandemic era, 84% of airline CIOs [chief information officers] We expect absolute IT spending to remain stable or increase in 2022,” SITA said in its report. “Looking at the extent of his IT investments for the airline, the advances in digitization are strong evidence across travel and across operations.”

Sustainability is another major focus area for airline IT departments. The need to decarbonise aviation was already a key issue even before the pandemic, but the subsequent global climate change, not to mention the visible evidence of climate change in the form of recent heatwaves, wildfires and droughts. The global energy crisis and soaring fuel prices are attracting even more attention. in different regions.

Using new IT to make airlines more sustainable, for example flight path optimization, will be a priority in 2021, with 56% of airlines implementing such technology, according to a SITA report. and 32% plan to implement it by 2024.

FlightGlobal interviewed IT executives from three global carriers to understand the challenges and opportunities created by the pandemic from a technology perspective. All three airlines list cybersecurity, sustainability, digitization and automation as top priorities.

Etihad Airways

Etihad Airways increased its investment in IT during the pandemic, putting resources into its website, developing its own digital health verification solution, and automating several passenger processing functions. In addition to this, the Abu Dhabi-based airline has decided to invest heavily in the migration of its Passenger Service System (PSS) from Saber to Amadeus during the pandemic. This process is expected to be completed early next year.

“We didn’t cut back on our investments. Etihad Airways chief digital officer Frank Meyer said the ‘biggest acceleration’ of investments was initially targeted at the airline’s website, Etihad.com. added. “Of course, we have invested heavily in new features such as the Covid-19 Travel Hub. We have since created several versions of the Verified to Fly proposal, but also implemented a completely new look and feel and AI-based offers. Did.”

frank meyer c etihad

By moving PSS from one technology provider to another, Meyer said the airline made “a very bold decision to completely reshape the entire core technology landscape during a pandemic.” said.

“Where most people might freeze their investments, we did the exact opposite. [because] very few passengers [numbers] Making more engineering changes is much less risky,” he explains. Once the transition is complete, Meyer expects improvements in terms of customer experience, self-service options, distribution and merchandising.

When the scale of the pandemic became apparent, Etihad’s top IT priority was its direct sales channel, Etihad.com.

“We experienced a surge in direct sales through the pandemic,” recalls Meyer. “Of course all the channels are back and the balance is back a little bit, but there was a time during the pandemic when it was almost the exclusive sales channel. We invested a lot in this from the beginning.”

Investments have also been made in Etihad’s indirect sales channels, as part of Etihad’s plans to make self-service options more widely available to passengers who book flights through travel agents.

“The whole communication between us and trade is much more highly automated, and this started during the pandemic,” says Meyer. With cargo becoming an important source of revenue for airlines, while passenger flights remained largely grounded, Etihad Airways also invested in creating a dedicated website for cargo customers, offering new bookings for agents to use. I installed the engine.

Back on the passenger side, investments have been made to improve airport efficiency while using technology to implement online chat options to reduce the burden faced by call center staff.

“Especially in our Abu Dhabi hub, it was mostly self-service,” says Meyer. “We also did all sorts of things like queue management, home check-ins, home tests.” We have built Verified to Fly, our own health verification platform that allows you to submit.

Looking ahead, Meyer does not expect IT investment levels to drop until 2024, as Etihad moves forward with its PSS migration. Technology that helps airlines reduce emissions remains a top priority, as does cybersecurity, where “threat patterns are constantly changing,” he said. Leveraging data is also a priority, with both machine learning and AI being the focus, but even more automation being explored.

“We will continue to push for automation because it is so important to run any process, be it call center, back office, finance, HR or even IT. There are a lot of automations that we can do,” he said. says. “Finally, part of the infrastructure work we do is continuously optimizing what we do in the data center and what we do in the cloud. It is no exaggeration to say that I will continue to do so in the future.”

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic has invested in using robotics to automate certain functions during the pandemic, as well as working to adapt its business to a more virtual working environment.

“Like all businesses, the adoption of hybrid work with increased use of online meeting technology, digital whiteboards and team work planning toolsets has helped our business continue,” said Virgin’s technology and said Gary Walker, Vice President of Transformation. Atlantic Ocean. “In addition, we have invested heavily in robotic process automation. [RPA] Automate tasks that used to be done manually. This allowed staff to do more value-added activities instead of administrators. “

gary walker-c-virgin atlantic

Walker sees more investment in technology, but said the extra spending will be offset by some of the savings achieved through automation.

“We expect investment in technology as a key enabler to continue to grow,” he said. “However, this cost-based increase will be hedged by savings from increased use of cloud technology, RPA and AI. [artificial intelligence] It simplifies the operating environment. “

In addition to investing in automation during this crisis, Virgin Atlantic has announced plans to change Virgin Holidays to Virgin Atlantic Holidays and operate its various divisions under a single brand.

“We embarked on a multi-year transformation of our digital platform because we wanted our customers to have one place for all their Virgin Atlantic holiday needs,” says Walker.

Like Etihad Airways, Virgin Atlantic worked with partner and shareholder Delta Air Lines to develop its own Covid-19 digital health tool during the pandemic. Airlines used to advocate common global standards for Covid-19 testing and vaccination requirements for international travel, but the reality is that rules differ and continue to vary from country to country.

“We will be the first airline in the world to conduct a pilot program with multiple healthpath providers at the end of 2020 to test what works for our customers and to comply with a patchwork of changing global requirements. One of the companies.” Anthony Woodman, President of Customer Journeys. “This meant we could rapidly develop his FlyReady, a unique solution we launched with our partner Delta Air Lines in June 2021.

“FlyReady can present requirements based on a customer’s profile and use AI capabilities to verify travel credentials within minutes.”

While travel restrictions in Virgin Atlantic’s key markets have eased, the tool “has become less important,” but Woodman said it is “ready to roll out as needed based on network-wide entry requirements.” There is.”

Sustainability is at the top of Virgin Atlantic’s list of priorities, with technology “a key factor in achieving a more sustainable airline,” Walker said, adding that the airline’s use of fuel during take-off would be a key factor. I’m pointing out the work I’m doing to investigate .

“By mapping weather conditions, optimal flight plans, payloads and local airport regulations together, we can optimize the amount of fuel consumed during the take-off phase of a flight,” he explains.

Sustainability aside, Walker said, “From a purely technical standpoint, our number one priority is our digital, data and cloud transformation programs.”

Lufthansa Group

According to Thomas Ruckert, chief information officer at Deutsche Aviation Group, Lufthansa Group’s IT spending will “continue to increase” this year as it pushes ahead with digitalization initiatives and completes “major” app upgrades. prize.

He said the coronavirus pandemic “rapidly followed what was already a general trend of increasing demand for easy-to-use self-service.” We are acutely aware that the offers are not meeting our customers’ expectations,” he said, adding that carriers “are catching up with speed improvements to bring our digital offers back in place.” .

Rueckert_Thomas-c-Lufthansa

This includes a group-wide investment to upgrade the apps of each airline of the Lufthansa Group.

“We are in the final stages of a major upgrade to our app, our primary digital interface for our customers,” says Ruckert. “Given the technical maturity of our current solutions, we have decided to completely rebuild both his mobile and desktop his solutions. Customers of Brussels Airlines, Austrian Airlines and Swissair, respectively You can already experience the new look and feel in our apps.”

Ruckert adds that the new app, combined with Lufthansa’s “significant investment” in internal capabilities, means “we can develop and deploy new features more quickly for the benefit of our future customers.” .

And airline groups are harmonizing their portals to give their customers a more uniform travel experience.

“With the unified customer profile ‘Travel ID’, we offer our customers the opportunity to create a profile with their own data that can be used by all airlines of the Lufthansa Group,” explains Ruckert. “Among other things, we use artificial intelligence to allow us to use models to evaluate existing data and make solid assumptions as a basis for marketing and sales offers.”

During the pandemic, Lufthansa focused on developing methods to digitally verify that passenger documents meet the various entry requirements of different countries. This is what Rackert describes as a “particularly difficult” process.

“After the majority of international travel has come to a halt, we are back in a world of different and separate entry requirements on an unprecedented scale,” he recalls. “We had to implement these features very quickly, but at the same time, some of our employees were working shorter hours.”

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