(Photo: John McArthur on Unsplash)
The aviation sector is, of course, one that has been shaped by technological developments since its inception. In many ways, it represents the peak of technical achievements. In some ways, though, it lags behind other sectors with its strict safety standards and long development times. Technology changes are always underway, however - here are just a few to watch out for in 2023.
Airports and the use of biometric technology
This is an area that has grown quickly, and 2023 could be an important year for development. We have already seen adoption of biometric data for immigration and for aircraft boarding in many regions, and this will continue. British Airways, as just one example, carried out significant trials with biometrics in 2022, and has plans to expand. It is also becoming more common in countries including the USA, France, Germany, Japan, UAE, and Hong Kong.
This is not just something airlines and airports want for time and cost savings. Passengers want it too, and this will no doubt speed up its adoption. A recent IATA survey showed that convenience is the top priority for travellers post-pandemic. Satisfaction with using biometric data so far is high, and 75% of passengers want biometrics to replace passports and boarding passes. Its contactless nature is an important consideration too in the post-COVID environment.
Use of CT scanners at airport security
Also linked to passenger convenience, and the important area of improved security, new computed tomography (CT) based scanners are being introduced for airport security. These create a 3D image of scanned items and will allow electronics and liquids to remain inside bags. Eventually, the restriction on liquid volumes should be removed too, but this is a safety policy issue.
We have already seen limited introduction of this technology, and we will see more commitment to it during 2023. As just a few major examples, Amsterdam Schiphol has fully installed such technology, the US TSA announced a major contract in 2022 to start equipping US airports, and in the UK the government has confirmed plans to have the technology in all major airports by mid-2024.
Fuel efficiencies and savings using Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence (AI) techniques, data analysis, and the use of "big data" has enormous potential in many areas of airline operations. We are already seeing adoption and resulting improvements in many areas, such as flight scheduling, flight route planning, passenger profiling, and aircraft maintenance. One area of increasing importance in 2023 is likely to be fuel efficiency.
Analysing flight routes to optimise performance and scheduling has been part of operations for ages, but there are new projects underway to use AI and big data to take this further. The "Sky Breathe" project is one good example of this. This uses AI to analyse billions of data points from flight records to find ways to conserve fuel. Real time flight situations (including factors such as weather, performance, and load) are then analysed and actionable changes suggested for pilots.
Airlines including Air France, Norwegian, Atlas, Cebu Pacific, and Malaysia Airlines are using this technology to some extent already. It is early days, but fuel consumption reduction of up to 5% is hoped for.
Use of Virtual and Augmented Reality
This is a big topic in the wider technology industry, and it is already finding its way into aviation. Anything that affects aircraft flying or other operations will take more time. However, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) have other implications that are well underway, and we should see growth throughout 2023. For airlines, immediate uses are being found in crew training and safety.
Some of the biggest current possibilities for this are for passengers - both at the airport and onboard the aircraft. Several airports have adopted some form of AR to help manage passenger flow and experience at the airport. This can be linked to retail for promotions, and to airlines for gate and flight information. It is also being combined with Bluetooth-based beacon technology for passenger tracking and guiding. Onboard, we have seen trials of VR headsets with a few airlines. This has big potential to change the passenger experience.
Increased use of robotics in airports
This is a trend that has been underway for some time, and we are likely to see more of it in 2023. In fact, the post-pandemic labour shortages and industrial actions seen in many regions in 2022 will likely increase the industry's appetite to further invest in this.
There are applications in many areas here. Security and cleaning are two of the biggest, but there are also possibilities in customer service, automated baggage carts, and deliveries among other growing areas.
Continued development in alternate power sources
The focus on sustainability and changes in power sources will continue in 2023, with net-zero carbon commitments ever closer. This may be an area that advances slower but there could be some big development in 2023.
SAF use continues to increase, and 2023 should see a landmark first 100% SAF operated transatlantic flight from the UK (as part of a UK government and industry program). The longer-term prospects of electric and hydrogen technology will see further progress and innovation in 2023, but major use is still years away.
There are some major areas to watch during the year. ZeroAvia should begin flying its Dornier 228 aircraft equipped with a prototype hydrogen-electric powertrain, after it received certification in 2022. Rolls Royce first ground tested its AE 2100 turbofan engine in 2022 as part of a project to develop a fully hydrogen fuelled jet engine, and more is expected from this.
Developments and changes often take time in aviation - especially when it comes to aircraft - but there is plenty underway and expected in 2023. Technology changes continue to have a big effect on both airports and aircraft operators, with many applications to cut costs, improve efficiency, and create a better passenger experience.
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