The aviation industry isn’t one to stand still. Quite the contrary – if we compare how much all industries spend on research and development (R&D), aviation is near the top of the list. Leading providers keep a close eye on upcoming software trends in the airline industry, and consistently invest in the latest technologies and solutions.
Knowing what the future holds is doubly important at times of upcoming opportunity. The aviation industry suffered a heavy blow from the global pandemic – but it is on the cusp of recovery. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), air passenger numbers in 2024 are finally going to reach 2019 pre-pandemic levels again, and even surpass them.
How are airlines going to handle that increase in demand – and the market expectations it comes with? In this article, I lean on my aviation software experience to talk about aviation trends 2024 is going to present us with. Let’s take a look:
Legacy systems are out, clouds are in
Seeing how I just talked about aviation being an innovation-rich sector, you’d be surprised by how rampant legacy systems are. That, however, isn’t a sign of companies not taking care of their software – it’s actually quite the opposite.
Leading airlines have spent years investing in third-party integrations or developing proprietary solutions to complement their mainframe. Consequently, a major airline’s operations control system is a Gordian Knot of interconnected solutions and dependencies. It’s very difficult to untangle, and most market leaders have adopted an “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” approach on the matter.
With that said, the time may be coming to fix it. On-prem systems are subject to vulnerabilities – something as insignificant as construction activity damaging a cable can bring down entire systems. The proliferation of cloud solutions is showing us a better way to work – one where resilient systems with redundancies ensure high availability and keep critical operations going, whatever happens.
AI advances: predictive maintenance and more
Recent advances in artificial intelligence have unlocked new opportunities in almost every industry, and aviation is no exception. AI algorithms have the potential to optimise aircraft maintenance, improve flight safety, and enhance the passenger experience.
Predictive maintenance is a great example of AI/ML trending in the aviation industry. That’s a highly complex maintenance strategy that requires gathering a large amount of data from aircraft sensors, then analysing it using machine learning algorithms. Done well, this allows you to predict equipment failures well before they happen. According to a recent study by the University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Aviation System Development (CAASD), machine learning algorithms used for predictive maintenance can reduce aircraft operational costs by up to 20%.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. AI forecasting models are increasingly being used to predict weather patterns, optimise flight schedules, and manage aircraft fuel consumption. As these models continue to evolve, I firmly believe they’re going to become an increasingly important part of the aviation landscape.
User experience personalisation
Passenger convenience is a huge part of aviation. Airlines have access to huge amounts of passenger data – if they can analyse and process it, it can be used to create a highly individual and pleasant flying experience for each passenger. And technological advancements are making us better at analysing data than ever.
The increasingly popular ONE Order initiative is a great example of using data to improve the passenger journey – among other things. If you’re not familiar with the concept, ONE order is intended to be the successor of PNR bookings. It’s an XML-based standard that combines multiple records into a single, customer-focused Order. Such a detailed passenger profile lets airlines tailor their marketing messaging, or even offer personalised and relevant in-flight services.
While ONE Order has been around for years, it’s only recently picking up serious steam. IATA expects the standard to be widely adopted by 2025, so I expect it to keep gaining momentum through 2024.
ADS-C EPP and 4D flight navigation
If you haven’t heard of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Contract Extended Projected Profile (ADS-C EPP), it’s a revolutionary system designed to optimise flight profiles and fuel consumption. ADS-C technology can transmit flight path information to air controllers in real time. In addition to the standard 3 dimensions – length, width, height – it also transmits a fourth dimension, time. The result is a pinpoint accurate aircraft location, letting air traffic controllers optimise flight paths and profiles.
The technology was first tested in 2019, and seems to now be nearing the point of mass adoption. Of course, with its groundbreaking capabilities, that’s no surprise – but there’s more. ADSC-EPP is going to be mandatory for all newly delivered aircraft and air traffic systems starting in 2028. That means everyone in the industry has a few short years to get on board.
In fact, Lufthansa is already doing exactly that. The aviation leader is equipping a number of its Airbus aircraft with the new technology, making it an early mover in its implementation. As we enter into 2024, I believe we’re going to see an increased focus on flight navigation technologies as we all start to prepare for the future.
Aviation challenges in 2024
In addition to the various aviation trends 2024 is likely to present us with, I also believe certain challenges, are going to arise. I’ve listed the two main examples below:
As we talk about personalisation, we need to remember the flip side of that – namely, an increased risk of privacy concerns. With airlines gathering more information, we look for new and better ways to aggregate, analyse and process it – and it’s important to make sure passenger data is handled responsibly and transparently.
This September, the first-ever global seminar on data protection and international air carriage took place in Montreal, with the participation of both IATA and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). In his insight post about the event, IATA’s Deputy Director is clear on one thing – while we as an industry don’t have all the answers yet, cooperation between agencies, authorities and airlines is crucial in understanding, and eventually achieving, regulatory objectives.
As I said earlier, air travel is on the rise again. And that’s great – but with people taking to the air again, we need to ask ourselves “What about the CO2 emissions?”.
Since 1960, the aviation industry’s carbon footprint has almost quadrupled. According to Statista, global carbon dioxide emissions peaked at over 930 million metric tons right before the pandemic, before the aforementioned Covid-19-related drop. As air travel numbers are going back up, so are emissions. And according to Aviation Benefits, by 2050, over 10 billion passengers are going to be using commercial airlines.
Thankfully, the world is well aware of the above, and most major airlines have committed to carbon-neutral goals. Aer Lingus is working toward achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and is already introducing new, more fuel-efficient and quieter aircraft into its fleet.
Furthemore, Sustainable Aviation Fuel market is expected to reach over 30 billion euros by 2030, and more than 500 billion euros by 2050. The industry’s unwavering focus on environmental preservation is clear – and it’s something we should keep in mind in our decision-making. In addition to the obvious moral obligation we share, ESG ratings are a crucial business metric, and penalties for failing to comply can be severe.
Ultimately, I believe we’re in for an eventful year. The industry is going to see a number of customers that it hasn’t served in a long time. We’ll be faced with the task of meeting increased demand as we work to incorporate groundbreaking technologies, follow existing regulations, and prepare for upcoming compliance standards.
Any challenges we face can be overcome, as long as we approach them strategically and collaboratively. Privacy considerations and sustainability concerns will likely require careful planning in the near future, and I expect the industry’s commitment to overcoming them will shape its trajectory in the coming year.