Airlines generate a massive amount of data. They collect information on flight routes and every part of the flight from taxiing to takeoff and cruising to landing. They also gather data on fuel usage, seats filled and cargo carried.
A wide range of variables also impacts flights from weather factors to the routes, schedules and operation of the many other airlines that use the same airports.
In previous years, airlines didn’t have an effective way to compile and analyze all of this data to reach meaningful conclusions. Thanks to big data technologies, though, they now do. And these new capabilities can benefit airlines and passengers in a variety of ways.
Route Planning and Weather Tracking
Planning routes and flight schedules is a complex task, especially when you consider all of the weather patterns, other flights and factors that influence the planning process. On top of that, these variables can change at the last minute.
Improved weather forecasting enables airlines to respond more proactively to weather events. When storms loom, airlines can use weather and flight data to create new flight plans, ultimately resulting in fewer delays.
Data can also help airlines map out more efficient routes in normal flying conditions, which leads to lower costs and, in turn, lower prices for passengers.
Increased Fuel Efficiency and Predictive Maintenance
Another way that big data can help airlines save money is by increasing their fuel efficiency. Systems such as GE’s Flight Efficiency Services (FES) unit could save an airline $100 million in fuel taking into account data on plane weight, maximum thrust, wind speeds, ambient temperatures and more.
Airlines can then use this data to optimize their fuel use. For example, if data over time shows that aircraft on a certain route carry too much fuel, the airlines could reduce fuel loads, which saves them money. The system could also calculate the fuel costs of flying at various altitudes, and after taking into account turbulence at these different altitudes, determine the best space to operate in.
Optimizing route planning can also help airlines save money since it reduces time spent idling. Sitting on the tarmac idling caused airlines to lose $4.3 billion in fuel in 2014.
Airlines can also optimize their maintenance schedules by using data-tracking software and internet-connected sensors attached to plane components. This technology, known as the industrial internet of things, enables companies to stick to a maintenance schedule, keep track of maintenance history and predict when planes will need maintenance.
Pricing, Marketing and Profits
The aviation sector can also use data to improve their marketing and sales efforts like so many other industries. Companies can track users’ flight history as well as other information from internet searches and purchases unrelated to flights. This allows them to personalize advertisements and flight deals to individual consumers.
Airlines also have an advantage compared to other companies when it comes to big data. They can quickly adjust the price of tickets for flights based on demand. Tracking this data in real time and using analytics enables airlines to price their tickets for optimal profits.
Flight Tracking and Finding Tickets
The rise of big data in the aviation sector is also helpful for consumers. If you’ve ever tracked a flight or searched for deals on tickets online, you’ve used big data.
Tracking flights online keeps you updated on whether your flight or those of your loved ones are on time. It also lets you see what routes are popular at what times. None of this would be possible without internet-connected data technologies.
The proliferation of sites for finding the best deals on plane tickets is another example of big data providing value to travelers. These sites search vast amounts of information to find the best deals on flights, even if means adding connecting flights or using multiple airlines.
More Efficient, Reliable and Affordable
These innovations promise to make airlines more efficient, more reliable and more affordable. Just as it is with so many other industries, big data is changing how the airline industry operates — both from the perception of aviation professionals and travelers.
Kayla Matthews is a wanderlusting blogger and senior writer at MakeUseOf. Her work has appeared in Afar Magazine, The Next Web, Houzz and Inman. Read her About.Me page here.