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British Airways adds AI for aircraft turns at Heathrow


November 18, 2019
By Wings Staff


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In the newest phase of its £6.5 billion investment for customers, British Airways has introduced what it describes as advanced neural networks to its airside operation at Heathrow Terminal 5. The artificial intelligence, driven by a series of cameras, will be used to help its employees ensure flights depart safely and on time.

Currently, when customers disembark an aircraft, British Airways’ ground staff manually check and record the details of 18 different activities that need to be completed before the plane can depart for its next flight. This includes thorough cleaning of the aircraft interiors, unloading and reloading of catering, luggage and cargo and refuelling, among other activities.

Now, using a network of cameras set up around the aircraft stand, technology provided by technology start-up Assaia, artificial intelligence is employed to compare live footage of the complex turnaround process with the proposed schedule. Assaia an alumni of British Airways’ parent company IAG’s Hangar 51 start-up accelerator program

British Airways explains, that if the Assaia technology detects any issues that could put the aircraft at risk of a delay, an alert is sent to the manager in charge of the turn within seconds via a smart watch. The alert informs them of the issue so they can take action to get the flight back on track.

In this first stage of the trial, British Airways and Assaia have installed four cameras on three stands at Heathrow Terminal 5 and, as well as reducing delays, the airline is also able to collect data on every aircraft turn to help make its entire operation more efficient.

“British Airways operates up to 800 flights a day to and from Heathrow. We run a highly complex operation so efficient turnarounds are critical to ensure all 145,000 customers travelling through our home hub every day enjoy a punctual departure,” said Raghbir Pattar, director of airports British Airways. “Artificial intelligence is a rapidly evolving area of technology and I’m thrilled that we’re the first airline in the world to harness it to further improve our customers’ journeys through the airport.”

Pattar continues to describe British Airways as the most punctual of the major short-haul airlines flying out of London, which is due large part to the operation’s commitment to innovating with technology. “We’re excited to introduce even more smart, tech-based solutions in 2020,” he said.

Recently, in what it describes as another world first, British Airways announced it was trialling driverless baggage vehicles at Heathrow as part of its investment in a safe, efficient and emissions-free airside operation.

The airline’s £6.5 billion customer-facing investment over five years also includes delivery of 73 new aircraft (A350s and 787s), refurbishing its long-haul fleet with new cabins, introducing new lounges, new dining across all cabins, new bedding and amenity kits for First, Club World and World Traveller Plus, adding onboard WiFi to every aircraft and providing access to power at every aircraft seat.