How data management in aviation can be a game-changer for airlines

By Hélène Dubos | Technology

Nov 29

passenger waiting at terminal

New approaches to real-time data management in aviation have enormous potential for the industry. It allows airlines to improve customer relationships and customer experience, discover new revenue sources and build more effective and detailed customer profiles. But airline customer data must be effectively collected and translated into actionable information for the benefit of passengers and staff.

We covered airline digital transformation extensively in an earlier post and we highlighted the customer-facing benefits of digital transformation and the importance of effective data management for achieving this.

Real-time data management in aviation takes this one step further by continuously sourcing and processing information to produce an immediate flow of actionable information. With real-time data, airlines can make better decisions and act quicker.

It has particular advantages for customer experience since it allows problems to be anticipated and acted upon quickly to stop them from becoming critical incidents.

Drivers for the uptake of real-time data management

The use of real-time data management isn’t new – demand-based seat pricing and flight data feeds are long-standing examples – but market developments mean it now has much wider relevance and aviation data systems are improving dramatically:

  • Most airports are pursuing a digital-first agenda and implementing an infrastructure that allows data to be captured and transmitted in real-time. This includes very high bandwidth fixed and wireless networks and different types of sensors: webcams, biometric readers, geo-location, RFID (radio frequency identification) and motion.
    IDC forecasts the use of IoT for airport facilities automation as one of the fastest-growing areas.
  • Traditional airline customer data is often analyzed and acted only on daily, weekly or even later, meaning any insights or actions drawn from it are out of date.
  • Portable devices - smartphones, tablets and so on – are ubiquitous and passengers expect to be always on.
  • A survey by SITA found that 70% of carriers have committed to a trial or implementation of satellite broadband, with most having a plan to implement onboard Wi-Fi by 2020. This opens up the possibility of onboard real-time data use.
  • There is an industry-wide recognition of the opportunities that aviation data systems can offer, for example:
    Personalized navigation to direct customers to the gate, airport lounges, baggage collection or other user-selectable locations.
    Minimize queueing time by staggering boarding through push notifications as queues shorten.
    Early warning to frontline staff of problems such as overbooking on the next flight or missed/delayed connections.
    An immediate connection of ground crew to cabin crew to advise of aircraft problems that need passenger reseating, offboarding, etc.
    Proximity-based retail offers.
    Tailored in-flight entertainment based on current or recent selections.
    Capture alerts and triggers to inform KPI performance and allow immediate remedial action to be taken.
  • In an earlier post, we explained how one of the objectives of the EU PNR directive is to enhance security. The State of Luxembourg has now adopted real-time data, matching the identity of people passing the border/security zone with individuals who have been blacklisted by the police.

Making the move to real-time aviation data systems

There are three broad steps that airlines should follow to take advantage of the opportunities from treating airline customer data:

  1. Source data in real-time
  2. Develop a unified view of the customer
  3. Use powerful analysis to take customer specific action

1. Source data in real-time

Update approach for the mobile channel strategy

The airline needs to incorporate real-time data into its approach for its mobile channel. Mobile application development has leaped forward in recent years and there is a choice of ready-built apps, plugins or APIs that allow real-time data to be sourced from the device or pushed to it. With most airlines already using mobile apps, it can be a relatively short step to enhance functionality.

2. Develop a unified view of the customer

Combine real-time and traditional data

Real-time data can be used on its own, but there’s much greater benefit by linking it with data from other sources – CRM, passenger service and reservation systems, for example – to create a unified view of airline customer data. For example, a passenger who has had multiple delays on recent journeys, or who has a medical condition, could be prioritized for help. Real-time data alone won’t give you that picture.

Information from social media is another valuable input – unhappy customers often resort to that channel at the first sign of a problem – but storage and analytical techniques must be able to cope with this type of unstructured data.

Create customer-focused business rules

Traditionally, many business rules are applied by frontline staff, but real-time data needs fast action, achieved through automated rules.

With a clear understanding of the customer experience the airline wants to deliver, and the pain points that must be avoided, it should be straightforward to create a set of customer-first business rules that act on the data being collected. For example:

  • The delegation of authority from management to staff if certain conditions are met.
  • Early warning of problems, along with recommending actions.
  • The use of dynamically variable thresholds to trigger staff or management action.
  • Determination of next best retail offer based on passenger location or last purchase made.

The move to real-time data uses means that business rules should be flexible, and changed when needed to reflect lessons learned day-by-day.

3. Use powerful analysis to take customer-specific action

Take advantage of the new generation of aviation data systems

The volume of real-time data collected in a single day can run to petabytes and high powered analytical tools are needed to unlock the value.

Stream processing is the key. It continuously acts on the flow of data, picks up the patterns and events described in the business rules and sends alerts and actions to connected applications.

A simple example would be finding that a passenger who has previously complained about seat reallocation is now about to be moved again, in which case an instruction would be sent immediately to the cabin management application to stop the move.

Some tools let you pause, rewind and replay data feeds in much the same way as a TV. And the output can be harnessed to machine learning tools for continuous improvement.

Present actionable information

The analytical output is meaningless unless the right message is delivered quickly to the correct person. Applications used by staff and passengers might need changes to the user interface to prioritize real-time events and messages, and to improve their real-time performance.

Don’t be tempted to swamp staff or passengers with interesting but not important information. Focus on how the customer experience can be improved now. Immediacy is the prize.

Look forward to the benefits

Adopting real-time data will, as for any new technology implementation, require careful planning and well-managed execution. But the outcomes are achievable and the benefits real:

  • A third of Allegiant Air's revenue comes from add-on services like car rentals and tickets for local attractions. Using real-time data gathered throughout the customer's journey lets them tailor these add-ons products to help meet their 'keep our customers on-time and happy' objective.
  • Dubai airport uses data from 3D cameras and ceiling sensors to monitor queues in real-time, correlate with historic data and make predictions of queue fluctuation. Security queuing has halved from 8 to 4 minutes.
  • Aer Lingus used real-time research to inform their Voice of the Customer Programme. Customer experience was monitored across different touchpoints and a survey offered at a fixed point in time after the journey to ensure measurement consistency. Flight level information was gathered 24/7 during the research period giving them a depth of insight they had not previously achieved.
  • Delta Airlines processes 120 million bags per year but many are lost because paper tags are easily damaged. They now use RFID tags for improved tracking and to proactively tell customers where and when they can collect their luggage.

How Conztanz can help

Data management in aviation can definitely improve airline customer experience. To support data management in aviation, we developed our innovative ConztanzOne platform with real-time data use in mind:

  • Ingest data from any source, cleanse and organize, ready for use in airline systems
  • API based for easier data usage and integration
  • Inbuilt event management and workflow to quickly act on real-time events
  • Supported by airline industry specialists with the knowledge and experience to make real-time data exploitation a reality