EXECUTIVE INTERVIEW: Ibrahim Al Mannaee, CEO, Next50, a JV between G42 and ADQ
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How has the pandemic impacted technology adoption by the aviation industry in the Middle East?
The pandemic had a huge impact on aviation as it prompted airlines and airports to instantly cut costs and accelerate the adoption of digital solutions. Airlines across the world recorded enormous revenue losses in 2020, which has been dubbed the "sharpest and longest-lasting profitability downturn in aviation history." While travel constraints are easing up globally, uncertainty persists, and technology adoption will remain a critical enabler for the aviation sector's long-term viability.
To optimize airport procedures, facilitate social distancing, and improve the end-to-end travel experience for customers, airports and airlines in the region have increased the implementation of contactless technologies such as biometrics, facial recognition, and self-enabled solutions. These technologies are already proving to be game-changers in the aviation industry.
Have industry players been quick to adapt technology to cater to the changing needs in the aerospace market?
The aviation sector had to adjust fast to the changing needs brought on by the pandemic. The demand for passenger separation, PCR testing, and tracking has heightened the requirement for contactless operational solutions. The introduction of a touchless and paperless route through the airport, as well as access to multilingual chatbots, augmented reality navigation services, and tailored digital signage, are just a few examples of how the pandemic has changed the passenger experience at airports.
With the emergence of facial recognition technologies, security touch points have also improved. Real-time heat maps, queue management information, social distancing alarms, and tracking of suspicious behavior and items can all be provided by AI-based video analytics technologies.
The data gathered via these technologies will allow airports and airlines to forecast passenger behavior and predict footfall around the airport, allowing higher levels of service and security, at all times.
In which areas and geographies do you see strongest potential for growth?
As restrictions ease, there is an increasing demand for air travel around the world. The opening of borders and easing of travel restrictions in Europe and the US are encouraging signals that the industry will continue to rebound and quickly return to pre-Covid-19 levels of demand and usage. However, due to financial constraints as a result of the pandemic, this will not immediately translate into new technology investments. That said, we do see more appetite from regional businesses as they recognize the value of digitization, AI and analytics-based solutions.
Expo 2020, of which G42 is the Official AI Enablement Premier Partner, presents a great opportunity for the UAE to showcase how the adoption of innovative technology solutions by airlines and airports will contribute towards the recovery of the aviation sector, here, as well as globally.
What technologies do you predict will impact the aerospace industry most in the next five years?
In the next five years, I expect to see more solutions based on Smart Automation, Blockchain, and IoT technologies. AI and advanced data analytics will assist airlines and airports in lowering their operating expenses.
• Blockchain, as opposed to more traditional methods, can manage the integration of internal and external supply chain participants all the way up to the end customer. When coupled with the capability derived from the use of IOT for data capture and analysis, blockchain can be used to drive predictive capabilities and solutions allowing the industry to better manage its key assets and infrastructure components. This kind of analysis will be used to gather critical data to enable preventive maintenance and advanced asset management, as an example.
• With the application of digital twin technologies, machine learning, and predictive analysis, resource efficiencies can be obtained with a fully integrated and virtualized operation. When this is combined with the display of aeronautical data, it is possible to make end-to-end scenario-based forecasts and models to truly optimize operations.
• Autonomous vehicles and drone technologies will also play a key role in future passenger movement, baggage handling and logistics.
• Big data platforms and machine learning will enable airlines and airports to predict all aspects of their operations from aircraft maintenance to operational delays.
The above-mentioned technologies are critical in driving the industry forward in a post- pandemic environment. Next50, a JV between G42 and ADQ, is best positioned to deliver and accelerate the adoption of these solutions given its domain expertise combined with technological capabilities in deploying AI and machine learning solutions underpinned by data analytics, all of which are key components in the digital transformation journey.
What are your expectations from Dubai Airshow 2021 - which will be the first of its kind event since the coronavirus outbreak?
The Dubai Airshow is a great platform to connect in person with fellow industry peers and explore areas of collaboration. I look forward to introducing the industry to Next50 at the Dubai Airshow and showcase some of our unique solutions to enable the recovery and growth of the aviation sector.
Lastly, what are Next50’s plans ahead in the region?
In the last 12 months, we have been working closely with our key stakeholders to identify key priority sectors, while focusing on building our AI, digital transformation and data analytics capabilities and developing unique local capabilities and talent. As a young company, our focus at the moment is to deliver on existing projects and extending our services to priority sectors in the UAE and wider region.