19 September 2021

Investing in digital collaboration tools and cloud-enabled technologies to support remote workforces in aviation is the need of the hour

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Interview with Abdallah Touhami, Middle East Aerospace & Defense Lead - Accenture and Mohamed Sofiane Baffoun, Middle East Travel Lead - Accenture

Has the pandemic boosted the adoption of advanced technologies in the aviation industry? What are some of the areas where technology has a huge role to play?

The pandemic has impacted the aviation sector leading to global travel restrictions and major disruptions across the world. This resulted in the adoption of advanced technologies in the travel and aviation industry in order to combat the impact of the pandemic, facilitate travellers’ journeys and help revive the industry.

Some of the new technologies that have been implemented in different airports and airlines across the world have played a key role in helping the industry adapt to the post-pandemic situation. These include touchless technologies, facial recognition border gates, thermal scanning cameras, disinfection unmanned vehicles, sanitisation gates, and more. Digital health passports, some of which have been launched and others are now being trialled in several airports, can be a potential breakthrough for the aviation industry.

Aviation executives are also investing in digital collaboration tools and cloud-enabled technologies to support their remote workforces. New technology is also being applied to areas like the supply chain, to make it smarter and more agile. As more of these technologies are adopted, the aerospace industry can also be more optimistic about making sustainability attainable.

How will initiatives like the IATA travel pass change travel? What needs to be done from an infrastructure and technology standpoint to make its implementation successful?

Digital health passports, like the IATA travel pass, can play a huge role in reopening the borders, helping the world get back to normal, and drive recovery of the industry. IATA travel pass can support the sector to regain people’s confidence in travelling again safely, providing greater convenience and ease.

The adoption of advanced technologies and infrastructure in the aviation sector is essential for the successful implementation of digital health passports. Airports will have to undergo faster digital transformation where they will need to digitalise all of their daily manual processes. Therefore, revolutionary technologies like contactless gates, facial recognition passport control, and biometric screening will be essential for making this happen.

What kind of savings can UAE’s airlines hope to achieve by becoming more digitally savvy?

Using new technologies can bring about major changes for UAE airlines. UAE airlines can help drive the rapid recovery of the aviation sector and its operations if they utilise advanced technologies effectively. They can improve passenger flow, reduce costs, and optimise logistics operations, consequently boosting the industry’s overall efficiency levels.

Through implementing new technologies, passengers would also be able to have a seamless travel experience, while maintaining their health and wellbeing. For example, Emirates has been using an advanced biometric technology to protect its passengers and provide them with enhanced travel experiences. Emirates adopted a facial recognition system, enabling its passengers to complete their airport procedures, as well as contactless technologies in order to reduce human interaction and crowds at the airport. In addition, Abu Dhabi International Airport has trialled its ‘Smart Travel’ system, in partnership with ConvergentAI, where it uses big data and Artificial Intelligence to shorten queues at the airport, optimising a variety of processes across the Airport.

Which are some of the emerging technologies in the aviation domain right now? Also, what are some of the challenges in the adoption of new technologies?

Some technologies that have been widely used post-COVID-19 include contactless solutions like facial recognition, thermal screening, and autonomous cleaning robots. Other emerging technologies in the aviation industry include AI used in chatbots; cybersecurity that uses advanced technologies and software to combat cyberattacks. Wearable technology, robotics used in helping with customer management and baggage handling and 5G has also been adopted to deliver higher network speed. In addition, an old technology that is now emerging in the aviation sector is the use of ultraviolet technology. For example, Boeing engineers have developed purple power to kill any traces of COVID-19 on aircraft.

Some challenges associated with the emergence of new technologies include data management, privacy and data security, and providing staff with high-level training that enables them to deal with any complex technical challenges. In addition, airports must have facilities and infrastructure built in accordance with the best standards and with state-of-the-art technologies, which might be a major challenge for countries with less sophisticated systems.

What kind of advantages do UAE-based airlines and aviation entities have when it comes to technology adoption?

The aviation sector in the UAE has several advantages when it comes to technology adoption, which include having advanced infrastructure, adequate funding, and partnerships that foster technology adoption, as well as gaining the UAE government’s support. The UAE leadership emphasized the importance of innovation in all sectors for achieving UAE Vision 2021.

The UAE government launched initiatives and invested in the aerospace and aviation industries, which resulted in a robust demand for business partnerships.[2] Some examples of new partnerships that were formed for integrating advanced technologies in the aviation sector include Etihad Airways’ partnership with Microsoft to use AI for modernising its financial operations, Abu Dhabi International Airport’s partnership with Convergent AI to launch a ‘Smart Travel’ system, Emirates partnership with IATA to test IATA Travel pass, and more.

In addition, aerospace is one of the priority sectors of Dubai Industrial Strategy 2030, which was launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in 2016. The strategy aims to elevate Dubai into a global platform for knowledge-based, sustainable and innovation-focused businesses.

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