The top 10 technology priorities for airlines in 2018

Each new year gives us a unique opportunity to review priorities and put together a sound plan for progress. We’ve looked at the prevailing themes in our airline technology coverage for 2017 and identified 10 priorities that airlines may want to put on their master tasks lists.

#1 Improve cybersecurity

Cyber threats affect all industries around the globe, and aviation is no exception. The concerns expressed by IATA at its 2016 AGM persist and have intensified. While technology leaders and industry stakeholders are working on a number of solutions, airlines should keep cybersecurity at the top of their priority lists this year. Everything else that airlines might do to improve their digital touchpoints will depend on the security of the IT systems that support them. The financial risks of service disruption and cyber fraud are too great for airlines to take this threat lightly.

#2 Check your back-up plans

We’ve learned over the years that everything that can possibly go wrong in the complex operations chain of aviation eventually does. Whether caused by human error, critical services disruption, or the weather, airlines have to have strong back-up plans to tackle irregular operations. Better mobile technology can help keep passengers informed in real-time, and it can be used for better staff deployment. Some of the best recovery efforts in recent years have relied on active social media updates. It’s important to have an engaged social media presence year-round and a well-defined play-book for irregular operations. Messaging is everything in these circumstances. Customers are also getting smarter about their rights with help from technology. Airlines should get ahead of complaints by making reasonable compensation offers up-front.

#3 Plan for government disruption

If 2017 taught us anything it is that government policy can change overnight and complicate air travel. While IATA is constantly engaging with governments to make decisions which consider airline expertise in areas like flight safety and logistics, it doesn’t mean that governments will listen.  IROP disruption plans should include recovery from changes in visa policies and security screening practices. Again, finding a way to communicate changes quickly and clearly to customers will be critical.

#4 Keep your eye on blockchain

SITA’s research on blockchain technology, conducted in collaboration with British Airways, Heathrow, Geneva Airport and Miami International Airport finds that the technology could be of great benefit in terms of determining the “ultimate truth” of data, but it also comes with serious deployment and security challenges. According to SITA:

“One of the key lessons of FlightChain is that it would be complex to scale a network to many participants, especially when onboarding new airlines and airports after initial setup.”

Bottom line: Blockchain will play an important role in data exchange in the airline industry, but it’s no something that any one airline or airport should try to tackle without careful study and collaboration.

#5 Get smarter about Big Data

We’ve talked a lot about big data in recent years and the many ways that data can help personalize the travel experience, but all of that data means little if you don’t focus on the elements of personalisation that matter most. Big Data can create opportunities to refine the products and services offered, not just to individuals but as part of brand definition. What sells best to whom, where and when? Airlines, like all travel companies, should consider hiring more data scientists to help them find the answers. With big data also comes big responsibility. All travel companies need to prepare for GDPR requirements.

#6 Embrace AI

Artificial Intelligence has the potential to make interactions with customers more meaningful and targeted offers more likely to be converted into sales. Airlines are experimenting with various ways to apply AI to various customer touchpoints, including mobile and voice. We agree with Air Canada, KLM and Finnair that more advanced AI applications will be a predominant priority for airlines in 2018 and beyond.

#7 Bring wifi onboard

For a number of airlines inflight connectivity installations are already underway, but for the rest inflight connectivity remains a high priority. Customers expect access to wifi inflight. It can also help make airline operations more efficient and boost ancillary revenue. Those airlines who have invested in wifi are beginning to reap the benefits.

#8 Keep improving retail

Airlines are doing very well at boosting ancillary revenue, by continuing to improve their merchandising and retail strategies they stand to do even better. IATA’s NDC initiative finally seems to be gaining traction, thanks in large part to the announcements of adoption by Amadeus, Sabre, and Travelport. But any sales or distribution technology must be backed by a sound business strategy which helps inform its set-up.

#9 Refocus loyalty

Loyalty programs have delivered a reliable stream of income to airlines for years, but it’s time to re-imagine loyalty and make it more meaningful. Loyalty programs should be about more than miles alone, and part of a lifestyle branding strategy. Airlines should also look into technology for account management, like mobile wallets, to keep travelers engaged with the program.

#10 Have a customer-centric and deliverable IT plan in place

The potential applications of technology to improve air travel are vast. It might be difficult to decide the level of investment to make or which project to deploy first. Some have bold ambitions to keep innovation in-house and are building the infrastructure for it, others will find it easier to get to done by collaborating with expert partners. Both approaches work, if the result is improved operations and better passenger service. The best advice we heard on this in 2017 came from Susan Doniz, CIO of Qantas: step back, consider the big picture, and let the customer be your guide.

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Marisa Garcia

About the Writer :: Marisa Garcia

Marisa Garcia is the tnooz aviation analyst. She has covered travel technology, design, branding, and strategy for leading publications, including Aircraft Interiors International Magazine, APEX Magazine, AirlineTrends, and Travel+Leisure. She also shares industry insights on her site Flight Chic. Fly with her on Twitter.



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  1. Glenn Wallace

    What about better disruption/IROPS self service tools? I don’t think that neatly fits into any of the buckets above and would help lower costs, lower dissatisfaction during IROPs and also help with load factors in the immediate aftermath. We see this again and again with weather events, but passengers are still left queueing at service counters, waiting for PA broadcasts, or on hold with an overloaded 800 number.

    • Linda Fox

      Thanks Glenn, good point. But, I sense that although it should be a priority for airlines, it slips down the list and they’re waiting for someone to make the first move…


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