Is Delta becoming a cutting edge tech company right before our eyes?

OK, first, yes, aviation and aeronautics are technologies themselves. And Delta’s long-established MRO prowess means that the airline has applied technology to aeronautics for decades.

But more recently Delta is branching out into new technologies in ways we haven’t seen applied to aviation with such focused determination. It’s enough to make us believe that Delta has become the ultimate airline disruptor.

Don’t agree? Have a look:

1. Robotics

Yes, Delta is into robotics now, and like all of its other technology investments to date, this is not a marketing buzz experiment. It has a real-life practical application. Delta is an initial member of a new Exoskeleton Technical Advisory Group (X-TAG) which will consider the best way to improve the physical strength of its workforce through applied exoskeletal robotics.

The airline is partnering with Sarcos Robotics, Bechtel , BMW, Caterpillar, GE, and Schulemberger among others in launching the project.

Gil West, Delta’s Chief Operating Officer said of the new project:

“There is no greater responsibility we have than to keep our people and our customers safe. This X-TAG is an innovative opportunity to think about how fitting our employees with wearable robotics can build on our strong personal safety culture and further protect our people from injury by giving them an additional layer of strength and protection.”

2. Biometrics

Delta recently announced biometric access to its 50 domestic Delta Sky Club lounges, through a partnership with CLEAR®, as an extension of an ongoing introduction of biometric identity for boarding.

Caryn Seidman-Becker, CLEAR’s CEO said of the partnership:

“This partnership has the potential to revolutionize travel using our biometric approach to security screening, aircraft access and more. Delta fully appreciates the benefits and breadth of CLEAR’s secure identity platform, and they have a long-established reputation for passenger-centric innovation. The fact that they share our vision for the future of this platform, and are willing to put that vision into practice, makes this partnership very exciting.”

While we have seen a number of biometric trials taking place around the world and the airline industry is committed to establishing a one identity program supported by biometrics, Delta has taken a leadership role in this new field with more applications than any other airline to date.

Other initiatives include initial trials of Delta Sky Club check-in at DCA and ATL B Concourse, boarding at DCA and bag drop at MSP, replacing ID checks at touch points with fingerprint scanning, biometric-based self-service bag drop. Delta also worked with US Customs and Border Protection to introduce optional facial recognition boarding tests.

The airline has also offered its US-based Delta SkyMiles Members exclusive rates for CLEAR membership, including complimentary memberships for Diamond Medallion Members, since June 2016, which simplifies security clearance at more than 20 US airports.

Delta’s West said of the airline’s commitment to biometric technology:

“From unlocking our phones to entering the workplace, more and more people have the option to use biometrics as a form of identity verification for daily activities. Having that option is quickly becoming an expectation that we are working hard to meet through this program.”

Delta Biometrics and our work to make this kind of program available across Delta touch points is part of our ongoing commitment to finding secure, innovative solutions that actually improve the customer experience while giving our employees tools that help them engage more meaningfully with customers. We will continue to gauge employee and customer feedback to refine the offering, and evaluate additional touch points where biometrics can make travel seamless.”

3. RFID, Bluetooth and GPS

Logistics are both a major cost factor and a significant source of revenue to airlines, depending on how well they are handled. Delta Air Lines has applied advanced tracking technologies to reduce baggage loss and improve reliability of its cargo operations.

Most recently, the airline introduced GPS-enabled international cargo services following the successful launch of GPS tracked DASH Critical & Medical same-day shipments last year. The airline also introduced real-time Bluetooth tracking on container shipments this March.

These applications benefit travelers too. The airline uses its advance cargo tracking capabilities to keep tabs on beloved pets. The airline’s RFID bag tracking program is an example to the industry and includes mobile app updates which reassure flyers that their luggage will be there when they land.

4. Seamless Air Alliance

Delta Air Lines is also a founding member of the new Seamless Air Alliance, in partnership with Airbus, Airtel, OneWeb and Sprint which promises to improve internet access both in the air and on the ground.

Gil West said of the airline’s participation in this program:

“We know that Delta customers have an expectation that their internet connection just works—no matter where they are in their travel journey. Delta is constantly looking at innovative ways to improve the customer experience. We are excited to be collaborating with other visionary companies, and that our existing partner Gogo will be joining the alliance as Delta develops a system that not only benefits Delta customers, but the entire airline industry.”

5. Advanced Turbulence Avoidance System

Turbulence is a serious threat to flight safety and costs airlines approximately $100 million a year. Delta developed a Flight Weather Viewer app, through a partnership with Basic Commerce and Industries (BCI), which can accurately plot turbulence and issues live updates to pilots in the cabin, as well as to flight dispatchers and Delta’s team of meteorologists in headquarters, allowing for quick flight-path changes when a threat arises.

Captain Steve Dickson, Senior Vice President – Flight Operations said of the development:

“Delta was able to take advantage of a convergence of affordable technology (e.g. the tablet, much improved weather data and aircraft connectivity) to develop an innovative way for delivering weather to the flight deck. This approach allows our crews to make informed decisions for a safer flight, more efficient operation and better passenger experience.”

6. More

In fact, the airline has done more to advance technology applications in aviation over the past five years than we have listed here. Some of the initiatives—like equipping flight attendants and crew with tablet devices to streamline their operations—have been carried out by many other airlines. Other initiatives, like Delta’s video chat for customer service show that the airline keeps its focus on advancing technology in practical ways that will make its relationship with customers stronger.

Of course, the airline has also committed to cutting-edge technology aircraft, like the Airbus A350 and the Bombardier CS100 jets, for its fleet and introduced a number of next-generation passenger experience features to its cabins.

We’ve surely left something out. Delta has been busy. But what really stands out is that Delta has generally avoided flashy trials of solutions waiting for a problem—at least in the public square—and has applied technology to solving real-world problems instead.

That’s remarkable and to be commended.

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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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