Jan 28, 2024

Set to revolutionise the aviation industry as we know it, artificial intelligence (AI) has been sweeping the world, wowing us with its tremendously untapped potential. With the help of artificial intelligence, aviators are investigating new ways to increase efficiency, optimise workloads and, most importantly, enhance safety!

How Is AI Used In The Aviation Industry?

AI is quickly becoming a real game changer in the aviation industry. AI tech is able to enhance everything from passenger scheduling, air traffic control, and fuel consumption through to optimising flight routes, understanding weather conditions, and much more! And all in a much faster, more efficient manner.

The creation of digital twins is an area where AI excels in aviation. Digital twins are complex virtual models of products or systems that allow developers, designers and users to simulate, test and modify performance without interaction with the physical product or existing system, or indeed, without the need to first produce physical models. Generative AI is able to build these digital twins much faster than current methods.

Plus, as AI processes and technologies progress, we are seeing the emergence of fully automated flight control. With the help of AI, basic autopilot devices developed many years ago designed to maintain altitudes and headings have now morphed into integrating multiple automated processes to achieve fully autonomous flight control systems capable of performing gate-to-gate operations with very little (if any) human input.

The efficiency of AI is primarily due to its application providing the ability to analyse, interpret, and learn from massive volumes of data in an instant, enabling it to “predict” what is going to happen under any number of circumstances and in a way that has not yet been previously exploited. Then, this information is used to do all sorts of things, such as detecting anomalies, predicting failures, and triggering maintenance actions before issues occur.

The Future Of AI in Aviation

Although the aerospace industry already widely uses AI for various applications mentioned above, its potential is still vastly untapped. The use of generative and regenerative AI has the potential to make a much bigger impact on the wider aviation industry. In the coming years, improvements in almost all aircraft systems are expected as new AI applications emerge with greater machine learning capabilities, which can then be used to generate outputs that are not predefined or constrained by human expectation and knowledge.

The key factor in AI development is around the data the the AI tech has access to in order to “learn”. While generative AI models and applications such as ChatGPT operate based on publicly available information (over the internet) they do not have access to private intellectual property. This restraint creates significant limits to machine learning capabilities.

Giving AI applications access to highly protected company/defence information would open up a vast array of new uses for AI across all industries – but also vastly increases the associated risks. For this to happen, companies will likely have to pay for a company-specific AI model (like their very own ChatGPT) and “train it” using their own data, which is sometimes referred to as “verticalising AI applications” for the specific industry.

The key to success within this expanding AI tech landscape will be to strike the right balance in adopting artificial intelligence to maximise benefits and minimise risks.

Is AI Going To Replace Pilots?

A prominent question on the minds of many pilots in the current landscape – the short answer is currently “no”. The human touch is always going to be needed because as good as AI is at making predictions and reading data, it will never be able to mimic human perception. If the highest levels of efficiency is the goal – then this will always require machines and humans working together in a complimentary manner.

Having said that, as with just about all other industries, the impact AI will have on existing job markets is not yet entirely clear. What we do know is that AI has the potential to create new roles that didn’t exist before and will change the way we work. These new roles for the aviation industry might involve the maintenance of AI systems (both aircraft and ground operations), developing algorithms, and most importantly ensuring AI is used ethically and responsibly.

Key AI Companies Leading The Way In Aviation

The AI in aviation market is currently made up of most of the big names in the industry, including United States based companies Intel, NVIDIA, IBM, Micron, Xilinx, Amazon, Microsoft, Boeing, General Electric, Lockheed Martin and Garmin. South Korea’s Samsung and France-based Airbus and Thales are also currently big players in the AI aviation marketplace.

What Are The Benefits Of AI In Aviation?

Speaking of the industry as a whole there are a wide range of benefits to be had from greater connection between humans and AI, just a few of these are:

  • Better fuel management
  • Streamlining flight routes
  • Improving customer experience
  • Better revenue management for airlines
  • Improved air safety all round
  • Better prediction of flight delays
  • More efficient aeroplane maintenance
  • Greater potential for analysis of feedback
  • Streamlining repair and assembly of parts
  • Managing fuel emissions (by optimising fuel usage)
  • Optimising pilot and crew scheduling/management
  • Improved fraud detection
  • Better weather prediction/understanding
  • Identifying potential aircraft malfunctions before they occur
  • Greater self-service opportunities within the terminal

What Are The Disadvantages Of AI In Aviation?

As with all complex technologies, there are associated risks. Some of the biggest disadvantages and risks of AI integration in aviation are:

  • Safety And Security Implications. Ensuring the safety and security of the system is the top priority for developers. The potential for cyberattacks/hacking in AI systems can be a serious threat, especially in aviation. As can the potential for impersonation, or the ability to tell the difference between AI and human interactions.
  • Time-Consuming Testing And Validation. Errors and malfunctions are to be expected, which is why thorough testing and validation is required before any new AI system is to be trusted.
  • Transparency Issues. As AI systems grow and become more complex, it will become more difficult to understand how and why the system is making the decisions it is making. This lack of transparency will make it increasingly difficult to easily identify and correct errors in the system.
  • Ethical Implications. With any new technology, there are always going to be concerns about the ethical implications. However, AI presents an entirely new set of challenges, some of which we have encountered before and others we haven’t even thought of yet! As a quick example, there is the potential for bias to become part of an AI system which could lead to serious errors in AI decision making.
  • Potential Loss Of Jobs. Increased automation always raises concerns about the potential loss of jobs. Unfortunately, this is a somewhat natural occurrence as processes, devices and interactions become more streamlined. However, the good news is that the generation of new jobs is usually a byproduct of this evolution!
  • Lack Of Human Intervention. A major concern for some people is the potential for AI systems to make decisions or carry out actions without human intervention or against the best interests of humans. This is one of the biggest risks associated with the widespread adoption of AI, and as the humans in the equation, it will be our job to make sure this doesn’t happen.

This post merely scratches the surface of possibilities when it comes to AI in aviation, with so much potential, one thing is clear – AI is poised to transform every aspect of the aviation industry! Want to know more about emerging technology and what it means for pilots? Take a look at our post on ‘The Role Of Technology In The Future Of Pilot Training’.


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