Top 6 RPA Use Cases In The Aviation Industry

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12th January 2023
5 Minute Read

Whether full-service or low-cost carriers, all airlines are on their toes to turn a profit in a market with increasing turbulence. 2020 went down as the worst year in aviation history. As the only silver lining to the cloud, at least planners had extra time to update their business models.

When applied to the considerable volume of data in airline processes, RPA in aviation has demonstrated proven efficiency and cost-saving potential. At the same time, it also acts as an introducer to growing digital technologies such as AI and ML.

RPA in aviation is appropriate for a diverse range of applications including aircraft navigation, airport administration, ticket sales, quality assurance, customer relations, and even air traffic control.

 

6 Common use cases of RPA in the Aviation Industry

 

1.    Cabin Crew Scheduling

 

The organization of cabin crew schedules has always been a bone of contention between cabin crew staff and management. The seemingly straightforward task is often thrown into a tailspin by the sheer number of variable factors that must be accommodated. These include staff contracts and union rulings, as well as employees’ recent flights, their availability, their experience, and of course air safety regulations.

Creating automated scheduling software based on RPA enables the exchange of employees’ availability with the human resources Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. The software can optimize the best cabin crew pairings for cost savings, as well as ensure they are best positioned for their next flight. Regulatory compliance is a key driver of the software to ensure staff stays within working hour directives. Good RPA scheduling software should optimize the number of planes in use, as well as maximize the number of flight legs used, thereby minimizing operational costs.

 

2.    Check-in automation

 

The growing number of automated check-in stands on each flight we take, hint at progress for the future. There will always be human counterparts for more complicated ticketing but for routine passengers without complications, automation is a fuss-free and quick alternative, often without a queue.

RPA technology is ideal for the check-in environment. There is a need to retrieve information from different sources (passport and ticket booking), bring it together, and verify it. So, when the customer scans the barcode on their booking this is checked against the details of the flight booking on the airline database and passport control. Once verified the technology chooses the best vacant seats according to the loading plan of the aircraft. It also creates boarding cards and luggage tags before updating the booking database with seating choices.

 

3.    Air Traffic Control

 

Naturally, safety and efficiency are two of the most important parameters governing the work of air-traffic controllers (ATC). However, the costs incurred by adhering to such regulations result in inefficient ATC operations, such as flight delays and cancellations, which led to losses of almost $21 billion in 2017. 

Understandably, trying to tame the complexity of an ATC hub is no walk in the park. Data needs to be collected and sent to all appropriate aircraft, as well as information from weather stations, fuelling stations, and the position of flight engineers. 

The traditional communications system for ATCs is the online data interchange (OLDI), which constantly transmits and receives plane coordinates to other ATC hubs. RPA can be successfully integrated with OLDI to reduce some of the routine calculations that need to be constantly updated. This not only takes some of the pressure off ATC but also reduces delays and keeps flights on time.

In 2015, a specific application of RPA working alongside ML technology went into use at Heathrow Airport to automatically calculate the most efficient timing of planes as they come into land. Heathrow Airport is still the busiest airport in the world and so getting planes on the tarmac efficiently is critical. Planes can’t get too close or the turbulence from the plane in front can be disastrous.

This combined RPA and ML implementation enables more planes to land, while at the same time reducing the possibility of collisions or damage due to headwinds or turbulence.

 

4.    Aircraft Maintenance

 

The failure of a crucial component on an aircraft during a flight can lead to disastrous consequences. Consequently, routine and regular aircraft maintenance is a necessity and the results of all checks need to be reported to the relevant safety agency. For example, European Airlines fall under the regulation of the European Aviation Safety Agency.

Engineers work on checklists of items to assess, which are completed in order before being signed off and verified. The work involved in preparing the checklists is routine and repetitive, and as rule-based processes, they are good candidates for being transferred to an RPA implementation.

The maintenance ERP software was organized to work with RPA software so that the aircraft data could be entered in real-time and cross-referenced with the regulation requirements. RPA in this context reduced the number of man-hours needed in maintenance, as well as reducing the number of errors involved in reporting. 

 

5.    Customer Relations

 

With unruly children and duty-free infused adults, the possibilities for unwarranted interaction during a flight seem to grow with each trip. For airlines, hidden charges, delays, lost baggage, and uncomfortable seats have become daily occurrences to deal with.        

Many airlines have found the efficient solution lies in carefully classifying each complaint, so it can be forwarded to the appropriate department. 

RPA implemented alongside optical character recognition (OCR) and natural language programming (NLP) can read each complaint, ascertain how important it is and create a case number. It can also understand which department should deal with the complaint and forward the message.

Often, airlines adopting such a system find their overall resolution of complaints much improved. With a manual system and overworked operatives, some complaints are difficult to ‘own’ and consequently fall through the net, whereas an RPA automated system keeps searching for a resolution.

 

6.    Invoicing

 

Airlines sell flight tickets through many different channels including hundreds of travel agencies around the world. Consequently, when invoices arrive, they can be in any number of different formats. Traditionally, with a manual system, all the data must be logged and transferred by hand which is time-consuming and as with any repetitive input, prone to errors.

RPA combined with OCR and NLP can make short work of incoming invoices, whatever their layout. In fact, RPA can be programmed to reformat an invoice even if it arrives in an unstructured format. The errors associated with manual entry are a thing of the past, as RPA will operate 24/7 with negligible chance of error.

Some airport operations have utilized RPA solutions to a dramatic effect. In Norway, one such operator was dealing with more than 100,000 invoices each year. By implementing RPA, the same process was speeded up by 90%, which was equivalent to the work of three full-time employees.

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