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I recently had the privilege of participating in SITA’s 2017 Air Transport IT Summit in Brussels. Acting as a think tank of some of the brightest minds in aviation, I found it a great pulse on what is happening in air travel and the technology innovations that are poised to have the biggest impact across the industry.

Naturally, a large focus is on the transformation of the passenger experience. But this transformation travels well beyond a customer’s in-flight experience. Here, we are talking about a personalized, connected and seamless experience across the traveler’s journey. Image a travel experience where your preferences are known and met at every single stage—from the time you begin planning your trip until you arrive back home.

To this point, there was a great discussion regarding standards: is it the passenger who is driving them versus industry bodies? Look at in-flight entertainment where Netflix, streaming cable subscriptions and personalized content are driving connectivity demands.

I sat down with SITA at the event and discussed more about creating this seamless experience, which you can watch below.

As I also talked about in the video, using technology advancements to transform operations is another emphasis. The opportunities to achieve better insights and drive efficiencies are tremendous, from the aircraft to baggage to the terminal.

So, what are the top tech innovations that the air transport industry is looking at to make these opportunities possible?

IoT and big data

The Internet of Things (IoT) and the ability to connect a variety of equipment, devices and systems—and gather valuable information from them—is opening new doors for the travel industry to get more personalized. This is also driving a new wave of industry partnerships and data sharing that can create a seamless, integrated experience across hotels, airports and airlines. The new data being delivered, though, is also presenting one of the industry’s biggest challenges: how to best understand and utilize that information in the right way, at the right level to achieve the biggest gains.

Advanced analytics and AI

Advancements in analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) hold the key to helping airlines and the air transport industry turn all that data into the right insights so they can make smarter decisions, be more efficient, and deliver the personalized and seamless experiences that passengers are demanding.

I tend to think of this innovation as part of the second phase in an organization’s digital transformation journey, and having the biggest potential to take their businesses in directions never before possible. When you think about today’s digitally-enabled customer and the high cost of air transport operations, advanced analytics capabilities and AI can now move the industry from simply reacting to a predictive, proactive mode of operation.

Imagine being able to not just monitor, but predict equipment issues, and provide preemptive service before problems occur—on the aircraft or in the terminal. Or being able to anticipate an individual passenger’s wants and needs and deliver the right service at just the right time. The potential gains in efficiencies, cost-savings and customer satisfaction are truly sky-high.

Conversational commerce

Part of AI’s potential will come from automation and new forms of intelligence. A great example is conversational commerce—where conversation in the form of chat, messaging, or other natural language is used as a platform to interact with and provide services to someone.

These new types of virtual assistants in the form of travel bots are gaining popularity and interest. And for good reason. They have the potential to significantly reduce operational costs, driving down call center traffic while delivering personalized customer service. According to Microsoft’s Bing Business Bot team, 80 percent of customers’ most commonly asked questions can be automatically answered by a chatbot.

Mixed reality

Once the right level of data is obtained, it’s also about making it easier for employees to use and visualize that information. Holographic computing and mixed reality innovations like HoloLens are delivering new, compelling ways to do that, for big gains in productivity.

The industry is very interested in its transformative potential. For example, what could an airport control center of the future look like? SITA Lab worked with Helsinki Airport to use HoloLens to reproduce the airport operational control center in a mixed reality environment. For this project SITA Lab used a feed from SITA’s Day of Operations technology, which was created in conjunction with Helsinki Airport, and presented a new way to visualize and interact with the airport’s operational data including aircraft movement, passenger movement and retail analytics. You can watch the video and read more.


As digital techniques mature, their different use cases broaden. Blockchain is a technology that has already been present in the financial services industry for some time, and increasingly there is interest to deploy it for trust and transparency reasons when it comes to the air transport industry.

Blockchain technology empowers businesses to maintain transparent, secure record keeping, track the provenance of goods, and provide a method to engage in secure transactions. For the travel industry, its capabilities are well suited in an environment with multiple suppliers offering multiple services. It has a wide range of potential for things like baggage tracking, check-in, loyalty programs, cargo manifests, re-fueling, aircraft history, maintenance, and more—bringing real transformative potential for operational processes and services.

Delivering effective digital transformation

All these technologies were discussed at length at the Summit. We also looked at how all of us in the industry can work together to deliver effective digital transformation. We talked about the role that technology providers should play when it comes to technology standards.

At Microsoft, we believe there is a critical set of work our industry must undertake in order to make sure we deliver the right set of platforms and services to realize today’s digital transformation opportunities. That’s why Microsoft has been a longtime supporter of industry standardization organizations and initiatives like the Partnership on Artificial Intelligence.

Thank you to SITA for hosting such a valuable event. We look forward to continuing the conversation and helping the air transport industry accelerate its digital transformation through technology.

To learn more about Microsoft in the hospitality & travel industry, go here.

LinkedIn: Greg Jones

Twitter: @gjonesMSFT