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Aviation and the 5G Revolution – To Have Data or Not

The issue is that air transport is not mere automated transport of passengers from one place to another. It involves human frailties and needs during flight which require human intervention.

by Dr. Ruwantissa Abeyratne
Writing from Montreal

You can have data without information, but you cannot have information without data
Daniel Keys Moran

ARGUMENTS FOR DEPENDENCE ON DATA

Over the past 6 months, with the advent of the Covd-19 crisis which crippled the global economy and decimated the air transport industry, the aviation community came to the realization that for air transport to come anywhere near providing its global services of 2019 it would take up to 3 years, going well into 2023. Even then, the status quo that existed - of congestion and inefficiencies - would not go away and new technology would have to intervene.



One of the most harmful and unwanted costs in air transport before the Covid-19 crisis was the cost incurred by airlines on delay. It was said that the direct cost of air transportation delay was USD 32.9 billion which incurred a loss of USD 8.3 billion to airlines. Once airlines are on their feet without wobbling digital technology may greatly alleviate this problem as well as problems caused to the industry by the rise of mobile, social media, a multi-layered, multi-screen and fragmented travel experience, and digital transformation and Big Data. Against this backdrop, airlines will compete with each other to possess the most data on the basis that “one who owns data owns the world” As Tim Clarke, President of Emirates has said: “Emirates has to move and move at least at the pace of our competitors. We have put data and technology at the center of the business. There is no compromise on the spend on technology and digital. Data is key – if you don’t embrace data, you will perish. New platforms in which our future processes are going to sit will be fundamental to our future, so deconstructing and reconstructing the firm in the digital environment is what we must do. The way we go about assembling the resources, and how you use back of house systems, are going to be completely transformed by digital’.

In 2019 it was reported that small cell segment accounted for around 48.5% of the global 5G - the fifth generation of cellular network technology that represents the next-generation of mobile networks beyond LTE networks which represent a 4G mobile communications standard. At least four major phone carriers in the US — AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint — have already developed plans to put in place their mobile 5G networks in 2019 in the aviation market arguably because the fast growing investment and infrastructure and investment in aviation would require the most current technology to ease congestion and make the air transport product more user-friendly. It is said that 5G is “widely believed to be smarter, faster and more efficient than 4G. It promises mobile data speeds that far outstrip the fastest home broadband network currently available to consumers. With speeds of up to 100 gigabits per second, 5G is set to be as much as 100 times faster than 4G. The fifth-generation cellular network standard carries with extremely fast communication capabilities, with fail-safe low-latency links that would allow real-time communication and interaction. Another advantage is reported to be 5G’s support for huge numbers of connected devices in small areas.

An article in Deloitte Insights has revealed that the results of recent surveys give a snapshot of preferences of enterprises for IoT. The results of one survey suggests that, 34 percent of companies—which happens to be the top response—felt they expected gains in efficiency from IoT (Internet of Things) technology. On the other end of the spectrum, only 6 percent—by far the lowest response polled—anticipated realizing new revenue derived from the use of IoT technology. The article goes on to say that yet another survey of companies that were already using IoT had found similar results: 52 percent used IoT to improve efficiency versus 40 percent that used customer-facing IoT applications for differentiation and generating new revenue.

An earlier cited article, based on the Conference on e-Business, e-Services and e-Society, held in October 2017states: “There are more than 20 IoT characteristics which can complement and add value in aerospace systems in many ways by reducing customer pain points such as flight cancellation, flight delays. An exclusive benchmark analysis report published by the International Air transport Association (IATA) has mentioned that USD 15 billion was spent on direct maintenance, with average maintenance cost of USD 295 million per airline and USD 1087 per flight hour. Identification of potential systems and its relevant characteristics maturity is the key to implement and develop IoT products/systems in aerospace.

A spokesman for Airbus has opined that the 5G experience will not only enable passengers to stream more high-bandwidth content than with 4G technology as well as afford them seamless connections between their abodes, modes of transport (taxi) the airport and through to the aircraft cabin. He has added: “with 5G, connectivity will flex to address different IoT-use cases: augmented assets (motorized, un-motorized assets, baggage tracking), enhanced operations (catering, turnaround optimization, passenger flow) and smart airports (building management),” he says. And that’s really the gist of this new generation – it’s not just about more speed and capacity; it’s about how 5G catalyzes virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and especially the IoT.

Airports too will benefit immensely from advances made in artificial Intelligence (AI), big data and machine learning with many opportunities presented with applications combining all three that would make the passenger experience as well as operational efficiency more fluid and obstacle free. These applications would be based on predictive (anticipatory) intelligence where AI, big data and machine learning could anticipate an issue and resolve it before the fact, thus offering distinctive value in the product. Areas that could make expedient and more reliable the functioning of an airport experience are baggage handling, catering, turnaround optimization, passenger flow and resource management. A spokesman for SITA has observed: “[F]or example, being able to monitor and optimize every single vehicle’s usage around the airport will deliver considerable savings in fuel costs and overall resources, including labor. 5G will also accelerate the growth of smart airports, with next generation facility and building management. Areas I see where this will make a big difference include baggage handling, catering, turnaround optimization, passenger flow and resource management. For example, being able to monitor and optimize every single vehicle’s usage around the airport will deliver considerable savings in fuel costs and overall resources, including labor. 5G will also accelerate the growth of smart airports, with next generation facility and building management.

Products and services offered by the Internet have been of immense advantage for the strategic development of corporate strategy of many airlines. The use of internet applications has also been an enabler for airlines to operate in an ever-increasing connectivity with the world, enabling them to compete in an information driven world. This industry convergence has brought the consumer and the air transport industry closer together, offering the consumer convenience in obtaining air travel without the services of travel agents and having the assurance of a reliable after sales service as well as a unique way of conducting business with an air carrier. For the airlines the advantages lie in the minimizing of distribution costs as well as the usual tedium of marketing their product, thus enabling them to offer lower fares.

ARGUMENTS AGAINST DEPENDENCE ON DATA

The latest edition of The Economist says the magic of algorithms are proving elusive: “A survey carried out by Boston Consulting Group and MIT polled almost 2,500 bosses and found that seven out of ten said their Artificial Intelligence (AI) projects had generated little impact so far. Two-fifths of those with “significant investments” in ai had yet to report any benefits at all.

Perhaps as a result, bosses seem to be cooling on the idea more generally. Another survey, this one by PWC, found that the number of bosses planning to deploy ai across their firms was 4% in 2020, down from 20% the year before. The number saying they had already implemented ai in “multiple areas” fell from 27% to 18%. Euan Cameron at pwc says that rushed trials may have been abandoned or rethought, and that the “irrational exuberance” that has dominated boardrooms for the past few years is fading”.

Sutapa Amornvivat, who runs an AI driven company in Thailand, cautions that AI has to be managed well as: “with the right tools and technology, crucial insights can be unlocked from data. At the same time, we should be aware that the blind spots and biases within can lead us to the wrong conclusions. Real limitations to data-driven approaches exist and necessitate human oversight to ensure that they are utilized correctly and to their fullest protection”.

The Economist goes on to say in an earlier article: “data-wrangling of various sorts takes up about 80% of the time consumed in a typical ai project, says Cognilytica. Training a machine-learning system requires large numbers of carefully labelled examples, and those labels usually have to be applied by humans. Big tech firms often do the work internally. Companies that lack the required resources or expertise can take advantage of a growing outsourcing industry to do it for them. A Chinese firm called MBH, for instance, employees more than 300,000 people to label endless pictures of faces, street scenes or medical scans so that they can be processed by machines. Mechanical Turk, another subdivision of Amazon, connects firms with an army of casual human workers who are paid a piece rate to perform repetitive tasks”.

CONCLUSION

The issue is that air transport is not mere automated transport of passengers from one place to another. It involves human frailties and needs during flight which require human intervention. Whether it would involve a drunken unruly passenger or a frail elderly passenger who is struggling to evacuate an aircraft that has been beached on water, or the act of taking a decision to hand over to authorities a delinquent passenger on arrival, it would be difficult for robotic intervention to solve such issues. At best, all that AI could do is perform one single task (better than humans) that it is programmed to execute. That same AI would fail if it were could do is something else that it is untrained to do. In other words, AI cannot adapt. Could we teach robots to be guilty – which is an affectation of the mind that impel us not to repeat a wrong and at the same time feel remorse? Would a robot make reparation for a wrong committed and how would it do so? David Gelernter in his book The Tides of Mind: Uncovering the Spectrum of Consciousness, argues that the human mind is not just a creation of thoughts and data but is also a product of feelings that are the end result of sensations, images and ideas . We weep over and over when thoughts come into our heads in recurrent order, as Proust said: “the last vestige of the past, the best of it, the part which, after all our tears seem to have dried, can make us weep again”.

Dr Abeyratne is the author of Aviation in the Digital World which will be released in July by Springer.

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