airport terminal - aviation data market

In ICARUS we are developing advanced data-driven tools for the Aviation sector and our strong value proposition is to offer a One-Stop Shop for different players in the aviation data market.

To fully address current aviation market needs, one of our activities consists in constant analysis of market scenarios where we try to capture the most relevant trends and needs. In this blog post we provide an update to some of the analyses and conclusions already presented in our previous blogpost on the subject. We also provide some further insights about how ICARUS matches these trends and offers a unique Value Proposition compared to some of the other players in the current landscape.

Big Data in aviation: recent trends

All major aviation-related market reports show how in recent years air travel demand and spending increased with passenger arrivals increasing by 6% in 2018 and with more than 700 million tourist arrivals expected by 2029 with many airports experiencing capacity pressure, especially in regions like Europe where such capacity is regulated. In this scenario, airports also try to increase (or improve) capacity through efficiency. Already in 2018 in its ‘Challenges and Growth’ report, Eurocontrol had identified airport congestion as one of the top challenges for European aviation, mostly still an unsolved or only lightly mitigated issue. Various analyses and use cases show that big data can improve congestion and reduce delays.

From our side, one of the ICARUS Demonstrator Business Cases is moving in the direction of airport capacity planning concretely addressing this market opportunity. Another important factor for ICARUS, highlighted in market research is the focus on services: in fact of the estimated $908 billion airline spending forecast in 2019 for world airline spending, one third will account for services, a trend expected to grow by 4.2% per year until 2038.

The need for Big Data in aviation and the impact of COVID-19

Of course, in recent months the shock and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, has hit all of the aviation sector and related services. And while it’s hard for us to analyse the true longer term impact, many analysts have already underlined how organisation and efficiency, as air travel starts to resume albeit with a totally new scenario of restrictions and procedures, is one of the key factors for the recovery of the sector. Challenges such as airport congestion, weak business continuity plans, the need for social distancing and having as much ‘touch-less’ interactions as possible all suggest that there could be benefits from leveraging on IT and big data – and related services. At the same time as we write COVID-19 is, unfortunately, still an ongoing emergency allover the world with its strong degree of uncertainty and difficulty to assess longer-term impact on most sectors, including aviation.

Already before the COVID-19 emergency it was clear that aviation needed (as many other sectors) to step-up its effective use of IT. Even then, most analyses showed that services based on IT technologies and use of big data (collection, automation, AI, etc.), from ‘connected fleets’ to passenger data and personalisation services would bring aviation to the next level of efficiency and competitiveness. We should highlight that (big) data is not only the key actor in digital solutions and analytics, but also in previously unexpected fields such as training and (predictive) aircraft maintenance. For instance it is expected that by 2027 more than 50% of aircraft will be connected (with 80% by 2037). The recent launch and promotion of Airbus’s own Skywise shows the very strong market value of aviation big data.

Big Data initiatives’ landscape in the aviation-related market

One important factor for ICARUS is that big data related initiatives in aviation are still a very open market. Big-data-in-aviation related market research shows that while big data initiatives are wider in the aerospace industry (67% companies) compared to airlines (44% of companies), in the latter there was a higher percentage of planned initiatives, showing the particular fertility of the segment.  In this scenario it is also important to note that while one of the primary ones, airlines are just one of the stakeholders in a data value chain which is becoming at the same time more complex, competitive and cooperative. And, most importantly, in order to provide effective value-added services, there is  a strong market need for data to seamlessly ‘flow’ among these stakeholders in a way that ensures effectiveness, data security and privacy, accuracy, harmonization.

In ICARUS we aim to especially address such a market need. What longer-term changes will happen due to COVID-19 is still hard to predict, but like for any other sector impacted by the pandemic, this need for simplifying the data acquisition and sharing process, even in complex, multi-stakeholder sectors like aviation, still holds if we think of the many companies which had to quickly move to a work-from-home paradigm and allow their employs and stakeholders to easily, quickly and securely access to relevant data for their daily job.

Challenges towards the adoption of Big Data in aviation

But, of course, there also other challenges which in ICARUS we are well aware of and trying to address. These are mainly technical, legal and management-related and can inhibit or slow down big data initiatives.

Technical challenges

From the technical point of view, the key issues are related to data quality, management, usability and harmonisation. This is a general challenge with big data where the increase in volume (one of the ‘Big’ dimensions in Big Data), can become a challenge in sectors where many different formats and standards exist and can hinder effective search, retrieval and use. Indeed a recent workshop organised by the Open Data Institute about data sharing opportunities and challenges in the aviation sector highlighted that participants were concerned that data standards ‘were the most significant technical barrier to building a data informed aviation sector, followed by data quality’.

Legal and regulatory challenges

Another key challenge is related to legal / regulatory issues with data. Most prominent analysts. Within the scope of ICARUS, we are particularly interested in trusted sharing, ownership and security. Regarding data ownership, in the scientific and technical communities there are still ongoing technical and legal debates about data ownership at various levels (hardware storage, copying, copyright laws’ relevance and application). The problem expands exponentially with the increase of data and diversity of data source usually coming from different countries (and therefore jurisdictions). While legislators and regulators (including at EU level) are trying to find solutions, it is evident that the more data (and data use) can be controlled and tracked the smoother the data-flow processes can be.

With the Data Sharing Services Bundle provided by ICARUS, we aim at providing IPR management and secure exchange capabilities powered by blockchain, exactly to address this challenge. Data Security has many facets which go from preventing unauthorized access to data (breaches) to guaranteeing the running of critical services (e.g. IoT-based) relying on the data.

In Europe, the GDPR (in particular in Section 2 – articles 32 to 34) has set out rules with obligations and liability in case of data breaches; on the hand, this has the potential to increase protection of EU citizens, on the other hand, to set an economic and operational burden on companies (especially smaller ones) dealing with data. In the big data domains, including aviation, where critical, personal and sensitive data is often being used, it is clear that there is a strong need for solutions and technologies which embed, since design, security features: so security features like the ones provided by the ICARUS Data Security Services Bundle are both a compliance requirement and a competitive advantage as also discussed in more detail in following sections.

The environmental aspect

Last but not least, a word about our planet and environmental issues. The impressive growth of aviation in recent years may come with a high environmental toll if operations continue as usual. Different studies show that at current rates, air-traffic growth would lead to an increase of global emissions up to 22% by 2050.

Key take-aways

Fortunately, there are a set of research, technology and innovations initiatives which the industry is putting into place to tackle the emissions problem: from improved aerodynamics to better materials. New navigation systems are able to help diminish the usage of CO2, for example planning routes which avoid bad weather. Studies about Continuous Climb and Descendant Operations (CCO and CDO) show that aircraft could use ideal flight paths to cut fuel burned and in turn emissions (and costs).

But the strong technological (and market) potential which is still probably underestimated, lies in the use of big data techniques including data science, AI and machine learning to analyse massive amounts of flight and environmental data and try to ‘connect the dots’, further optimising routes and cutting wastes. Decreasing delays (by making operations more efficient) can also have an impact on direct and indirect (e.g. air conditioning, electricity) emissions. The aviation data market is still under-explored, but will definitely have to rely on rich data ecosystems which incorporate data from different sources and stakeholders, employing sophisticated algorithms and analyses. One of the ICARUS Demonstrator Business Cases is moving exactly in this direction, concretely addressing this market opportunity.

Blog post prepared by ENG

Featured Image by Jay Wen on Unsplash