Just like with any other business sector, the aviation industry is affected by the move to digitization and despite the slow adoption rate, mainly due to the strongly regulated nature of the field that utilizes mature and proven technologies, the rise of advanced technologies such as big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence is too intriguing to be missed.

Until recently, the digitalization was restricted to digitalizing aircraft maintenance records as well as managing and partially exploring big data, however the scenery seems to change: an increasing number of stakeholders are adopting software tools to automate processes and to deeper explore the information they already have. For example, airlines leveraging big data can offer targeted promotions that distinguish them from the competition.

Despite the many benefits though, the use and exploitation of Big Data faces several challenges. A survey[1] among chief-level managers in 2017 reveals that although 85% of companies use Big Data, only 37% managed to get meaningful insights. The main reasons that explain the low penetration and usability are listed below:

Data Availability

Aviation is one of the most secure fields of business, by nature. This however has created “siloed” data, that are not shared amongst the relevant stakeholders, apart from the parts that are legally required. This policy comes against the spirit of Big Data, as the exploitation of data from various sources can provide meaningful insights, beneficial to all involved organizations. Moreover, there is a very limited number of Big Data catalogues, making even harder for the organizations to locate and access data from other sources.

Handling a Large Amount of Data

For the last few years there has been an exponential increase in the data that enterprises can access. The challenge is not so much the retrieval and storage, but the management and exploration of this data. Additional to the rise in unstructured data, there has also been a rise in the number of data formats. Video, audio, social media, smart device data etc. are just a few to name. Some of the newest ways developed to manage this data are a hybrid of relational databases combined with NoSQL databases. There are also distributed computing systems like Hadoop to help manage Big Data volumes.

Aviation related organizations commonly keep their focus on handling the Big Data they directly retrieve to facilitate their day-to-day operations, neglecting to explore the horizons that Big Data insights can offer.

Real-time can be Complex

Big Data is not limited to vast historical data. A lot of data keeps updating every second, and organizations need to be aware of that too. Companies need to keep updated with this real-time data, as much as they do with the historic and always available data. In the aviation field, where many stakeholders need to get relevant information, real-time data harvesting and processing is of the highest importance.

However, not all organizations are able to keep up with real-time data, as they are not updated with the evolving nature of the tools and technologies needed. Currently, there are a few reliable tools, though many still lack the necessary sophistication.

Data Security

One of the most stressful and challenging tasks every company face is that of Data Security, especially in the firmly regulated sector of Aviation. Apart from the common worry for data breach, much of the Big Data are retrieved from a wide range of sources, some of which cannot be trusted to be secure and compliant with legal requirements. Data Security best practices for secure data collection, storage and retrieval are vitally important to be applied, making the use of Big Data even more troublesome for most organizations.

Data ownership

Understanding who owns which data is a complex question that can’t be answered quickly or easily. Firstly, there is a differentiation between public and private data. One could say that public data is in the open domain and available to everyone. But what makes data public? Is data posted on Facebook public? Probably not. What about governmental data that is available freely online such as the data at USA.gov and Data.gov? One can retrieve that data and use it, but that doesn’t provide ownership as there can be no control on that data.

Moreover, all the data governance and privacy laws and regulations impact who owns what and how it can be used. It can be difficult to fully understand what all these laws mean or how and when they apply to individuals and organizations. This is especially important with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that went into effect in 2018.

In the Aviation space, organizations are used to keep their data private and not share it with others, as a means to keep competitiveness. This strategy though falls far from the benefits that Big Data exploitation can offer, that can only be applied through synergies and data exchange.

Shortage of Skilled People

Skilled Big Data professionals are currently hard to find, as reported by many companies seeking to better utilize Big Data and build more effective Data Analysis systems in the Aviation space. Moreover, training people at entry level can be expensive and undoubtedly time-consuming for a company dealing with new technologies. Many organizations are instead looking on automation solutions involving Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence to build insights, but this also takes well-trained staff or the outsourcing of skilled developers, with familiarity to the Aviation.

Translating data into business insights.

One of the biggest data challenges organizations face is articulating data discoveries in terms that matter to the business. Data scientists often lack the aviation domain expertise to explain their findings, while aviation business leaders lack data science skills. This can make it hard to get the actionable findings that the sector needs.

Conclusion

As Mr. Tim Clark, President of Emirates, noted in Aviation Festival London 2017: “…every organization is going through a digital transformation whether they know it or not. 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.”

[1] http://newvantage.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Big-Data-Executive-Survey-2017-Executive-Summary.pdf

 

Post prepared by: Yiannis Diellas (CELLOCK)