aviation's data revolution

The airline industry was never ready for Covid-19 and the destruction caused by the pandemic has not only badly dented balance sheets but continues to see many airlines draining cash away awaiting a recovery sometime in 2022. Any industry that loses US$ 370 billion in one year is in trouble and for every step forward on the recovery it seems a half step backwards is taken in some other market.

Aviation data in the era of Covid-19

Unilateral travel restrictions, quarantines, lockdowns, bubbles, staycations, testing, track and trace are all new industry terms that airlines are learning to contend with, and as part of that learning, data is becoming an increasingly valuable and important part of any travel planning process. The volumes of data created, consumed and analysed by airlines and all parts of the travel eco system has exploded in the last eighteen months and is set to continue as the global recovery takes place.

For OAG, the most immediate change has been the frequency of schedule changes received from airlines around the world. Typically, airlines would perhaps refine their schedules on a weekly basis; a change of aircraft type, a few more seats on this route and a subtle schedule change to maximise a connecting opportunity. All fairly conventional and in many cases distributed by OAG to the GDS’s, OTA’s, agencies and analyst within minutes of being received. And then along came Covid-19, airlines started adjusting schedules on a near hourly basis in some cases as they worked their way through network closures, losses of connecting traffic and borders being closed and even occasionally re-opened. Whilst we comfortably handled the increased data and processing requirements, many “data eaters” downstream had to invest in new technology, increased frequency of data feeds and numerous booking changes; in many cases with increased cost but no revenue.

The explosion of search data

Initially for many travel just stopped, vacations became staycations, bucket list travel became house repairs and the whole industry worried more about refunds than new bookings. But, in time, faced with uncertainty travel once again became a piece of escapism from the pandemic. The number of searches being made for travel increased exponentially as people sought escape routes out of the pandemic, booked their dream holiday and planned their revenge spend. Where perhaps we searched and booked, we searched, searched and searched again leading to an explosion in search data and a deeper understanding of traveller’s future plans. Bizarrely, global airlines historic booking data was useless, there was no history, no forward booking curves, the only data available was search sentiment and companies such as Google were selling search data to airlines. The aviation data world was turning upside down!

Handling travel regulations

Airlines were also contending with additional travel entry requirements. No two countries have handled the pandemic in the same way, no two countries have the same entry requirements, the same vaccination approvals or even the same quarantine requirements. For airlines handling that complexity has been a challenge. Overnight airlines had to transition from seat providers to travel regulators, working out what routes could operate, what nationalities could travel, what passports were valid and what proof of vaccination was required. The additional data burden placed on airlines has been immense and undertaken with amazing flexibility in a mass of complexity, and of course whilst generating more revenues from mangoes and microchips than passengers.

Carbon emissions added in the recipe

And whilst in the short-term airlines have not been as public around the work, they are undertaking in reducing carbon emissions awareness of the impact of operating specific aircraft and their fuel burns on different sector lengths has become something in which the public are increasingly interest. Many OTA’s and booking sites now indicate of a flight is an effective carbon operation and in parallel travellers are beginning to include the environmental impact of a flight in their flight selection. Airlines are increasingly environmentally conscious and with new aircraft such as the B737 Max, A320 XLR and A220 entering service they want to promote the benefits of their new aircraft type and that data is now freely available via OAG as we develop our carbon emissions calculator.

Facing the challenges and looking to the future

So, in the space of eighteen months, the aviation industry has seen the volumes of data increase exponentially. More schedule changes, more rules and checks, new data points, increasing use of search data and indeed social media listening. In such a short space of time traditional data points have been questioned, new methods of tracking demand analysis developed and for many airlines all achieved despite revenues continuing to be compromised. The airline industry has once again demonstrated it has an amazing ability to flex and change operational models when faced with immense obstacles. At OAG, we have also faced up to those challenges, supporting the industry where possible, developing new insights and content that will shape the future once the recovery is really underway. It has been challenging, occasionally daunting, stressful and equally exciting; perhaps proving that there is more to data than just numbers as the ICARUS platform also supports! 

Blog post prepared by OAG

Photo by Pascal Meier on Unsplash