Flying with AI

May 3, 2019
The Qantas approach to digital transformation.

This is an extract from “AI for business“, the second report of the four-part series, “Asia’s AI agenda”, by MIT Technology Review Insights.

Founded in 1920, Australia’s flag-carrying airline, Qantas, is in the midst of a business transformation in which David Lloyd, head of strategic planning, is looking at opportunities for automation and the organizational impact it would have. “We need to have an [automation] technology plan, which starts getting us economies of scale or consistency,” says Lloyd. “And the pieces of technology need to be able to talk to each other across the organization,” thus avoiding “thousands of unrelated projects that all need supporting,” he adds.

As a starting point, the team separated AI into different verticals, such as the automation of processes; social AI regarding interactions with people; physical robotics (including fixed robotics and mobile); and also looked at other maturing technologies such as 3D printing. The company is currently assessing AI to test the robustness of its scheduling, likelihood of delays, and to work out the best route for customers when there is a disruption. Future applications include predicting delays in real time on live schedules in order to minimize any lags and optimizing its hedging strategy for fuel and foreign exchange.

“We are looking at the impact of the technology on the tasks within job roles and then working out how many roles could be impacted over that period of time.”

David Lloyd, Head of strategic planning, Qantas

Qantas’ in-house emerging technology department has developed AI for ensuring the timely turnaround of an airplane after landing for the next flight. Image recognition technology, working from existing security camera footage that surrounds the plane, sends out alerts if a process such as connecting the aerobridge, refueling, or unloading and loading the bags is not completed according to schedule.

A key element to the airline’s strategy development is using an AI analytics platform, provided by technology vendor Faethm, to navigate through emerging technologies and their application to Qantas, and in particular, the impact on staff. “We are looking at the impact of the technology on the tasks within job roles and then working out how many roles could be impacted over that period of time,” says Lloyd. “We are hypothesizing where the opportunities are,” as well as what the goals for the use of automation technology should be, he says, “along with how to minimize any negative impact on staff.”