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How Does Artificial Intelligence Change Air Travel?

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Artificial intelligence has been changing nearly every aspect of the way people live their lives, from controlling the thermostats in their homes to helping their doctors choose a treatment plan. It is also having a big impact on how the air travel industry operates.

Flight Planning
Most airline flights can travel one of several different routes. Dispatchers are responsible for selecting the best routes based on weather, air traffic and wind speeds. Dispatchers are now assisted by AI technology in selecting routes. Because the AI can utilize technology, such as deep learning chips, to process more information in less time than a human dispatcher, these suggestions help make air travel more safe and efficient.

The AI system being used by airlines for route selection is called Flyways. It was created by Airspace Intelligence. Rather than controlling flight path selection, the software makes suggestions and human dispatchers make the final decisions. Flyways utilizes machine learning to identify weather threats and other potential issues before humans can. This makes it possible for pilots and dispatchers to avoid last-minute changes.

How Flyways Works
Flight dispatchers plan the routes of all commercial flights. The dispatcher chooses the various waypoints a flight will pass over and then sends that plan to Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers, who decide whether to approve the route. Flyways uses data from previous flights and current and predicted conditions to compare millions of different route possibilities.

It runs this process every few minutes for every flight. When Flyways determines that a plane should be rerouted due to a safety or weather issue, a red box lights up on the dispatcher's screen. If the flight should be rerouted for fuel efficiency purposes, a green box lights up and if a flight is scheduled to travel through restricted airspace, a purple box lights up. This technology helps dispatchers avoid problems that the dispatcher can not see.

History of Flyways
CEO and co-founder of Airspace Intelligence, Phillip Buckendorft, was inspired to create Flyways after visiting a flight dispatch center. He observed that dispatchers were often using paper printouts to read weather forecasts and decoding strings of letters and numbers on a federal website to get wind speeds. His idea was based on his previous work for a self-driving car company.

Alaska Airlines was the first company to agree to a six-month trial of the program, which began in May of 2020. During the trial, the program was able to reduce flight times and fuel usage for 64% of the airline's flights. It averaged a savings of 5.3 minutes for each flight, which resulted in using 480,000 fewer gallons of fuel and eliminating 4,600 tons of carbon emissions.

Alaska Airlines is now expanding its use of the Flyways system to all flights. Depending on how much the company is paying to use the software, it could stand to save millions of dollars due to shorter flight times and reduced fuel consumption.

Affect on Air Industry Jobs
For the most part, AI technology is being used to complement the work done by people in the airline industry, rather than to replace human workers. However, because technology can make workers more efficient, there are some instances where fewer employees are needed to do the same amount of work.

For example, the number of employees required in the cockpit of a commercial aircraft has been reduced from five to two and many companies have replaced call center employees with chatbots. However, human workers are still needed to train and supervise the bots and answer questions that are too complex for them. The transportation industry is currently facing a labor shortage that automation and AI may help address.

While AI technology isn't always harmoniously integrated with human workers, in the case of the airline industry, it shows promise for making flights safer, more efficient and better for the environment. It is likely that technology, such as Flways, will continue to be expanded throughout the industry.

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