Significant delays due to IT failures and air traffic control issues distraught travelers over the holiday season. We’re working to fix some of today’s greatest challenges in commercial and cargo aviation with intelligent airport systems.

Holiday travel reached near pre-pandemic levels, but that brought a host of new challenges. This year, airlines left thousands of passengers stranded or with missing bags, and thousands of flights were canceled, delayed, or diverted. A Christmas blizzard that affected airlines across North America, particularly Southwest, has highlighted the fact that many stakeholders have been slow to invest in upgrading their IT systems, where archaic tools like walkie-talkies and paper are still prevalent in day-to-day operations.

Earlier in January, a rare Notice-to-Air Missions (*NOTAM) outage grounded all flights in the US for two hours and delayed thousands of others in the subsequent days. Not long after, a near-collision incident at JFK between flights AA106 and DL1943 occurred due to miscommunication between air traffic control (ATC) and pilots. While disaster was narrowly averted, this was a scary reminder that lapses in radio-based communication still occur, and a technological refresh may be necessary to prevent such incidents in the future.

Moonware comes into the picture at a challenging time for air travel, where IT shortcomings have taken a toll on the services that directly affect passengers, and may incentivize carriers to finally address system-specific faults. We’ve been developing HALO, an airside OS, which is a software platform that coordinates the ground crew and equipment responsible for servicing aircraft with tasks such as baggage loading, fueling, cleaning, catering, and more. Optimizing these ground operations, and reducing dependencies on legacy tools, helps carriers minimize delays and turnaround times while increasing aircraft utility.

Weather-related issues affect the scheduling of staff needed to operate flights, ranging from pilots and cabin crew to ramp agents and ground handlers who are responsible for servicing aircraft. Moonware’s HALO app “Uber-izes” airport ground logistics, pairing ramp agents with flights through an automated system, which also uses smart routing to help ground crew navigate across the tarmac. Efficiently allocating people and vehicles across the airfield saves time and fuel, cutting emissions and costs.

Algorithmically-orchestrated service missions, powered by real-time data, is key in our system’s ability to redistribute staff and assets during last-minute schedule changes, which is absent in existing operations. Today’s legacy scheduling tools lack built-in redundancies for unscheduled changes and setbacks. Systems that account for the complexities in operational disturbances, regardless of weather, seem to be needed more than ever.

As many executives in the industry have admitted, antiquated scheduling tools were greatly responsible for propagating the effects of the Christmas blizzard across different aspects of flight operations. While we’re focused on digitizing the ground services portion of the puzzle, our plans don’t stop there.

Beyond software, part of our roadmap includes deploying autonomous and electric ground support equipment (GSE) to augment ‘last-mile’ airside tasks. The biggest advantage of deploying autonomous vehicles in an airport is the controlled environment of operation. When compared to public roads, airfields are simpler to map, where markings on the tarmac and a myriad of signs can serve as built-in navigational cues.

Pushback tugs (used to back out airplanes from the gate), could be automated to tow aircraft directly between gates and runways. Doing so would allow planes to keep their engines off while taxiing, saving fuel and helping manage congestion. In busy hubs like JFK, DFW, LAX or ATL, where thousands of flights are operated daily, it’s easy to see aircraft clumping on taxiways. In the case of the JFK runway incursion incident, airfield congestion can lead to greater room for error. While air traffic controllers and pilots hold stellar safety records, lapses in radio-based communication pose a tremendous risk that can be averted with these advanced solutions.

There is tremendous technical debt in aviation and the current systems in place will require improvements as more weather-related events, spikes in travel, or staff shortages take place. As such, 2023 will be a promising year for aviation, as travelers become increasingly aware that their passenger experience is fundamentally determined beyond free inflight wifi, and service providers strive to win over customers during post-pandemic travel.

*NOTAM is a warning system operated by the FAA that notifies pilots of weather-related disruptions, in-flight hazards, and other critical information.

Read on Medium