Summer 2023 travel has already been marked by surges in flight delays and cancellations, causing significant frustration and inconvenience to passengers worldwide. While external factors — particularly severe weather — are often blamed for these disruptions, there lies a fundamental root cause: antiquated technology used by stakeholders to manage daily operations. While front-end passenger interfaces have seen advancements in line with modern technological progress, the neglect in upgrading backend systems has exacerbated the challenges faced by airlines in achieving seamless and efficient air travel.

Behind the scenes of air travel chaos lies a reliance on archaic tools. In an era dominated by cutting-edge technologies, the persistence across the industry of paper timesheets, walkie talkies, and phone messaging platforms to manage critical aspects of the flight operation has been detrimental to operational efficiency. The mounting burden on passengers due to these outdated systems amplifies the consequences of external disruptions.

Throughout the summer months, natural disasters have posed considerable hurdles to air travel. Canadian wildfires, inducing smoke that impaired visibility, grounded numerous flights in the Northeastern United States. Storms battered flights on the East Coast during the Fourth of July holiday, while extreme heat in the Southwest resulted in prolonged delays. Notably, on a single day in early July, thunderstorms led to over 33,000 flight delays. Though these weather-related events inevitably hinder flight efficiency, the inadequacy of existing systems exacerbates the severity of their consequences.

Wildfire smoke hinders visibility in the North East. Courtesy of NBC News.

Weather remains an uncontrollable factor in flight disruptions, and each season brings with it a host of unpredictable downstream effects. While airlines cannot directly manage weather, they can enhance their systems to efficiently handle the aspects within their control. Current airline software has struggled to cope with scheduling disruptions, producing the infamous operational “meltdowns” and further triggering a domino effect that affected many more passengers. Such incidents have been observed repeatedly this summer, as airlines have throttled down their flights in response to natural and seasonal events. Evidently, a technological upgrade that is capable of seamlessly adapting to disruptions and minimizing their cascading effects, has been long overdue. Embracing modern technology emerges as the imperative remedy to surmount these challenges.

Travelers walk as a board shows delayed and canceled flights at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Courtesy of The Hill.

Adding to the technical debt in aviation, airports have been presented with a wave of unforeseen circumstances post-pandemic. Specific to both ground handling and ATC, staff shortages and long training programs have left operators with less manpower to handle their daily operations with the existing tools and systems. This has created many operational challenges across crew, aircraft and equipment coordination, also leading to massive delays or flight cancellations.

Against the backdrop of such challenges, Moonware has been developing systems for airfield autonomy, enabling operators to increase airport efficiency and flight throughput while meeting critical safety margins. Our flagship product, HALO, is an AI-powered software platform poised to transform aviation ground operations, effectively serving as a ‘Ground Traffic Control’ for airside operations. HALO fundamentally automates critical tasks, including crew dispatching, equipment allocation, airside navigation, and asset localization. Leveraging real-time flight data, the platform orchestrates the optimal organization of ground personnel and equipment, dispatching staff in adherence to their sequence of missions, subject to urgency, distance, and aircraft equipment compatibility, among other factors.

HALO’s algorithmic capabilities present a groundbreaking solution to preempt the chain reaction of mass delays and cancellations, triggered by existing legacy systems unequipped to cope with disruptive events. Through sophisticated algorithms and real-time, dynamic visualization of airfield operations, HALO proactively optimizes GSE and ground crew assignments, handling last-minute schedule changes and resources to sustain operations. Consequently, HALO is able to minimize airside downtime stemming from potential disruptions, ensuring maximized efficiency and reduced passenger inconvenience.

HALO ‘Ground Traffic Control’ System. Courtesy of Moonware.

Specific to flight operations, HALO helps airlines achieve faster aircraft turnarounds and thus meet their scheduled operations without compromising flight throughput. A steady flow of traffic through the airfield allows aircraft to spend less time on the ground, liberating gates for more inbound flights and alleviating gridlock over high-risk movement areas. HALO frees ground crew personnel for other important tasks, reducing the strain of staff shortages on air traffic controllers and airports.

The repeated flight delays and cancellations plaguing summer air travel this year (and last) have shed light on the underlying weaknesses within the air travel system, which warrant immediate rectification. While weather remains an unpredictable factor, the archaic systems employed by airlines stand as significant contributors to disruptions.

While the industry finds its footing in the midst of these challenges, we must look for ways to augment operational efficiency and restore a reliable and pleasant travel experience for passengers. Winning over consumer confidence will require more than improving in-flight entertainment. As long as the current back office systems remain in place, air travel will be subjected to further delays and cancellations. Investing and adapting in innovations is imperative to ensure future operational success and prevent fallout from disturbances in the system.

Passengers boarding aircraft. Courtesy of Travel + Leisure.

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