Data is the new commodity. The people and organisations that not only have access to data, but also have the tools and techniques to harness its value, will enjoy competitive advantage in the future.

Tomorrow’s data curators could be:

  • airlines (who have the richest data set today);
  • airports (who have touch points with so many parts of the transport chain);
  • aircraft manufacturers (who hold the key to the aircraft intelligence of the future);
  • ANSPs (who are sitting on more data than they currently know what to do with);
  • or IT companies (who are poised to take over the future relationship with passengers).

We could also envisage major companies that specialise in cloud computing (Amazon, Google, Microsoft…) positioning themselves as ATM data curators. The difficulty for them will be the safety critical nature of the systems. Can they succeed without more established and knowledgeable stakeholders alongside them?

Big ideas

Today, our ability to analyse large amounts of data is greatly enhanced compared to even a few years ago and new communications technologies such as 4G, 5G GSM and Low Earth Orbit satellites are making it easier to transmit it quickly and directly. Big data gathering and analysis techniques have many potential applications across aviation generally, but what about ATM? In its recently published “AI Roadmap” EASA namechecks some machine learning projects already under development in ATM spanning things such as: enhanced trajectory prediction; refined time and wake separation; automated speech recognition. And in our own work we are examining machine learning techniques for automating de-icing operations as well as how future concepts such as ATM Data Service Providers might develop. But we’re only scratching the surface of possibilities within the industry.

Accuracy, privacy and risk

With data comes opportunity but also responsibility. Data curators will face new liability challenges relating to data accuracy (on which safety critical decisions might be based), data privacy and the role of non-state actors unwilling to take over the liability and risk associated with safety of life services. They will also need to address the threat of cybercrime and cyber failure that grows as data connectivity expands. One concept already envisaged is a network of virtual operational centres that could provide continuity for one another, even though they may normally serve different route networks or services.

Practical steps

With all this ‘possibility’, it’s difficult to know where to start with your digital strategy. It requires not only a vision of where you want to get to, but also a clear idea of where you are coming from. What data are you collecting today? What data is critical to your business operations and objectives? How are you using it? Is it reliable? Do the right people have access to it? Does your reporting produce useful data insights? Where are the quick wins? And where are the gaps you need to fill to meet your vision?

It’s increasingly clear that we need to democratize data, avoid silos and lead from the top. Grant universal access to just a few key data sets at a time. Start small and build incrementally. Perhaps some or all of your data could be liberated to software companies, who in turn partner with you to turn these into actionable insights. All of which brings us back to digital strategy. Where should yours be heading?

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