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Air transportation, whether for passengers or cargo, is one of the most technologically dependent businesses in the world.Aircraft represent some of the most advanced pieces of engineering ever designed, and are constantly being updated to incorporate the latest developments in aeronautics, safety, and information technology.  

As a result, it’s not surprising that emerging technologies are likely to have a major impact on both cargo and passenger services over the next several years. Not only will these burgeoning technologies make it easier for airlines to provide traditional services, but they will also give rise to completely new ancillary services that can improve the client experience while driving top-line growth.

One of the biggest stories of the last year has been the emergence of the “Internet of Things” (IoT), the process of connecting objects in the real world to each other through the Internet. IoT technologies have the potential to transform many sectors, none more so than air transportation. As a particularly data-intensive business, air transport will benefit significantly from the advent of IoT. It’s already having an impact on safety and maintenance, allowing airlines to keep their planes in the air longer, with less time spent on the ground. Information on the status and performance of individual parts of an aircraft, transmitted in real time, can allow maintenance staff to see exactly how well mechanical components are performing without having to completely disassemble them. Within just a few years, ground crews may have access to a constant stream of performance and safety data transmitted from aircraft in flight. That will help improves safety, reduce aircraft downtime, and improve performance.

IoT will also help improve cargo services and baggage handling. Location transmitters capable of broadcasting its whereabouts to baggage handling staff could make lost luggage a thing of the past. Similarly, tracking devices will make it much easier for cargo service operations to see exactly where cargo is in real time.

Another important technology that will impact airlines is cloud computing. In a cloud setup, IT vendors can provide resources to an airline remotely as needed. Cloud-based IT service models are often a great fit for airlines, because it allows them to be more flexible than platforms that are installed on site. A cloud platform can scale as quickly as necessary, while allowing airlines to reduce their use of resources when they are not needed. Cloud platforms also eliminate the need for airline IT departments to constantly evaluate the state of their technology by regularly upgrading themselves.

Mobile devices are another emerging technology that have the potential to drastically impact service delivery. Some airlines are already experimenting with the use of business tablets by flight crews to allow them to reduce the amount of paperwork they must generate, and receive information on passenger needs in a more efficient fashion. Others are providing handheld digital devices to their turnaround coordinators, allowing them to prepare an aircraft for flight more efficiently and improve on-time performance. 

Mobile devices are also changing the way airlines communicate with passengers. The ubiquity of smartphones, tablets, and now wearables allow airlines to provide travelers with real-time information on gate changes, departure and arrival times, and wait times. By giving travelers access to more information when they need it, airlines have the potential to significantly reduce passengers’ stress levels while trying to make their flights.

The level of connectivity provided by these devices, when coupled with big data analytics, allow airlines to deliver ancillary services to travelers based on their preference history. The prevalence of personal electronic devices also makes it possible for airlines to offer entirely new kinds of services, improving the client experience and increasing revenues. In-flight entertainment can now be offered to passengers directly through their own devices, such as a laptop or tablet.

These emerging technologies, among others, are allowing airlines to deliver their traditional passenger and cargo services more efficiently and with greater success than ever before. At the same time, they are also creating opportunities for airlines to offer entirely new ancillary services, improve the customer experience, and generate new revenue streams.

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